“Take rest; a field that is rested gives a beautiful crop.”
— Ovid

How often do you show up at work with the wheels going full speed in your head, a dozen self-appointed tasks on your plate before you have even entered the door? No need to plan your day when you get there, because you already have enough for two or three days rolling around up there in your head and a few more items on your calendar.

Then, just after you hit the door, you find out that that two of your most vital team members—the people who were going to be key to accomplishing all of your plans in a mad two-day rush—are out with the flu, and most likely will be out tomorrow as well.

What happens to those wheels up in your brain now? Of course, they slow down, because now you have no choice but to regroup, take stock and then take things a little easier, right? Not true for most people who show up to work in this state. They kick up the gears even higher to find a way out of the predicament.

The Roman poet Ovid, quoted above, also once said, “Minds that are ill at ease are agitated by both hope and fear.” He is correct. If you are constantly ill at ease, agitation will be the result when you are faced with any challenge, whether it is an opportunity or a serious problem.

Some people believe they thrive in this kind of environment. As I wrote about in the first part of this article series last month, the adrenalin kicks in and the mind goes into a fear state. Some find it exhilarating. But again, adrenalin is a drug, and a powerful one, and as with all drugs, you have to come down at some point, and coming down is sometimes hard.

In this harried, technological world of ours, we often show up both at work and at home after work in this state. When we are constantly restive instead of rested, we become reactive in many situations instead of creative or reflective. As a leader, your people are not looking to you to be reactive.

What would happen if instead, you choose to show up in both places in a state of ease. What if you, for example, parked your car, deliberately cleared your mind of your anticipated worries of the day, and took a short walk before heading in the door at work. Think of how you might react differently to that situation of having a significant amount of your people resources missing for the tasks ahead.

Working Long Hours

Exhaustion is another consideration, and this often comes from the work side of our lives. I have known several clients who were spending a good majority of their lives at work, until we talked about why they were doing this. Often, it was because, at their level of responsibility, they felt it was expected of them.

This is not what most people expect of leaders at all. It’s not the amount of time you spend at work, it’s how hard you work and how focused you are during the time you are supposed to be at work. You really need to “show up.”

As a leader, you may feel that putting in long hours is noble, or it demonstrates that you are “part of the team.” This tendency is common among leaders who have worked their way up through the ranks. Unfortunately, you working long hours simply for the sake of it does not accomplish anything for the team as a whole.

You need to realize that leadership is about your people, not about you. They need you to be clear and strategic for them. They need to know you are looking out for them. And you’re not going to accomplish that just by working long hours. They need you to “show up” sharp.

In a Fast Company article two years ago, Seth Godin, author of six bestsellers, including Permission Marketing, put this in perspective: “Richard Branson doesn’t work more hours than you do. Neither does Steve Ballmer or Carly Fiorina. Robyn Waters, the woman who revolutionized what Target sells, and helped the company trounce Kmart, probably worked fewer hours than you do in an average week. None of the people who are racking up amazing success stories and creating cool stuff are doing it just by working more hours than you are. And I hate to say it, but they’re not smarter than you either. They’re succeeding by doing hard work.”1

Brian Dyson, who was CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises from 1959 to 1994, knows something about corporate responsibility, as you might imagine. He has an excellent analogy for us: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them—work, family, health, friends, and spirit—and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls—family, health, friends, and spirit—are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

This definition of hard work doesn’t involve sweat and physical labor. It means being “on the ball” and you can’t do that if you are exhausted, either physically or emotionally.

Starting With the Basics

Let’s get back to the basics, because those are the first things people start to neglect when they are obsessed with work. They feel like they don’t have time for even the most basic of needs.

For example, how many of us are walking around every day dehydrated? Sleep deprived? Undernourished? How about all three? We drag ourselves out of bed after about five hours of sleep. We eat a bowl of cereal and call it a breakfast. Do you believe that a bowl of cereal for breakfast is going to make you productive throughout the morning? It’s not likely. You need to have a carb and a protein in the morning to keep your edge.

We have a cup of coffee with the cereal in the early morning, drink another a little later, and then drink a soda with lunch. How much time and thought does it take to just keep drinking water throughout the day? How much of a difference can it make in your overall health?

Think beyond the effect on your own health and life. It doesn’t do your organization or your people any good when you miss meals. Your people need you to eat. If work and stress are overwhelming you, they need you to go away and take a break, even if just a short one, as I wrote about in the first article of this series.

Some people even escape by bringing more humor into their lives. Try one of the many humor sites on the Internet for an escape.
Remember, as a leader, you are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no matter how much of that time is actually spent at work.

People are looking to you to be strategic and have your eye on the big picture. Take time for the basics, maintain your health and sanity by slowing down sometimes, and remember, it’s what you put into your hours that counts, both at work and at home.

1. Godin S: “A Brief History of Hard Work, Adjusted for Risk.” Fast Company. April 2003