Read the Introduction

Introduction: Righting the Ship

The aspiring leaders I’ve worked with for some three decades have taught me many things, but these are two of the most important:

Great leaders constantly strive to strike a balance between work and the other realms of their lives.

Great leaders share a passion: They want to make a difference in the world.

Here’s something else I’ve learned along the way: Those two things go hand in hand. The most successful leaders are the ones who work the hardest at balancing all aspects of their lives. And when they do, they find that they really do make a difference.

It sounds way too simple, doesn’t it? The truth is, achieving balance isn’t simple or easy. It takes a whole lot of effort, especially during times like these when companies—and indeed whole countries—are thrown into turmoil.

For the second time in this young century, America faces a daunting challenge. The first came with the utter shock and horror of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The second rumbled up with the economic earthquakes that began rattling the world in 2008. This new crisis not only threatened to engulf thousands more than the earlier one, but it was poised to test the mettle of leaders around the globe in ways not seen for decades.

Could the people at the top handle the stress? Would they have the talent, wisdom and fortitude to keep the rest of us focused and engaged, even as we worried about losing our shirts along with our jobs?

The best leaders look at the cold, hard facts, make a plan and march forward. People want and need to know that leaders are, in fact, leading, not panicking or cowering in fear.

Few of us are in a position to alter world events as a government treasury chief—or a new American president—is able to do. Nudged by the global financial crisis, however, we can look with fresh eyes at what really matters in our own world. Now more than ever, it seems clear that if we pay closer attention to our families, our communities and our personal well-being as well as our jobs, we’ll not only be better leaders but better people. This seems to be one of the clear messages of the 2008 presidential election.

With that in mind, I will offer in these pages dozens of ideas on how you can boost your ability to balance your life. Begin with my 20-point mental checklist on what makes a balanced leader. Then I’ll walk you through concepts that I use in my work as a clinical and organizational psychologist and executive coach. At the end of the book, you’ll find other resources and an invitation to join me online at It’s the place where I hope we can keep the conversation going.

What Do I Mean By Balanced Leadership?

Here are 20 principles that I think define a balanced leader:

  1. You balance your needs with those of others in your organization.
  2. You balance your needs with those of others in your family.
  3. You manage your energy.
  4. You manage your time.
  5. You adhere to your values.
  6. You keep an optimistic outlook while remaining realistic.
  7. You cultivate consistency while adapting to change.
  8. You practice self-reflection.
  9. You maintain your emotional equanimity.
  10. You recognize and manage your blind spots.
  11. You leverage your strengths while managing your weaknesses.
  12. You try to see yourself as others see you.
  13. You alternate periods of hard work with periods of sustained rest.
  14. You play as hard as you work.
  15. You take chances and make mistakes.
  16. You acknowledge your mistakes.
  17. You learn from your mistakes.
  18. You maintain a good sense of humor.
  19. You cultivate friends and relatives to keep you on the right path.
  20. You never do any of this alone.

In unbalanced times, it’s more important than ever to practice these principles. The mark of a good leader is the ability to lead in all kinds of circumstances. In the toughest of times, leaders need to stand on a rock-solid set of core values.

Remember—life almost always is unbalanced, out of kilter, listing or leaning in one direction or another. No matter what, you’ll need the skills and strength to help you steady the ship.


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