by Mike Pongon -- January 15, 2018

One CEO's quest for balance in an era of disruption

We're living and leading businesses in the days of disruption. Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Competition is accelerating and alliances are in constant motion. Across all types of organizations and industries, change at hyper-speed is becoming the norm.

Being an effective leader in this era of deep and rapid change is more than a matter of tweaking what exists or making a few adjustments on the margins. You need time to observe what's going in the world around you—time to think about what the world's going to look like in five years. You need time to reflect, synthesize what you're observing and translate it into strategy. In order to play this critical role for your company, you also need time to recharge yourself—not just your mobile devices.

This is especially true for me as a CEO of nationwide company with a strong, unique culture, since my actions set an example for more than 650 people.

With greater competition than ever for your attention as a leader, it's more important than ever to find balance. That means making time for what matters in every dimension of your life. Over the last 17 years, I've found some useful ways, large and small, to find balance and put time on my side.

Go ahead—take the weekend. Weekends are just as precious to me as they are to anyone else. After all, I need that break, too. So I rarely work on weekends. Of course, there are exceptions. But they are few and far between. I have put up some hard boundaries to protect this precious time, and the exceptions come along only a few times a year.

Tread lightly in the evening. I've been known to work evenings, just like everyone else. But as a rule, I don't take work home at night, and I purposely have a computer that I can’t take home with me, either.

We all have our own work habits, but I find that working in the evening can be a slippery slope. One late night leads to another. So on the rare occasion when something absolutely has to get done before the next morning, I'll go into the office to do it.

I'm also careful not to send emails in the evenings or on weekends. It's not only for my sake, but for my coworkers and our culture. After all, if someone sees an email from me after hours, they're going to feel compelled to answer. That means I'm asking a fellow Point B'er not to live the values we hold dear as a firm.

Control your email, lest it control you. Email can easily become one of the biggest time-wasters in business life. I tell my teams not to send me any email that's more than a paragraph, and that I won't read anything longer. This prompts people to pick up the phone instead, which allows us to resolve any issues much more quickly. If the issue is so big that it warrants more than a paragraph, I don't want an email; I want a conversation.

Be unreachable at least once a year. Seriously. I take at least one vacation a year when I'm completely unplugged. I tell my teams that unless there's a fire—with real flames and sirens—I don't want to be brought into any discussions during my time off.

This is good for everyone. Being unreachable shows my team I trust them to run the company and handle any issues that come up. If I'm doing a good job building my team and being transparent, there's nothing they can't handle when I'm out. They get a chance to learn and grow. They also get a clear signal that it's okay to unplug and give their own teams that same chance to stretch themselves.

A few weeks before I leave, I let my direct reports know that I have a vacation coming up. This gives us a chance to talk one-to-one about anything I need to see or do before I go. A few days before I leave, I send an email that I'll be out and unreachable, and I turn on my out-of-office notice. That way I can deal with and delegate anything as needed before I go, which reduces email traffic while I'm gone. On the other end of my vacation, I signal that I'm back a day after my return, which gives me some uninterrupted time to catch up.

Don't buy into the busy-ness trap. When did "I'm so busy" become the universal response to "How are you?" Are we buying into the false equivalency that if we're "so busy," we must be adding value?

Actually, the opposite may be true.

As a leader, listening to people is an important part of my job. If someone asks me how I am, and I reply that "I'm so busy," how that does make them feel? Probably unimportant, maybe shut down, and unlikely to feel they can talk with me about things that matter to them and our firm.

It's important to me that people feel they can approach me with a question, an idea or a challenge. Some of the most meaningful information I receive about the climate of our company's culture and performance comes from those unscheduled discussions with employees.

As an executive, you have greater control over your time than most. So clear the decks when you can. Start with the mindset that you don't want to be so busy, and make your intentions clear to others. Map out your schedule in a way that shows you are deliberately "not that busy." Show people you have the time, energy and interest to talk. Balance your time in a way that gives you the breathing room to answer a greeting with a reply like, "I'm great. How are you?"

Last, but not least, make sure your employees know it's their outcomes that matter to you, not how full their calendars are.

Time is not a renewable resource. Knowing what matters, and making the time for it, is at the heart of effective leadership. It's never been tougher to do. And it's never been more important. The faster things change, the more precious your time—for yourself and your company.