“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.”
Growing up my Grandfather always said, “Time waits for no one”. In 1979, Grandpa was forty-eight years my senior, so naturally his words went in one ear and out the other. At 10 years old, I was simply not at the place to recognize the profoundness of his wisdom because I was too busy thinking about pick-up football games with my friends or which of my cousins I could convince to do something crazy, like ride their bike without a helmet or drink from a garden hose (amazingly, we all lived)!
Fast forward 35 years to 2014. Where I grew up in Northeast Ohio is about to experience the annual sights, sounds, and smells of autumn, Grandpa’s favorite season. Green grass and leaves are beginning to hint of their eventual concession to fall’s crisp nights, promising a magnificent landscape of burnt orange, bright yellow and deep red everywhere you look. Signaling the change in seasons, the thrill of Friday night high school football games is prevalent, as is sweet corn, college football and the MLB fall classic. Grandpa is now 92 and I am a young 45 (40 is the new 20!).
Sadly, this autumn is different from the previous 34 which have quickly come and gone. Suffering from diabetes and now a broken neck from an unexpected fall, the reality of “time waiting for no one” is too obvious and painful to overlook. In between multiple trips back home, visits to hospitals and nursing homes, I found myself reminiscing of all the times I spent with my Grandpa. Whether trips to the top of the St. Louis Arch, summers as an adolescent in southern Florida, golfing, catching my first fish, evening walks, visits to my college dorm, telling me not to pick up any “wooden nickels”, or just spending time with him and my four kids watching classic western movies (his favorite), I realized how important it is to live in the moment. The importance of spending time with family and friends and building memories to endure generations, resonated like never before.
In this season of life, it also occurred to me I was not thinking about how many hours I had spent in the office or the things I had done to advance my career since moving away from home 22 years ago. On the contrary, I found myself questioning if I had placed too much emphasis on them at the expense of personal relationships. And at this crossroad, I realized a valuable leadership lesson. A lesson as leaders we hear and read a lot about—maintaining a proper work-life balance.
In my profession, I have had the privilege of serving with and leading the finest soldiers, sailors, airman, marines and civilians in the world. They understand the sacrifices inherent with serving our country and willingly and voluntarily support our freedoms. These amazing individuals look to their leaders for inspiration, training, support and encouragement. As leaders, we also have a responsibility to encourage people to maintain balance in their life even if it seems it is becoming more difficult to achieve. Inc. Magazine reported in May of 2015 on an Ernst & Young poll of 9,700 workers conducted in the U.S., Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India, and the U.K. According to Editor Jessica Stillman, “A full third of respondents said that it had gotten more difficult to achieve work-life balance in the last five years.”
While the most effective way to do this is to lead by example, admittedly, it is much easier said than done. If you find yourself struggling with this aspect of your leadership, here are a few practical tips to help you, and your team, start walking the walk:
- Take Time Off. Yep, you heard me. Take a vacation and unplug from the frenzy of the day-to-day routine. Even a mini or staycation can afford you valuable time to spend and reconnect with loved ones. Not to mention the numerous documented health benefits associated with vacations, your team will really, really appreciate you setting the example on this one. And when you do take time to disconnect, leave the electronic ball and chain on its charger! This not only allows you to spend quality time with the ones you love, it lets your team know you empower and trust them.
- Leave on Time. While you may feel compelled to stay in the office 10-16 hours a day, remember you are expendable and force yourself to leave at a reasonable, consistent time. There is certainly not a one-size-fits-all schedule for everyone, so build a routine that works for you and stick to it. When your team sees you leave on time, you communicate a work-life balance is important and your family will thank you too.
- Stay Fit. Professional athletes recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy diet, proper exercise and sleep are essential elements to their success. While we may not be playing on the gridiron, the field we play on is no less demanding. Integrate a challenging workout regimen into your schedule and eat healthy. Again, it tells your team you value your own health which is critically necessary to keeping balance in life.
Autumn is upon us once again and it has been a full year since my Grandpa took his final breath. Although he is no longer with us, his words of wisdom still echo in my mind. While time does not wait for anyone, and is no discriminator of persons, how we choose to spend the gift of 24 hours we are given each day will determine whether or not we were truly successful in our pursuits.