I remember when I was young, in high school, talking to a friend who asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. My response was simple: I want to change the world.
Back then I had an eye on politics. In fact through college I thought what I wanted to do was to become a Senator or something in government that gave me the power and influence to end hunger, or poverty, or racism. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that wasn’t the path for me, and that my ability to affect change could come from anywhere. At the end of it all came this, Leadership Zen, where I realized that while I got exposure from my job, my own power to create change comes from helping people to become better leaders, and therefore catalysts for the type of progress that I hope for.
While these are lofty goals, my ambition also came, and continues to come at a price. You see I spent so much time as a boy, then as a young man, then as an older man so focused on career progression that I didn’t make the right kind of time to take care of me. Because I worked so much, I literally crowded out any time I had to build friendships, or more significant relationships in any meaningful way. I satisfied myself largely by the accomplishments I achieved on the job, yet at the same time they weren’t particularly satisfying.
As a now older man, I have come to realize that one does not change the world without first embracing the world within themselves. It’s taken me a long time to get it, but unless you find some balance between ambition and embracing the things that really matter, including our human need for social connections, you won’t be able to make too much of a difference. I get it now. I am a much better man when I have friends in my life, a much better father when I trust someone enough to partner with me to grow this big dream of mine. I am also a hundred times better when I spend more time exercising, seeing the doctor when I need to, or sleeping more than three hours a day.
The lesson I am learning – because I don’t have it all right yet – is that the Zen part of Leadership Zen, that focus on your own well being, is crucial to being a good leader. People want to empathize with you, which you can’t do if you stay aloof and avoid human connections. Your dreams are meaningless if you can’t tie it to something human. Professional intimacy – that quality of great leaders that helps people identify with you, only works if you have something they can identify with, and that isn’t a great scorecard.
Make the time to let people in. Others do count on you – friends, family, your children. They want to know that no matter what else is going on in your world they matter the most. No one is going to remember the time you put in, but everyone remembers the time you spent on them.
For me it continues to be a journey, but at least I’m further along on it. Start yours today.