Seeking balance in your life and leadership

Today is Labor Day – the day America honors the workforce by resting over a long three-day weekend (I always thought that was a little contradictory!)

I’ve been thinking lots about our crazy-paced world and lives. Even when we rest, or what used to be called rest, we’re moving. Our brains and body parts are busy.

Take just one huge way our “balance between busy and rest” has been affected: smartphones. In Tony Reinke’s book, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You,” he explains we check our smartphone 85,000 times a year, or once every 4.3 minutes. Can we really “rest” while we do?

In Andy Crouch’s helpful book, “The Tech-Wise Family,” he writes: “True rest seems to be elusive for most Americans. Only one in seven adults (14 percent) set aside a day a week for rest. And on that one day a week, what do they do? Mostly, they work. Only one in five (19 percent) of this small group say they don’t do any work at all. Even fewer Americans commit to daily time alone (16 percent) or with God (21 percent) or to activities that recharge them (12 percent). Only 12 percent of American adults say that they intentionally set aside a time of day when they don’t use electronic devices.”

I think this balance between busy (business) and rest (play) is particularly tough on leaders, and more so today than ever before in our hyper-paced world. And it’s not merely because we find it difficult to rest or cease from busyness, but we’re not properly balancing our position and role as leaders.

Are you a balanced leader? Am I?

The other day I was thinking about leaders from the White House to my own house, and from countries like Russia to companies like Apple and Amazon. I was reflecting upon revolutionaries from Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks to the single parent of three, who inspires her or his children by hard work and tough love.

I was contemplating the power of influence and influencers who make a difference by their command and control of others – those who earn or demand respect with their silence and servitude.

From presidents to preachers and parents, the fact is: if you have influence over others in any way, you lead them and are a leader. And one constant remains the same: Everything rises and falls on leadership, as Dr. John Maxwell says.

Leadership has built the biggest empires. It has collapsed the greatest corporations. It can unify diversity or divide unity. It can catalyze movements, cast visions, coalesce people, and revolutionize industries and culture. Or it can run an organization, family or country into the ground by hardly trying, and especially by making the wrong moves.

When it comes to leaders, you get what you pay for, not just in monetary terms but in quality of leader replication and organizational development. There is direct correlation between the health and potential of leaders and how far their subordinates – and hence, the organization itself – excels and can develop and mature. Fudge on leadership and an organization will falter, plain and simple.

Dr. Maxell calls it “the law of the cap”: a company or group cannot grow greater, wider, deeper or healthier than the person and people at the top. Morality, magnanimity and mistakes all metastasize under the levels of leaders.

I’ll say it again: Everything rises or falls upon leadership. And it’s the one thing our world, country, businesses and even homes probably need more than anything else – besides a good dose of God – that is, quality or balanced leaders.

No leader is perfect, and everyone has his or her flaws, including me. But those who have gained my respect are those who have proven themselves through the test of time and results.

For me, one of those is the late Gen. Colin Powell. Now, before you turn me off, hear me out.

You might not agree with his politics. You might not like all his positions on morality. You might call him an epic failure for his handling of the Middle East during the Iraq War and WMD debacle. Or you might say Washington’s marginalizing Powell was a big mistake.

But you can’t deny his stellar career as a leader. He valiantly served our country during his four decades of military service. Beginning at age 17 as an ROTC cadet, this retired four-star Army general also served in four presidential administrations, including as the first and youngest African-American to serve as chairman to the Joint Chief of Staff and U.S. secretary of state.

USA Today also reported, “Powell served two combat tours in Vietnam before climbing the ranks and overseeing the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, when American and allied forces drove Iraq’s invading military from Kuwait.

“Powell served in Vietnam in 1962 as an adviser to a South Vietnamese infantry battalion and then again in 1968 as a battalion executive officer and assistant chief of staff of operations. During his second tour, Powell received the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing fellow soldiers from a burning helicopter despite being injured himself.”

Powell’s story was also a great American story: “Mine is the story of a black kid of no early promise from an immigrant family of limited means who was raised in the South Bronx,” he wrote in his 1995 autobiography, “My American Journey.”

Whether or not you believe Powell ever had a tryst with a female Romanian diplomat, you can’t deny the power of his 50-year marriage to his beloved Alma or his fatherhood to three successful adult children: Michael, the current president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Linda, a professional American actress, and Annemarie, a television producer.

One of the things I love about Powell is that how he wouldn’t be controlled or pigeonholed in life or leadership: His leadership servanthood spanned his service to country to speaking this past year on TED TV about how “Kids need structure” – a must-see 17-minute presentation that would encourage any patriot, parent or children leader.

In Powell’s most recent book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” chapter 21 (“What I tell My New Aides”) covers some excellent leadership tenets any boss or leader would want subordinates to know about himself or herself. In it, he also conveyed principles and qualities every follower would want in a healthy leader above them.

Here are eleven of Powell’s principles for cohesive leadership and staff relations:

  • Don’t ever hesitate to ask me what to do if uncertain.
  • I’m a people/phone junkie. I like to remain enormously accessible.
  • Avoid “The General Wants” syndrome – unless I really do.
  • Don’t ever sign my name, or for me.
  • Provide feedback, but be tactful to those who ask. Talks between you and me are private and confidential.
  • Never keep anyone waiting on the phone – call back.
  • I like meetings generally uninterrupted. I ask a lot of questions. I like questions and debates.
  • Be punctual; don’t waste my time.
  • I prefer written information to oral. Writing encourages discipline.
  • Make sure correspondence is excellence. No split infinitives.
  • Never, never permit illegal or stupid actions. Any questions?

Also worth their leadership weight in gold are Colin Powell’s “Thirteen Rules” that he elaborates on in the first section of his book to help balance his own leadership and life:

  • It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  • Get mad, then get over it.
  • Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  • It can be done!
  • Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  • Don’t let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  • You can’t make someone else’s choices. You shouldn’t let someone else make yours.
  • Check small things.
  • Share credit.
  • Remain calm. Be kind.
  • Have a vision. Be demanding.
  • Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Your role models may not include Powell, but it’s critical for all of us to have them – mentors we look up to help us fulfill the variety of roles and responsibilities we assume in this life.

They are those who inspire us as well as take us to task and challenge our most dogged dogma. They may be those we know or those we’ve never met – those who are living or dead. But they are always those who shape and influence our lives, and especially help us to seek balance in our life and leadership. They are our leaders, though they even might be our subordinates, too. The proof is in the pudding: We are who we are around.

Don’t ever forget it: Everything rises and falls on leadership. Everything. So, take care of yourself!

I was saddened when I heard Powell died of blood cancer last October at 84 years old.

His family couldn’t have said it better: “We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American.”

(For more weekly encouragement to balance your life and leadership as you head into a busy fall season or school year, please consider also reading my weekly health & fitness column “C-Force.” It’s a weekly dose of mind, heart and body mental vitamins!)

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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