As a CEO, ‘No Rest’ is a Dangerous Lifestyle

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It’s no doubt that many CEO’s find it difficult to balance work and pleasure, especially at a time when their financial success should enable them to do so. Leaders in the UK appear to be more conflicted than in other cultures; they know they should be spending more time with families or pursuing a hobby but how would that work in practice? Brian Brodie, Group Chief Executive at Freedom Finance, explains for CEO Today.

I wonder why work-life balance is not prioritised, especially as CEOs are more in charge of their time than people elsewhere in the company. Maybe it’s a case of understanding that time at the desk is not a measure of effectiveness for a CEO.

A culture of back-to-back meetings is now too often being worn as a badge of honour rather than a sign that there are bigger issues to address. The UK working week has been getting busier over the last thirty years. This has accelerated with the development of technology, which makes it easier to work anywhere and anytime, even when on holiday. We must put a stop to this. The constant busyness is constraining our economy and long hours do not equal higher productivity.

Many CEOs believe that, to lead a company, they need to know everything about what is happening everywhere in the organisation. Some can be arrogant enough to believe that they, and only they, are able to make key decisions. I believe this is why some well-known institutions have collapsed, as nobody could argue with the boss and certainly nobody could stop them.

My view is that such ‘controlling’ leaders are missing the very essence of what they are there to do. They seem to forget (or don’t understand) that by making all the decisions themselves, they are not fulfilling their fundamental duty which is to improve the capability of the business. CEO’s are not micro-managers. They should put more trust in their employees and give them more freedom to make competent decisions on their own. Perhaps a few more days of holiday would be easier to take, firm in the knowledge that there are capable people looking after the business.

A previous boss of mine believed that every CEO should decide as and when to flip between action leadership and thought leadership and he taught me to remember my priorities. He introduced me to the important/urgent four box matrix. If it is urgent and important then get on with it; if it is not urgent but important then plan for it; if it is urgent but not important then delegate it and if it is not urgent and not important then you shouldn’t be doing it at all. I would recommend that approach to any CEO.

There are many times when I get the balance wrong. In every CEO’s life, there are both busy and quiet times (although people don’t admit to the quiet ones!). Over the last few years, however, I have come to realise something quite startling. Figuring out how to spend time with my family or friends or out on my motorbike is something I deserve. In my earlier days, I would feel guilty of taking all my holidays or of not being at my desk 12 hours a day. And while there are times when this is required, I think the business community needs to start recognising that doing this day in and day out for years and years does not make for effective leadership.

Everyone needs rest and down time. Researchers have established that during those times our creativity is enhanced and moments of rest and day-dreaming allow us to subconsciously define and revisit our life goals. We should embrace and cherish our down time rather than trying harder and harder to cram more in to our working life. Perhaps next time when you book your time off, don’t think of it as a potential detriment to your business but rather as an investment: in yourself and in your capabilities as a leader.

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