Finding Work/Life Harmony Through Purpose

In August 2015, I sat in a room with John Maxwell for what was the closest I had been to him in the decade and a half that I had been studying his work. If I’m being honest, I was completely overwhelmed. This session was just prior to the event where I would complete my initial certification to use the material that had such an impact on my life to that point. It was surreal! I had left the company I had worked with my entire adult life less than a year before that and I had just filed the paperwork to make Dove Development & Consulting a thing. I frequently share how during this session, John detailed that he needed us to always exceed the expectations of everyone we worked with while using his material - and how few in society are willing to truly do that. But he shared one other thing in those two hours that provided me with a kind of clarity like I never had before.

To that point in my life, and at least as much today, I had kept a very busy schedule. I started my first 40-hour/week job as a carpenter immediately after my freshman year of high school; I had just turned fifteen. I didn’t work as much once school started that fall, simply because I still didn’t have a driver’s license and the construction crew I had worked with wrapped up their day just after I got off the bus. I started driving the following spring and only remember a few weeks from then until now where I clocked less than forty hours. Truth be told, I can’t point to many since receiving my high school diploma where I didn’t log fifty or more. Make no mistake here though, I’m not complaining at all! I’ve always seemed to find a way to enjoy most of what I’ve done. Through all that though, there were many times where I was accused of being a work-a-holic. I never bought into that crap; for me, it was just a matter of enjoying some of the finer things in life - like eating food and sleeping inside, and that required me to earn enough to pay for those things.

With that in mind, here’s what John said that impacted me so much. Someone in the crowd asked how he was able to maintain the appropriate work/life balance with such a packed schedule. John was in his late 60s at the time and was still speaking around the world no less than 200 days each year. John’s reply was like nothing I had ever heard! He responded by saying that “work/life balance is an illusion that too many people lean on as an excuse to be lazy.” He went on to detail the importance of achieving “work/life harmony,” which few of us in that small group had ever heard of.

Most folks are able to survive by finding a reasonable job that provides them with a steady 40 hour week at a fair wage, even though that’s become substantially more difficult as we’ve seen pricing on basically every essential item double over the last three years or so. But I haven’t met many people who get excited about trudging through a boring routine just to survive… And that brings us back to the importance of leading with a clear purpose; one we can latch onto as leaders and the ones we can help each of our team members strive for. Quite frankly, one of the most important things we’ll do in our leadership role is help our team members identify, connect with, and achieve the purpose that’s most important in their life. That’s where we can find what John referred to as work/life harmony.

Moving Toward Their Purpose: SERVANT Leadership

John sharing the perspective on work/life harmony - rather than work/life balance - opened up a whole new world to me. Working hard, and working a lot, wasn’t something I should be ashamed of. And I wasn’t putting myself at risk of burnout, like far too many people suggest as the result of such a heavy workload. As I mentioned before, I had identified the beginnings of my definite purpose through the training I provided teams across the US in behavior-based safety, seeing some many of them use the concepts I shared to advance in their careers, and Cindy pushing me to get licensed to use John’s material (since she said the 10 hour days I was working in my next job was like something part time compared to the 12 to 14 hour days I had worked the last few years for the manufacturing facility) took me a huge step closer to realizing the clear purpose that drives us today. The fulfillment I get from working toward a clear purpose makes nearly everything involved enjoyable, and each step we take toward achieving that purpose actually gives me energy. Burnout can’t compete with that!

Here’s where the challenge comes for you as you lead each member of your team: How can you provide them with what they need to be able to achieve THEIR purpose while they’re engaged in the tasks detailed by their job descriptions? Don’t miss my point here; I’m well aware of the pressure on everyone in a leadership role to produce results and maintain (and grow) profitability within their area of responsibility so I’m certainly not suggesting that we pull our focus away from that as we support our team members in pursuing their own purpose. Quite frankly, that’s why I’ve hit on the importance of connecting the two so much to this point!

This is where we earn our stripes as leaders. This is where we make sure we’re treating leadership as a verb and we’re truly serving each of our team members. I’ve heard too many people confuse this idea of “servant leadership” with the perception of doing anything or everything for someone, just for the sake of serving them. It’s not! In fact, I’m convinced that doing something for someone that they can and should be doing for themselves is anything but serving them; I believe that does far more harm than good. I can think of several kids I grew up with who were handed everything and never appreciated any of it; they hadn’t earned it so they didn’t value it… The “servant leadership” I’m referring to is where we do everything we can as leaders to remove the roadblocks our team members face in accomplishing the tasks they’re required to do AND we look for ways that doing this can help them move closer to achieving their individual purpose at the same time.

When we’ve been intentional in doing several of the things I shared before - learning all we can about our team members, listening to what they share as their goals, and watching how their behaviors align with it all - we’ll have a strong foundation in place. This won’t be a place, though, where we lower our expectations regarding their work requirements; if anything, it may serve as an excellent reason to maintain or even increase our expectations of them. What we will need to be clear about is what we’re attempting to help them achieve and why we’re doing it. We’ll also need something from them: they’ll need to let us know how we can help best.

Supporting Their Purpose

In a lesson I wrote several years ago, I referenced something I had first read in The Servant by James Hunter, suggesting that servant leadership requires the individual leading to determine what they’re team members truly need in order to best serve them. This falls right in line with what we just worked through regarding doing for our teams what they cannot do for themselves and maintaining high expectations around everything they can and should be doing. This can be yet another one of those things that are simple, but not always easy…

Consider this as a very basic example: When our son was young, it wasn’t uncommon to find several pairs of clothes on the floor of his bedroom every day. I don’t think he actually wore them all; in fact, I don’t believe he could have! I believe that as he pulled something from the drawer or closet to decide what he was going to wear, he threw everything that didn’t make the cut on the floor rather than hanging it back up or putting it back in his dresser. Whatever the case was, me or Cindy following him around to pick up everything he chose to chuck aside would have provided no lasting value of any kind to him - and it would have resulted in us being constantly frustrated. At that stage in his life, the thing we could do for him that he wasn’t yet able to do for himself was to set expectations and hold him accountable to meet them. Today, he’s an incredibly hard worker and is very disciplined. You’d have to ask his wife if we helped him break the habit of throwing every piece of clothing he touches on the floor though. While we may not have been completely successful with that, I believe we at least laid a decent foundation for her to work from…

I realize helping our team members work toward their own definite purpose while they’re engaged in the tasks required to reach our organizational purpose will be more involved than simply holding them accountable to pick their clothes off the floor. I only used that as an example because we’ve heard so many folks in leadership roles share how often they jump in to help their team members with routine activities, saying they won’t ask anyone else to do something they’re not willing to do themselves. Please understand, there’s a tremendous difference in being willing to help and ensuring the help we provide adds the most possible value. Lending a hand may ease their immediate load but it can also suck up time, preventing us from having the capacity to do other things that only we can do for them.

Helping them move toward their purpose will require more than a surface level look at where we could lend a hand. In many cases, we’ll need to use every bit of information we’ve learned from them to even begin identifying the things we can do for them that they can’t do for themselves. Think back to the things we worked through before about asking the right questions, listening to what they tell us, and observing what they put the most energy into. If we’ve done that well, we have a keen understanding of why they’ve chosen the path they’re on, what motivates them to get out of bed each day, and where they hope to be in the years ahead.

 As Cindy and I wrap up the final lesson in our Emerging Leader Development course, we share a fourth R to the initial three that we learned from “The Law of Priorities”, chapter seventeen in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This fourth R, Reproduction, is something we first saw detailed by John Maxwell in Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, but I can’t point to the specific chapter. The idea, though, stuck with me. He emphasized the importance of being intentional about who we delegate things to (which ties in with the first R, Required) so that the experience they gained through the process helped prepare them for a bigger opportunity down the road.

I believe, as leaders, we can apply this same concept in helping our team members move closer and closer to achieving their individual purpose while they’re engaged in the required duties of their daily role - as long as we’ve invested the energy into really learning what their purpose is (and assuming we’re competent enough to understand what their role requires). Then, we need to provide them with something that many organizations promise in their mission statements but few actually make good on; we need to empower them - so we’ll look at how we can do that soon.