It’s ironic that I am writing this on the fast train from Paris to Arcachon, France, for the first two-week vacation I have ever taken in my life.
Which begs the question, “How do you run a successful business and maintain your life in balance?” I’m not sure, but let me share two stories about two business owners. One is 35 and the other is 55. Both have nice companies.
While I was working with the 35-year-old business owner, who happens to be a single mother, a crisis popped up in her company. I called her while she was on vacation to discuss it.
She wanted to know what I thought she should do. I told her to come home immediately.
But she said she had been looking forward to her ski trip for six months, as well as some well-deserved time away from her children. She said she thought her team could handle the crisis.
I pointed out to her the team had caused the crisis, they didn’t have the same sense of urgency she had, and they didn’t really understand they were having a major problem – as in the “You may not make payroll in two weeks!” sort of problem.
I also pointed out that in her role as the leader, one way for her to get her point across about the team needing a greater sense of urgency was to fly home from her vacation and express her disappointment in person.
In the end, I couldn’t persuade her. She told me she deserved the vacation and she needed her life in balance. By the way, they did make payroll, BUT the same problem persists in this company and I’m sure they will lose some key business.
I related this story in a general way to a 55-year-old business friend in Florida. He’s on his fifth company and his third wife. I told him how frustrating it was to know that my client was on a different wavelength.
When I started my business, Allied Computer Group, in 1983, there was no question my priorities were Allied first, second, and third – with family, God and friends bringing up the rear. By the way, my wife is either a saint or stubborn for not divorcing me along the way!
My friend mentioned that he and I are a lot alike, and his priorities were very similar to mine. We’re of the same generation. But he pointed out that in his case, the financial and emotional cost of losing his first two marriages, and missing out on a lot of time with children when they were young, was a devastatingly high price to pay in order to have a successful company.
He also lost most of the money that he had made in his companies in the divorce settlements. He said he would have taken a much different path to success if he had the chance for a redo.
I believe the solution must lie in having situational balance. By this I mean there will be times when you must be 100 percent focused on the business and hope you have an understanding spouse and an excellent personal support network.
Sometimes this lasts for weeks at a time, sometimes for years. Accept that if you want to survive, the business will have to come first for a significant period of your life and your company’s life. And don’t do what I did and forget to be grateful enough to your spouse or support system.
You cannot do this alone.
Then there are other times when things are working well – sometimes exceptionally well. All your team members are doing their jobs. Revenue and profits are excellent. Your customers are happy. Your backlog is healthy.
Some days you may even come to the office not quite sure what to do. (Hint: Avoid the temptation to micromanage when things are going well. It doesn’t help.) When you have these grace periods, take advantage of them. Take off! Go on vacation. Go scouting for new opportunities or visit customers just to say, “Thank you for the business.”
And don’t feel guilty if things are going well and you are not even sure why. Sometimes good things do happen to entrepreneurs.
So as far as life in balance is concerned, I think it’s a myth. But I know you can have a great life as an entrepreneur if you know how to live it.
John Howman is a serial entrepreneur, business and community leader since 1983. He has led a variety of businesses, from technology to consumer products companies. He leads two groups for TEC, a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at JHowman@AlliedCG.com.