Teddy, my middle child, was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a disease with a 50 percent mortality rate. Thankfully, he was one of the lucky ones, and after two months at Boston Children’s Hospital, Teddy came home. Later, my wife and I started The Incredible Teddy Foundation to raise CDH awareness and offer financial assistance to families impacted by it.
But the emotional impact of my son’s trauma lingered long after Teddy recuperated. I began to question what my priorities actually were: How could I balance my work life and personal life to maximize both? Could I still be a company leader if I took more time for myself?
As it turns out, my company needed me to live a well-rounded life just as much as I did.
Empathic Leaders Are Stronger
My experiences have not only broadened my personal horizons, but they have also allowed me to communicate better with my team and look at investment opportunities from new angles. The biggest question I now ask is “How can what we do professionally have an impact on people generally?” Understanding the intersections between our personal and professional lives is the first step toward building a company that succeeds on paper, supports its community, and enriches its employees.
For my new company, Brandsight, we’re focused on building a business with a strong team that shares the ideals of transparency, authenticity, and kindness. As I make key decisions on products, hiring, and business strategy, I pause and assess how each one impacts our larger goals, ensuring that we’re a productive member of both our industry and our community. I particularly invest in my team during high-stress periods like a launch, knowing that we have a shared vision for success that’s built on these foundational elements.
How to Strike the Balance
Balancing your work and life and becoming the leader your team needs begins with clarifying your own path. These five strategies can help you do that:
1. Understand what success means to you. Figure out what brings you satisfaction and happiness. Be it finances, your company culture, or your company outreach, the sooner you understand your own goals, the sooner you’ll become a more effective and definitive leader.
2. Find a solid support system. Surround yourself with people you trust who can support you professionally and personally. These people can be mentors, your company’s board members, or the initial teammates you hire. Be transparent and clear from the beginning about what you hope to gain and how these individuals can help you, but most importantly, look to individuals who have clear visions, especially those you connect to emotionally.
3. Set aside daily quiet time. I recommend meditation, but whether you practice formal or informal silence, everyone needs a break. Take 15 or 20 minutes to separate yourself from the work grind and find that calm center. The better you become at separating yourself from the hubbub around you, the more you’ll identify clear avenues around challenges and the better you’ll be able to guide your team.
4. Read for pleasure. Pleasure reading is essential to being a strong leader, so pick up a book and settle in. The only rule is that your book can’t be directly related to your business. I usually juggle a couple of books at once, ensuring I have something to read no matter my mood. For instance, I just finished David L. Cook’s “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” and I’m about to finish Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” By reading regularly, you expose yourself to not only new stories, but also to new ways of thinking and problem-solving.
5. Exercise regularly. I strongly believe in the positive effect that exercise has on the mind. Schedule in exercise times a few days a week — the same way you would a recurring meeting — whether for running, yoga, or a basketball game with your team. As you do on airplanes, you have to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, meaning that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to take care of the people around you.
You don’t have to become the Dalai Lama to be a strong business leader, but with a little self-reflection and self-care, you can become a better you. So set aside the time each day: Your company needs you to live a well-rounded life just as much as you do.