Posted by: COSI | October 14, 2008

Work-Life Balance

I started this blog while sitting in the hospital in Florida where my mother was staying while having some medical needs being met, unfortunately with some complications. The good news is that mom got out of the hospital and is back home making her recovery and was well enough for me to leave her.
But this episode contributed to thinking and discussions I’ve been having about how to strike a balance between the high level demands as COSI’s CEO and the normal family and friend needs that also should be attended to (and that I’ve been admittedly poor at).

Being an only child with a widowed aging mother (sorry mom, but I’ve got to call it as it is) is shared by many people I know, but something relatively new that I have to factor into my life. And I was willing to buy into my mother’s assurances that the procedure, something similar to what she’d had before, was relatively simple and she’d be fine with the help of her church friends.

However, my wife Dottie and our senior executive assistant Kimberly Baker were smarter than I. They independently suggested strongly that I really needed to be down in Florida with my mom. And they looked real smart as my mother ran into some scary complications from the “routine” procedure.
Running a not-for-profit organization generally is a challenging task to begin with—I still remember two conversations that I had that I found remarkable in emphasizing that point. One was with a major bank president on my board in a previous CEO position who told Dottie, “I don’t know how he does it, I couldn’t” —referring to me in addressing the institution’s challenges with a budget that was a rounding error compared to the huge banking operation he was running. Another was a conversation with a colleague, who at one point in his career had been responsible for running O’Hare Airport in Chicago, who said that his new museum leadership position “was the most complex and demanding job I’ve ever had.”

I’m not trying to make us CEO’s out as saints or special individuals—far from it, just that it is surprising how complicated and demanding non-profit leadership can be compared to organization size. Maybe it’s because you’re not only running a business, but you have generally unlimited demand/potential for your services, very limited resources to meet that demand, and you have many different constituents and stakeholders to be attentive to (audience, donors, community leaders, public officials, national funders, etc).

But I love my job.

And I get great fulfillment supporting the team here at COSI and the good work and exciting potential we’re building in contributing to the future health of our region. But then there are the months that go by without seeing any of my daughters (and soon a grandchild) or the long hours on the job that keep Dottie and I from just spending time enjoying our current good health and empty nest status.

Stephen Covey’s work, such as he wrote about in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has helped juggle priorities at work, but I’ve not translated it as well to my personal life. So I’ve sought and received some great advice recently. My colleague asked me if I could imagine what I would really enjoy doing to have that personal and family time I want if I retired. I was stumped.

I finally said that what I really enjoy doing day-in and day-out was what I was doing now—leading a special organization and a great group of people in doing good work for our community. But there was still the issue of more family and friend time. So he asked why I wasn’t giving family and friends more time now rather than looking to save all that for retirement. That kind of caught me up short as I really didn’t have a great response. He then asked, if I loved being COSI CEO, then why don’t I make the lifestyle and balance with personal life such that I can do that as long as I’d like (and the board is agreeable)?

So thanks Dottie and Kimberly for pushing me to drop everything and focus on my mom last week. And thanks to all the great COSI team leaders who covered for me and proved that I can actually step away, even with suddenness, and COSI will do just fine.

I’m working on my calendar now to get my next trips planned to see my daughters and greet our new grandchild when she or he pops into this hectic world in December. And I’m planning to enjoy my time as COSI’s CEO, with a more sustainable balance with my personal life, as long as I’m wanted here!

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