Leadership Lessons: Balance

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- What is balance? What does it mean to have balance in life? There are multi-volume texts and graduate courses on this topic. The intent of this short commentary is not to compete with the level of research and application found in those. Instead, I would like to mention a recent experience I had where I caught myself saying to a colleague that another person we had just met must have found the secret to balance.

I was on a temporary duty to a fairly large Air Force base attending some training, which was required for a future position. While there, on the day in question, I glanced at the schedule of events for the afternoon and learned that our next block of training was going to be taught by a motivational speaker. For some reason or another, I have ended up hearing many motivational speakers over the years and many have fallen far short of their title. This one though, was different, very different. This guy walks in like any other normal Joe and begins to speak. He has a nice presence, a pleasant tone of voice and is articulate--all great qualities to have in his profession so I gave the guy a chance. After a few minutes of hearing him speak, it hits me. This man has no arms. He was born without arms!

Over the course of a two-hour block of time, he told us some of the details of his life. He shared with us his view of the world. During his presentation, I had a moment of clarity. If this man can be as successful as he is and so willing to help other people, what can I do to better myself and others around me? There was no theme music or anything like you see in the movies, but the feeling was the same. This experience was very cathartic for me.

That night I went back to billeting, called my wife and tried to recall every detail of this great man's life. Then, I sat down and tried to think of what I could do to make small changes in my life to make myself better. It is nothing cosmic, but this is what I came up with:

Take time for meaningful reflection. Since then, I have set aside time for frequent meaningful reflection. Some folks have perfected this through various methods such as meditation. For me, it is simply taking a few minutes each day to be alone with just my thoughts. I have found that in just these few minutes each day with dedicated time and no distractions, I can take on some of the toughest issues and tackle them with relative ease.

Say thank you today and every day. This is such a simple thing to do and it goes such a long way. We all get busy and sometimes we do not take time to thank folks for what they do. Even if someone does the same thing every day as part of their normal duties, it is important to recognize what they do and let them know how important their role is in the unit. Try it. Genuinely thank someone and watch how you make them feel. It is contagious.

Ask someone what you can do to make their day better, and mean it. There are so many ways you can positively affect the folks around you and many of these ways take little to no resources, just a little bit of your time. Most folks just need someone to talk to or to bounce ideas off of.

Trim the fat. What are the things that you do every day that fail to add value to your life? I have cut several things from my old daily routine that added nothing to my well-being. I have replaced them with some "must pay bills" which are the things that have positive impacts on me physically and mentally. For instance, one of my "must pay bills" in my new schedule is dedicated time for fitness. This specific fitness time is in addition to the PT I do with my unit. This time happens to fall before normal duty hours and doubles as valuable quality time with my wife. This works out great because we work out together before the kids wake up (usually around 4:30 a.m.).

I have a few more of these "must pay bills" that my family and immediate staff members know about. I would argue that if other folks around you, particularly those close to you, do not know what your "must pay bills are," you are less likely to fit them in. Since my family and coworkers know how much I value my mental and physical well-being, they are instrumental in helping me make the time to stay this way.

The second part of this piece is to ask those around you what their "must pay bills" are. Doing this allows you to help them. You may be surprised at what you hear.

The last takeaway I had from hearing this man's story was based on how enthusiastic he was about life. I decided to be more enthusiastic just to see how it affected the folks around me. Honestly, I was shocked. The bottom line is attitudes are contagious... is yours is worth catching?