The Reality of Work-Life Balance

Much has been written about work-life balance. Some say it is impossible to find in our fast-paced world. Others say it is achievable—but you have to work at it.

Summertime is usually the time of year when people try to concentrate a little more on work-life balance. However, I don’t see balance as just a summer project. In fact, for some people, summers can be more hectic than the rest of the year with children out of school, extended visits from family and friends, and pressure to take vacation—even as project deadlines pile up at work. This kind of schedule can turn a balanced summer into a stressful summer. But there is a way to manage all the day-to-day demands of a busy life, no matter what time of year.

Reaching balance in life is all about decreasing stress by focusing on things that create a sense of contentment. Several years ago my lovely wife, Margie, came up with PACT—an easy to remember model whose elements can help people relieve stress in their lives by achieving Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

  • Perspective is about seeing the big picture of life. If we know our purpose and direction in life, chances are we have a good perspective and daily stressors don’t get blown out of proportion. To illustrate the concept of perspective, I think about when our kids were young and we would take them to the zoo. Most parents get a little crazy chasing their kids around the zoo, but we loved it because our top priority was to have fun with the kids. We were able to overlook certain things and just enjoy the day—it was all part of our perspective. I called it zoo mentality. Honestly, it still seems strange to me that parents take their kids to the zoo then spend the whole time yelling at them. Everyone would have more fun if they embraced the perspective of zoo mentality.
  • Autonomy relates to our ability to make choices that allow us to be in control of our lives. If you have a high sense of autonomy, you are not totally controlled by your job, your spouse, your children, or anyone or anything. Of course no one can always be in complete control of every aspect of their life, but as long as your daily activities support your personal and professional goals you will have a greater sense of balance.
  • Connectedness is all about having strong positive relationships at home, at work, and in the community. Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. Creating trusted connections at work helps improve morale and performance, while spending quality time with family and friends leads to a feeling of satisfaction of belonging to a community or being part of something bigger than yourself.
  • Tone covers how you feel about yourself physically. It includes the way you look, your health and energy level, and your level of fitness.  People with high tone generally have a high energy level, maintain a proper weight, have sound nutrition, and feel good about their physical appearance.

Margie and I have taught the PACT model for many years, and I still use it to monitor the balance in my own life. It’s a great tool that will help you not only pinpoint what’s wrong when life gets stressful, but also check off what you’re doing right when you are feeling great.

When your life is in balance, stress naturally loses its grip. Start using the PACT model this summer and keep it up all year long. You’ll live life at a higher level.

Thanksgiving Thoughts from Ken

This week brings one of my very favorite holidays—Thanksgiving. I love it because it’s not focused on gifts and things like that. It’s about what everyone brings to the table. You pass around the turkey and the dressing and all, and it’s a chance for everyone to really express what they are thankful for. I hope you’ll be able to do that.

I’m thankful that I live in this country. I’m thankful that I had a wonderful mom and dad who always lifted me up and a great sister who encouraged me constantly. I’m grateful that I met my wife Margie and she’s been my companion and my love and my partner for over fifty years now—it’s unbelievable. I’m thankful for our son Scott and our daughter Debbie and what they’ve brought to my life, and all of our grandkids who are all really special. I’m blessed to have a sweet little dog, Joy, who is a perfect example of unconditional love. I’m thankful for a wonderful God who loves me and loves you and loves all of us. I’m grateful that I’m healthier and in better shape than I have been in years. I’m thankful for everyone in our company. I think we’ve created a wonderful place and we want to continue to build on that as we go forward. We’re all in it together and we support each other.

I like to say, “Life is a very special occasion—don’t miss it.” Part of that is being thankful for the blessings you have. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t troubles along the way. But life is a very special occasion. Every day when we wake up we need to be thankful that we have another day to share and be with people and maybe make a difference.

So this week, reach out to the people you really care about and love, and tell them you care. I’m wishing you all the very best and I’m thankful that we all have an opportunity to make a difference in the world. Have a wonderful holiday. Recognize how blessed you are and reach out and tell people that you love them.  Take care.

Is there such a thing as servant leadership in government?

(This is the eleventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

I realize that what I have been saying about creating a servant leadership culture in Washington is not easy to sell. To a lot of people, it sounds like “soft management.”

When I am confronted by these kinds of concerns, I love to tell about an experience I had several years ago at my local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Stop me if you’ve heard this one!

When you mention the DMV, most people would say it’s a government bureaucracy that often treats them as a number instead of a human being. I felt the same way at the time—but like we all do every few years, I had to go there in person to renew my driver’s license.  I hadn’t been to the DMV in years and headed to the office with low expectations.

I knew immediately something had changed when I walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling woman. “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”

“English,” I replied.

She pointed to a nearby counter and said, “Right over there.”

The guy behind the counter cheerfully said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you today?” It took me only nine minutes to get my replacement license, including having my picture taken. I asked the woman who took my picture, “What are you all smoking here? This isn’t the same old DMV I used to know and love.”

She asked, “Haven’t you met our new director?”and pointed to a man sitting at a desk right in the middle of everything. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and asked, “What’s your job as the director of this branch of the DMV?” The man gave me the best definition of management I had ever heard:

“My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen (customer) need.”

The director obviously had a compelling vision for his department. The point of their business was to serve the needs of their customers, and to serve them well. What did this director do? I learned that he cheered everybody on—that’s why he was out in the middle of the action. He also cross-trained everyone in every job—that way, if a flood of citizens came in suddenly, they would be able to provide the service that was needed. And no one went to lunch between 11:30 and 2:00, because that was the busiest time of day for customers to come in.

This director created a motivating environment for his people. His team members were really committed. Even employees I recognized from past visits—who at the time had seemed stiff and jaded—were now excited about serving.

When leaders are servants first and leaders second, they make a positive difference in everyone around them. Would you like to work for this kind of leader? You’d better believe it. Why? Because he’s a servant leader who treats his people as his business partners in implementing the service vision and solving problems.

If this philosophy can impact a government agency like the DMV, why can’t it impact all segments of society, including the U.S. government? 

To me, what’s needed are leaders in Washington who believe we should:

  • Have a Compelling Vision: If people don’t have a larger purpose to serve, the only thing they have to serve is themselves.
  • Treat Citizens as Business Partners: People who are well informed have a greater commitment to help solve problems.
  • Involve Every Sector of Society: No problem can withstand the assault of sustained collective thinking and action.
  • Elect Servant Leaders:  The more leaders we have in Washington who realize that their job is to serve, not to be served, the better chance we have of breaking our political deadlock and maintaining our reputable standing in the world.

Thanks for tuning in to the Leadership Vision for America series.  America is a great country and I feel blessed every day to be able to live here. Let’s encourage our leaders to do what they need to do to keep America moving in the right direction. And if you’re an American citizen, be sure to get out and vote on November 6, on national, state, and local political races and issues. Your vote counts! 

I’ll have some final thoughts next week as I conclude this series. What are your thoughts as Election Day approaches?

Bounded Set Thinking vs. Centered Set Thinking

(This is the ninth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

In my last post I stated that business and government can’t solve all of America’s problems by themselves. Ideally, our leaders in Washington would involve every sector of society in problem solving. The three sectors encompass nine different domains:

  • The Public Sector, represented by government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector, represented by business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector, represented by the faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

When Eric Swanson and Sam Williams were working on their book To Transform a City, they come across a very interesting philosophy about problem-solving relationships. Paul Hiebert from Fuller Seminary discovered in the 1970s that when people come together to solve a problem, they often have a “closed circle” philosophy, or what he called a Bounded Set. A bounded-set thinker asks the question, “Do you believe like I believe?”  This becomes a divisive question because it separates those who are in from those who are out, limiting people who are allowed to work on the problem to those who sign off on an agreed-upon belief.  Whether it’s political, religious, or some other type of personal conviction—unless you believe what we believe, you can’t work on the problem. This philosophy doesn’t work because it is exclusive, not inclusive. The weeding-out process continues, the circle keeps getting smaller, and the problem doesn’t get solved.

A more productive way to look at problem-solving relationships is an open philosophy Hiebert referred to as a Centered Set. A centered set has no boundary that defines who is in and who is out. The question that determines if you are part of the problem-solving group is, simply, “Do you care about what I care about?” This philosophy works because it is inclusive of all belief systems and focuses on the matter at hand: Are you concerned about the problem we want to focus on?

How would this work in Washington?  It would be the job of the president and the legislature to first identify the key problem areas that need to be focused on to help keep America prosperous and safe. Next, they would select key people from each of the nine domains, whether inside or outside their own ranks, who care about each of the areas selected. Each of these groups would work with other American citizens to develop strategies to solve each of the key problems or concern issues going forward.

The people working together could have all different kinds of personal convictions about things as long as they were all passionate about the key problem area they were working together on—whether it be the economy, homeland security, unemployment, affordable housing, balancing the budget, improving the educational system, or another important issue.

Identifying leaders from each of the domains to work on each problem highlights the fact that no one segment of the population can solve all of America’s problems. In fact, one of my favorite sayings is, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

A perfect example of someone who lived and breathed this philosophy was William Wilberforce, who helped stop slavery in England. It took twenty years. He traveled the country on horseback and got to know key leaders from all of the different domains. He didn’t care what they believed politically, religiously, or economically—all he asked the leaders was whether they agreed with him that slavery was wrong.  If they agreed, he would help them determine how they could influence important people within different segments of society and get them on the “stop slavery” bandwagon. This led to a number of people from diverse backgrounds coming together to put an end to slave trading and ultimately abolish slavery in their country altogether.

This is the type of process our government leaders need to put into action to deal with today’s pressing issues. Right now, Washington seems to be dominated by the bounded-set philosophy, where “you have to believe what I believe” to even begin to work together on a problem, let alone agree on a solution. So you have one big bounded-set group, the Democrats, at odds with another big bounded-set group, the Republicans.

The only way to get anywhere is through compromise. What makes this third secret for fixing Washington so powerful is that it focuses on sustained collective action by all segments of society.

Next time I’ll bring it all together with the fourth secret for fixing Washington, which involves a practice that’s near and dear to my heart:  servant leadership.

Are the people of America treated as business partners?

(This is the seventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

I’ve laid out the first secret that would help our leaders bring America back to a healthy state:  Create a compelling vision by knowing who we are (our purpose), where we’re going (our picture of the future), and what will guide our journey (our values). If our leaders had a clear, agreed-upon vision, it would help them set national goals they could focus on. But they shouldn’t try to figure everything out by themselves. That leads me to the second secret.

The Second Secret: Treat Citizens as Your Business Partners

Assumption: The more that people are “in the know,” the greater their commitment to work together to help solve problems.

In my work in the business world, one of the things that has bothered me the most is watching leaders of companies in financial trouble go behind closed doors and make all the decisions by themselves in an attempt to turn the situation around.  It’s amazing to talk to people in those organizations who didn’t even know there was a problem until major layoffs were announced. Those people certainly didn’t feel like business partners—they felt like victims.

A lot of people don’t know that Southwest Airlines is over eighty percent unionized. When employees were first asked to vote on being union members, they came to cofounder Herb Kelleher to tell him what was going on. He said, “I love unions as long as they will let you sit on the same side of the table as me. If they want us to sit on opposite sides of the table, vote them down.” Union leaders have been present at every leadership meeting I have attended at Southwest Airlines. That’s quite a different story from other airlines that fight with their unions or even declare bankruptcy to break union contracts. At Southwest, they are one big family of business partners.

That’s why I think many Americans don’t trust politicians—because they don’t treat the American people as business partners. They don’t share information with us. We know we’re going through a difficult time but we don’t really know the facts. Politicians are sitting around Washington trying to figure out solutions to our problems and they haven’t asked us to help.

My wife Margie and I were recently in Australia visiting a business colleague, Lindsay Fox, who founded Linfox Transport. When we first met Lindsay in 1977, his company was doing about $10 or $15 million in annual business. Today, Linfox does over $1 billion annually just in logistics—not only in Australia but also in countries all over Asia. He’s one of the most respected businessmen in Australia. Several years ago when Australia was having a big problem with unemployment, Australia’s then-prime minister asked Lindsay and the head of the trade union association to take to the road. They visited major cities and towns in Australia to share the facts about the unemployment problem and to try to convince business owners to provide work for unemployed people.  This approach helped generate over 60,000 new jobs. Why? Because they went to the people, shared the information, and asked for help. Lindsay was quoted as saying, “It’s incredible what you can do when you believe you can work through it. This is why it’s tremendously important to work with the government, with friends, and help people.”

Our leaders need to do the same thing. Be honest with us. Tell the American people what the issues are and then go to communities around the country, let us know how we can help, and listen to our suggestions. I guarantee you that the citizens of this country have lots of good ideas and are willing to work with our leaders to find solutions for America’s problems.

Jack Bowsher, former Director of Education for IBM, agrees with my contention that Washington should treat our citizens as business partners. He argues, “To protect our way of life and our standard of living, we Americans must become more involved in seeking the truth about the key issues that are being debated and voted on at all three levels of our government.”

If our leaders in Washington would start seeing American citizens as true business partners, it’s amazing to think of what we could accomplish together. Would you agree?

When it comes to getting America back on track, I believe involving every segment of society is essential. I’ll talk about that in my next post.