Author Rob Pasick talks leadership qualities
ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Dr. Pasick about the important leadership qualities in his new book, Balanced Leadership in Unbalanced Times.
DAVID: You certainly got the title right for this new book. What we need is “Balanced Leadership” and these definitely are “Unbalanced Times.”
ROB: We’re all walking on very shaky ground. What people need to remember is that, even though there are lots of rocks and slippery spots that can trip us up, we’ve got to keep getting up and moving forward.
DAVID: One of the helpful things you point out in your book is that we need to re-evaluate even the most basic assumptions about our lives. For example, it’s not easy to know what “moving forward” looks like, anymore.
ROB: So many things we all took for granted are no longer sure things. That’s difficult.
DAVID: For example, we can’t assume we’re going to have a lifelong career anymore. It we’re trying to focus on leadership qualities that will guide us through a lifetime, one of them has to be: Adapt to change. Lots of change.
ROB: Absolutely. People are finally coming face to face with this reality. Even if you’re someone who started off on a career path with a well-established employer and it looked like you were going to pursue this particular work for life—now, you’re likely discovering that you’re really in business for yourself. You’re a free agent. We’re all becoming free agents. People who get that message and begin to understand how it affects our lives are the people who are best suited for this new age of life and work. Each person has to start thinking of himself or herself as almost an individual brand.
You need to ask yourself: What’s your unique talent? Where can you make a unique contribution? That’s what you’re going to be paid for in the future—not just for showing up at an office somewhere with some degree you’ve earned. This is a new situation in the world of work for most of us.
DAVID: How about many years ago, when people learned individual crafts. Is that similar?
ROB: Yes, there were eras before when successful people developed individual crafts—but what’s different is that, in those earlier eras, things didn’t change that rapidly. You didn’t need to worry too much about change. If you developed your craft, you probably could depend upon it for a lifetime.
Leadership Qualities: ‘A Very Steady Rudder’
DAVID: Now, it’s also the pace of change that’s a problem. Your unique contribution may be something of a moving target.
ROB: About 10 years ago we were asking: Are we nearing the end of our capacity to absorb change? This was 10 years ago and we look back now and say: Whoa! Those were the easy days! Today, change is even more dramatic, faster—and often it’s immediately global in scope. Now, even if we have a craft, we have to think about how things are changing globally in our line of work.
DAVID: So this is where your “balance” concept comes in right?
ROB: Absolutely. You may think the answer is to pour more and more effort into your work—that one sphere of your life that is very important. But that’s not the answer. The real answer begins with a very steady rudder within our lives so that we can begin to maneuver in this turbulent environment. That’s what I mean when we talk about balance. We have to start by knowing where our center is. We need to understand the elements within our lives on which we will not compromise. We need to identify the rocks that keep us steady as we go.
Change is coming at us in all areas of life—even in what we assume will keep us healthy. It’s getting harder and harder to critically evaluate all this information in all these phases of life. So, in this new book, I try to step back to rely upon solid, basic recommendations. That’s important. I want to be scientific about what I’m telling people. The things I’m recommending—they’re based on real data. I’m a psychologist and I look to the data that seems to be reliable and I’m telling people: Here are some principles you can follow that will be sustainable over time.
Leadership Qualities: Five Pillars for Balance
DAVID: You say there are five spheres of life—five balls we’re juggling—that should wind up in some kind of balance, if we’re going to live an effective, happy life and feel that we’re doing some good in the world. So, describe the five spheres.
ROB: These aren’t just five balls we’re forced to juggle. These can be five pillars that can balance our lives. This is true, not only in business, but in our communities and in all phases of life. We’ve already mentioned our work, which is one of the five. We’ve mentioned health. That’s No. 2. Then, family is another pillar, another essential sphere of life. Integrity is a fourth pillar. This area of “integrity” includes the values we live by, our reputation as a person, our principles. Then, the fifth is community: our neighbors, friends, the people living around us.
DAVID: I think one of your most powerful insights is that people tend to place all their emphasis—in anxious times like these especially—on the phase of life that’s probably the one we can adapt most easily, right?
ROB: Right. We tend to put more and more effort into the one sphere that’s actually the most replaceable: our work. Think about this. If we let our health collapse, then it’s much more difficult to make any kind of recovery. It’s easier to find another job than to come back after our health has collapsed. When we get stressed out about work, we also tend to let family lag behind, don’t we? But, I’ll tell you: Finding a new job is easier than going through all the destructive things that happen when we neglect our families. People find themselves drawn toward maybe having an affair. We can wind up facing divorce. If we’ve messed up and we’ve neglected our children, then there may be no way to go back and recover from that. When we’re stressed over work, a lot of people tend to neglect family first—when that’s actually one of the most important spheres in our lives.
Community? That’s also very difficult to restore, if we allow community relationships to fall apart. And integrity? Get into drinking or addictions and develop behaviors that wind up publicly violating our integrity? That’s very hard to recover from. Much more difficult than finding a new job.
‘We All Need To Be Leaders Now’
DAVID: You’re saying we need to realize this is a transformative period and take hold of this deep rudder in our lives—these core principles—and start sailing in these new waters.
ROB: Yes. This may be a time when we should slow down and spend more time with our children. You may have a great opportunity to do that if you’re suddenly laid off. And we need to think of ourselves as leaders. We need to develop a personal plan. Like it or not, we’re all becoming free agents and we need to take control.
A lot of people do tell me: “I don’t need to be a leader.” And I say to them: “No, we all need to be leaders now.” And we begin that process by carefully examining the truly enduring qualities in our lives. That’s where we recover our strength. It doesn’t come through quick tricks or fast solutions. It’s a process that takes a while. It’s something we want to sustain as we move into this new world.