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July 15, 2005

Do I really want to be a great leader?

As I walked to my car the other day, a thought occurred to me. I was thinking back on a presentation I heard about 9 months ago. During the presentation I asked one of the panelists, a young woman who had quickly risen to become CFO at a major law firm, how she balanced the need to get the work done with the need to do the "office networking" that keeps her in the loop and highly visible. She replied, "Long hours. I arrive in the office at 7:00 a.m. and leave at 7:00 p.m." Her message was, basically...

I network during work hours,
and I work when others are at home.

As I reached for my keys I asked myself, "Can I bring myself to do that?"

I had just spent the previous 9 hours striking one task after the other off my list. Like many in this field, I am always juggling multiple projects and maintaining several office routines at once -- four committees, ten chapters, two direct reports, 100 member visits, nine budgets, and on and on. I had scarcely gotten up from my desk that day. In fact, I ate my lunch there. And it was a slower day than usual. And yet, this day, I had initiated only two short discussions with my co-workers.

There's just too much "real" work to be done, how could I possibly make time for the intra-office networking that is so essential for great leaders to do? As an introvert, that stuff simply doesn't come naturally to me. I have found some ways to make the office networking part of my task list, but somehow it never seems like it's enough.

Could I become a great leader? I think so. Do I really want to? If the price is incredibly long work weeks, I just don't know. I feel like I live a balanced life. I like my work, but I like my personal life too. I just don't know if I'm willing to give up a balanced life to be a really great leader.


Chris Bailey said...

Ben, I don't think you're unusual in your concern. I wrote about this a few weeks ago in my post on discovering a fear of success.

I think we have the ability to chose what type of leader we are and what success looks like to us. We get to embody these values and model them to those around us.

As my CEO says, "Our work is a gift and shouldn't be confused as a burden." In that light, he effectively models what he expects from us: hard, smart work but also time for the things that spark us outside of the office.

Good luck in discovering what you want to be as a leader. It's there for you.

Jeff De Cagna said...

Ben, I would encourage you to think about this in a different way.

First of all, the young CFO at the major law firm is in a different situation than you. She is working in an environment in which people are expected to give up their personal lives to make partner. Your post doesn't mention whether she is an attorney, but if she isn't, she has the added burden of having to develop relationships with attorneys who often treat non-lawyers as if they are not a part of the club. She may have felt a need to hustle just to get them to accept her as something resembling an equal.

I would add that it is the quality of your network connections that is generally more important than the absolute quantity. Yes, you want to develop a number and variety of relationships, but you want to be sure that they are deep and meaningful as well. I know that two short discussions with co-workers may unsatisfying, but the cumulative effect can be extremely positive.

Finally, I would say that there are many other aspects to the great leader's evolution. It begins and ends with what Professor Noel Tichy refers to as a teachable point of view about leadership, an authentic voice in expressing that point of view and a lived value system of honesty, integrity and compassion. From where I sit, you clearly possess each of these attributes/qualities and you are well on your way to achieving your goal. Keep the faith and thanks for an interesting post.

Ben said...

Thanks for the encouragement, guys. I know that internal networking isn't the only key to success, but I know I'm lacking in that area.

Sara said...

So glad to hear that I'm not the only one struggling with this issue. I guess it's a question of priorities. How many hours is advancement worth to me? How many hours is having a clean house worth to me? And I have to decide these things every day.