By Dave Crisp
Turning to the question of personal balance, there is a new book that’s getting attention by Clayton Christensen and co-authors, How Will You Measure Your Life.
From a macro view, Christensen is promoting work-life balance and is widely lauded for it (the book made Fast Company's ‘Best 12 of 2012’ among others). He advocates putting more time and effort into family and relationships — a version of the old maxim "no one ever says on their deathbed, 'I wish I’d spent more time at the office.'"
He lays this out in a fair amount of detail, but leaves quite a few things partly unsaid — one being how to find balance among your competing objectives. Instead, he opts more for emphasizing the side that’s often over-looked in a busy career — home life and important relationships.
Many readers may come away from this book feeling they need to put work plans on hold. I don’t believe that’s what Christensen is promoting. What he’s after is that individuals not take an either/or approach. It’s not work to the exclusion of people, nor should it be the reverse. Just as he advocates raising kids to tackle tough challenges, he would say the same about us at work — we need and we learn from our challenges... provided we learn and then apply what we’re learning to the whole of our lives, not just some aspects. Repeated studies show top notch workers want exactly this.
Interestingly, from the outset he notes how what applies to individuals applies to organizations as well and vice-versa. He warns against getting caught up only in what produces good returns right now while assuming the future will take care of itself. He implores readers to invest in things that don’t show much return now but which, if neglected, will stunt results in future. Spend time with kids when they’re young so they develop well and become great people to know later. And with organizations, put time into researching and developing new products and services so they’re there when you need them even though at present you might get a greater return by spending all your time and money on today’s products.
Need I say what he’s recommending is finding a balance in action? It’s a valuable view.
An interesting companion book and another that contrasts with it (and, oddly, go by the same name) were issued just months apart earlier this year. First Do Nothing!: How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader by J. Keith Murnighan is one of those books I wish I’d written. (In fact, so many are coming out lately I wonder why I feel the need to write a book at all).
The main point: Great leaders often succeed best when they do nothing. They encourage, they strategize, they plan but they get others to do. In the military, this has to be because generals simply can’t go into the field and still retain the perspective to lead. Business has too many micromanagers.
Needless to say, some do nothing better than others — there are good and bad styles. In business we tend to forget this and spend most of our time "doing" or, worse, "helping a subordinate do something" that would be better done if we kept our nose out of it. Down with micromanaging.
This also explains neatly how we find time to spend on relationships and family — a point often overlooked in books like How Will You Measure. Do nothing and you’ll have time for other stuff.
Strangely, I’m not as enamored with the other book with such a similar name — DO NOTHING!, by Damian Mark Smyth. Although the philosophies are somewhat overlapping on one hand — spend time thinking rather than rushing to do things — I have doubts about authors who claim "there’s no such thing as alcoholism or depression." (It’s all in your head, you can fix it all there — you don’t need to do anything, just think good thoughts). I’m stretching a bit, but so is Smyth. His point is the world is more about how we see it. We need to spend time accepting things, realizing we can learn from events and that we don’t have to step into every situation with a win-lose, win or die need to change it.
In fact, it’s easier to change things if we let go of that feeling (in that sense "do nothing" — take a deep breath and let things be). We can change the way we see things and come away feeling successful. This reaches back to Stoic philosophers like Epictetus, and leads to managers being in a state of mind to “do nothing” the way Murnigham would have it. To that extent, great, but just take the overall claims with a grain of salt.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.