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Why “Balance” is B.S.

For CEOs, Blending Work and Home Makes Sense.

It’s no surprise that, at least by conventional or “normal” standards, the schedules of most CEOs are decidedly not in balance. Take my average day: By 7 a.m. (PST) I’ve already talked to a dozen people, had several meetings or am en route to meet with a customer in another city or state. All day long I have a cell phone ringing, a BlackBerry buzzing, dozens of emails going back and forth and a laptop never far away so I can review longer documents on my “downtime.” I am in constant contact with my assistants to arrange dinner meetings and breakfasts and customer call trips. The next day I get up at 4 a.m. and do it all over again.


Not for the faint at heart, “CEO Time” is a zone of operations in which the switchboard is always open. And with so much riding on our ability to get things done-shareholder wealth, employee livelihood,  the company’s well-being-it has to be. How could a company function if its CEO left every night at 6 p.m. sharp for dinner or insisted that he or she could not be reached at home before 6:30 a.m. or after 10 p.m.?


Yet the press’ obsession with work/life balance paints CEOs as sad, type-A, stressed out creatures who lack balance and are suffering terribly as a result. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of articles written in the tone of a nit-picking mother-in-law, focusing on the atrocity that is today’s out-of-balance professional. What the “life coaches” and psychologists don’t understand is that CEOs can achieve balance, but it won’t be the same brand espoused by the self-help gurus.


That’s why chief executives need to redefine the concept of balance for themselves. They need to decide what it means to them on a personal, individual level, and then judge whether they’ve achieved it on a given day. There’s a fairly easy, intuitive way to gauge when we are in balance: We tend to be happy, enthusiastic and full of gratitude, as opposed to rushed, angry and unfulfilled.


Achieving a CEO-style balance requires some thinking outside convention. The first rule is to let personal and professional lives overlap. Instead of “balance” I talk about “blending.” Sounds heretical, but for CEOs, maintaining that kind of church and state just isn’t realistic-and may not be very productive. Overlapping the different pockets of your life can actually have benefits even beyond time management.


A friend of mine, Dr. Ajit Singh, CEO of the Oncology Care Systems Group at Siemens Medical Solutions, started taking his two daughters on business trips a few years ago. During the first such trip, his daughters attended a business dinner with him. “The conversation quickly took on personal overtones because everyone wanted to interact with my kids,” he recalls. One potential customer asked Singh’s youngest daughter what her father’s greatest weaknesses were. She whispered something in his ear and the table roared. Singh gained a new client and his daughters learned firsthand about their dad’s work life, and gained exposure to different cultures across the globe.


The second rule is to outsource everything. I don’t have kids, but I do have a “nanny”-for me. As my home assistant, she runs the house and she runs me outside the office. I also schedule everything-yoga, haircut, workout. If it’s in my planner, I’ll do it. If it’s not, that slot will be taken up with another appointment, usually business-related.


The last rule is to ignore everyone, except yourself, for some period of time outside the office. Surrounded constantly by external voices, CEOs can benefit from regular time devoted to listening to themselves and meditating on their lives, the compromises they make and whether it’s all worth it. If it is, that needs to be positively reaffirmed on a regular basis. 


Blurring the borders of personal and professional relationships is seen as the plague of the out-of-balance professional. But if it creates joy in our lives, then let’s stop stressing out about trying to follow the conventional wisdom of separating our lives into “perfectly balanced” compartments.  The problem in today’s world isn’t that our personal, professional and community lives are too connected-it’s that they aren’t connected enough. It’s about blending, not balance. 



Keith Ferrazzi is CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a sales and marketing consulting and training firm in Los Angeles, and author of Never Eat Alone (www.nevereatalone.com).


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