When I was working in my first leadership role as a director of key account management at L´Oréal – and having been highly committed to manage a challenging business and a talented team – our baby daughter was diagnosed with craniosynostosis. To avoid possible brain damages an immediate head surgery was required. As every parent would, my wife and I discussed with doctors and medical experts to find the right hospital and treatment.
When I sat there one evening whilst our little one was crying in her rocking cradle, I was contemplating about the upcoming surgery and her future. I was sorrow-stricken and regretted the long hours I used to spend in the office, the countless business trips I had made, and not having been at home as often as I should have been. Of course, all of that with the very best intentions – To earn sufficient money for a good living, to finance our own home, to secure a pleasant lifestyle, to be successful, independent, and respected.
My beautiful wife has always been very understanding and supportive. And whilst this eliminated some of my guilty conscience, back then I´ve started to realize and appreciate the true value of affectionate and caring relationships founded on love and mutual respect. And most importanly, it dawned on me that to safeguard our family I would have to permanently strive for spending as much time as possible with my loved ones. Not allowing that my work and ambitions would take over our personal lives and destroy our relationships and bonding; the actual source of our energy and happiness.
Now almost 15 years later, besides my regular job at Amazon I´m working in my spare time as an executive coach to assist my clients – mostly ambitious, hard-driving executives – to cope with similar challenges and conflicts. They´ve all received multiple and often similar advices which they rationally understand: To spend more time with family and friends, to do more sports, to learn how to avoid stress, how to plan your tasks, how to delegate, etc. All very useful concepts which can be found in various excellent books.
Still, many of them struggle in finding the good balance and in investing enough time for non-work-related activities. Mostly, because they´re not infusing enough time and efforts in building lasting relationships from which they would receive backing, encouragement and relief. There is neither a magic formula nor a silver bullet to resolve this dilemma; especially for people in demanding positions. However, what I can offer is a different perspective, i.e. providing proven principles to better navigate one´s life and to concentrate more on establishing sustainable and precious relationships to guarantee success without personal regrets:
Be clear about what you want to achieve in life. What do you want to be known and famous for once you will have passed away? Do you want to bequeath a big bank account to your offspring or do you want to be remembered as an affectionate and loving parent, partner, friend, or mentor?
Be realistic about work. It´s okay to work hard, if you like it and if it gives you satisfaction. At the same time you need to acknowledge that you cannot do everything. Otherwise, the results are likely to be personally adversely and also not in the best interest of the company.
Don’t seek perfection. Mankind is not perfect. You are not perfect. Your family, friends, and colleagues have their shortfalls and make mistakes. And that´s good! Recognize that from time to time you and others miss targets. Don´t hold neither yourself nor others to ridiculously high standards. Instead aim at continuous improvement initiatives.
Forget about work-life-balance. You better start reframing that notion. Work and life are irrevocably interlinked. Find smart ways to integrate the two of them efficiently and effectively. Don´t waste any energy on trying to rigorously separating them.
Live the moment and be in the moment. When you are with your loved ones and friends give them all your attention and be present with all your senses. Only be there for them. Switch off any work-related devices and thoughts. Practice mindfulness.
Be willing to give, share and support. And not just take or receive. Listen more than you talk. Try to listen with more than two ears. Enjoy being a sounding board. Be proactive and establish yourself as a useful resource.
Admit mistakes. Apologize for them and present a plan how to get back on track. It´s okay not to know everything and not to try being too professional. Stay authentic, human, and vulnerable. That makes you approachable and likeable.
Be tolerant and learn to like people. You can´t love everyone, but you can teach yourself to like others. Especially those who are different to you by being willing to open your mind up to different opinions and change. And by being generous and forgiving.
Make it personal. Appreciate others. Don´t praise yourself. Instead, never forget who got you where you are. Express thanks and gratitude as often as possible to friends, colleagues, business partners, clients, and customers.
Be transparent and encourage constructive criticism and honest feedback. Be brave enough to comment and to suggest improvements whenever you feel doing so.
Walk your talk. When you say you´re going to do something, then do it. Meet your deadlines. Be always a reliable partner. As such eliminate (bad) surprises. That builds trust.
Set up an easy, non-complicated system to ensure that you connect with your contacts on a more or less regular basis. Sometimes it might only be writing one short mail. Maybe even one sentence or one short SMS. There´s no reason that you have to write a two page letter to stay in contact with someone.
Look after yourself. Only if you are happy, satisfied and in-synch with yourself you can establish well- functioning and sincere relationships. Spend enough time on whatever gives you this special kick: sports, a drink with former college buddies, enjoying a relaxing spa and/ or beauty treatment, reading a good book, etc.
Don’t take yourself too seriously. You are replaceable. So am I and all of us. Enjoy yourself and show those around you that you know how to have fun. It only takes a few muscles to smile. Humor – including the ability to laugh about oneself – is a great teacher!
Living a happy and fulfilled life comes from being willing to work sedulously on building mutually beneficial relationships. Relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and business partners. Without having them it´s impossible being successful without regrets.
This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Andreas von der Heydtis Head of Kindle at Amazon.
Image: Swiss President Samuel Schmid (R) and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (R) shake hands. UNICS REUTERS/Pascal Lauener