After 15 years, this I've learned.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

Earlier this week, I quietly celebrated the 15th anniversary of the beginning my consulting business, Community of Leadership, LLC. There was no time for celebration or fanfare, just another day of trying to make a difference that matters.  However, a road trip this week gave me time to reflect on the past 15 years.

Here's some of what I've learned.

1. You don't know what you don't know, and if you did, you'd be so overwhelmed by it, you'd never act.

I was young and naive when I began my consulting practice in 1995. I started with a desire to help leaders develop their organizations and communities. That purpose still remains. What I didn't know then is just how ill-prepared I was to go into business on my own. If you remain open to learning, to trying new things and fixing what is broken, you can make it. But it isn't necessarily easy. The Five Questions That Everyone Must Ask that is a part of my Circle of Impact model developed from my experience and that of others, especially #5.

2. What you THINK you are doing, and what you ARE doing aren't always the same. The difference you think you are making, and the actual difference you are making are not always the same either.

Focus is a good thing. However, if it is practiced too rigidly, you can miss what is right in front of you. While relationships have always been important and central to what I do, I'm not really selling a relationship. Instead it is a process of discovery and development where the relationship is integral to that process. At the end of the day, real progress often comes from the conversation that takes place within relationship.

The actual project, while beneficial, is often a secondary benefit compared to what happens in the relationship. The project deals with an immediate or current need. The development of the relationship prepares us for the future. The lesson, therefore, is to realize that nothing is ever exactly like you think it is or want it to be. The task for us is to be aware of the peripheral or ancillary processes that are taking place, recognize their value and give them attention.

3. Work is a context for personal growth. As a result, everyday we can afflict ourselves on our loved ones because we are not the person whom we or they think we are, not always living up to what we say we believe or are committed to doing.

My family has lived through my many personal transitions over the past 25 years. It has not always been easy for them. The old joke of asking "... when is Dad going to grow up and get a real job" is a familiar refrain in many homes. There are two sides to this situation which are important to address with our loved ones.

If you remain the same person over the course of your lifetime, you may never reach your potential. Growth has it price, and often that price is in our relationships. If your family expects you to remain the same person you were when you married or before you began a dramatic growth curve, then there can be conflict.

What I've seen in too many situations are families where the structure of the family is what is important, and not the actual relationships. And when Dad or Mom begins to change, it creates conflict, because what we are used to, what is comfortable, secure and predictable, is no longer there. Ambiguity and change get thrust into an already volatile cultural social environment.  As a result, families grow apart, members go looking for support and intimacy in other places. So, if you are growing into being a new person with a new focus and purpose for your life, then know that it has its effects upon your loved ones and you need to address it openly and with genuine humility.

One of the ways that I've seen these situations addressed is an appeal to balance between life and work. I'm not sure that balance is achievable. It assumes that we can compartmentalize our lives into the personal and public or work and measure out our time and attention in proportion to our priorities. I've concluded that alignment is a better approach. We create alignment by elevating the importance of living out our purpose and values, and allowing for the social settings and organizational environments where we live and work to adapt to our core beliefs. In other words, be willing to change what you do so that you can become the person you are destined to be.  Again, this is not necessarily an easy path to take.

If your life's trajectory is taking you through many stages of personal growth so that you are becoming a different person at 40 than you were at 25, or different person at 55 than you were at 40, then it is very important that your family grow with you, and you with them. If your growth happens too dramatically, too radically, over too short of time, without their input or support, you'll find yourself becoming estranged from them. The lesson is that every transition we go through in our lives is filled with opportunity and challenge. How we meet both determines what comes next. As you change, care for the people who matter most to you. Keep them close, so they understand and can support you as change happens. If they genuinely love you, then you'll make it through the hardships of change.

4. After 15 years, my original purpose and the values that sustain the vision for my work remain the same. The structure of my work has constantly changed.

This is not just a good lesson for personal growth. It is a lesson for businesses and organizations develop. I find the reverse to be often the case, where the social and organizational structures dictate to us what our purpose and values are. Purpose and values are internal strengths. Structure is an external form that provides a context for living out our purpose and values. People whose security is in the external world of things and order, often find themselves frustrated because it is impossible to control their social and organizational contexts. Those who rely on the internal world of their purpose, values and a vision for impact, find these ideas provide them the strength to manage the chaos of change in the external world. As a result, when your personal strength is internal, you can move into a wide variety of contexts and make a difference that matters. You remain the same person regardless of who you are with, and what you are doing. This is what we mean by integrity and authenticity. This is why it so important to know what you purpose is and what you value. They are foundation of sustainability and opportunity in life and work.

5. Opportunities may abound. However, not all opportunities are equal. We usually don't know this until we are half way into the project. Then, we realize that it isn't going to work out or there is something better that we didn't initially see.

While I'm not an advocate for quitting, I have learned that ending something sooner than later is usually better. Know what you want from life and work. Know what you are committed to giving to a particular situation, and don't forget it. Often the reason why these opportunities don't work is that there is not sufficient follow through and effective execution of the plan. In addition, I've learned that what someone says is the opportunity or the problem is probably only part of the story. You'll find it out soon enough, and that is when you'll know whether you should increase your participation or quit.

Life will teach you lessons that you can then turn into growth and benefit for yourself and others. If you let it. Personally, I'm looking to another 15 years of work before I retire. I feel that everything up to this point is just preparing me for the main act which is coming. In other words, if you have a plan for your whole life, make sure that you leave open the possibilities of changing your plan so that at the end of your life your legacy is clear and secure. Your legacy may come in the last half of the last chapter. So, be committed to staying true to your purpose and values through the end of your life.

I look forward to collaborating with many of you in the future. All the best.  Thank you very much.

Alignment and the Myth of Balance

First Posted April 2010 at Weekly Leader.

  Balancing Rock

I don’t know many people who don’t want balance between their life and their work. How many spouses have complained about long work hours? How many daughters and sons have gone through their childhood with one or both of their parents working long hours at the office or constantly away on a business trip?

The desire for balance is ingrained in our psyche from generations of work that lacked autonomy and meaning. It is a remnant of the industrial era when the distinction between life and work became more distinct. Prior, life was work. The line was between the two was non-existent.

In 1899, sociologist Thorsten Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class: An economic study of institutions. His research marked a growing phenomenon of people separating their personal life from their work life. Veben was the one who coined the often used term, “conspicuous consumption.” His research marked a growing tension between personal life and work life. This tension is at the heart of the quest for balance.

The balance between life and work, I’ve come to conclude, is an impossible standard. It is a measure of time and activity level rather than a measure of the value of either our life or work.

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. How do you know when there is balance between your life and work? Is it a 50/50 split?

2. If you were to achieve balance, what would be different? Is it simply that you would have more time to pursue your leisure time interests?

3. Presently, which side, life or work, is more out of balance? What is it specifically that tells me this?

When we look more closely at the relation between our personal life and our work life, we find competitive interests. My personal life and my work life are in conflict with one another. I have personal goals and aspirations, and I also have an ambition to advance in my career. Too often these seem incompatible, or out of balance.

When Thorsten Veblen conducted his study, people were just beginning to discover a sense of a individual life apart from work. In his day, the emergence of the leisure class was a sign of growing economic opportunity for people whose ancestors had only known hard work and poverty. If you were smart, industrious and willing to move, you could create a new life. It is no mistake that it was during this time that the Horatio Alger stories were so popular. They crystallized a perception in the growing middle class that hard work focused on personal goals was the route to success and achievement in life.

Over a century later, the tension between our private lives and our public life at work still exists. Establishing balance is no longer an adequate answer. Instead, something more radical is.

The radical answer is the alignment of our life purpose, values and vision for impact with the work that we do.

It is radical because it requires change. It is not simply finding some trade off between personal goals and career ambition. Instead, is bringing our life and our work into alignment around our purpose, values and vision.

It is difficult to visualize alignment between your life and work without clarifying the ideas that connect it all together. I am making the assumption that we are not just aligning our purpose, values and vision within our personal or private life, but really aligning both our personal and work lives together with our purpose, values and vision. The difference matters. It is between a life of compartments vying for influence over the other, or life in alignment around the values
that truly matter to us.

We are not one person at home and another at work. We are the same persons at home and at work, and the more we align those two halves (The tension of balance still remains.), the greater impact our lives can have.

Let’s use the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides to see how this can work.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values


Our purpose is our sense of identity. It is our awareness of who we are; what our gifts, talents, and strengths are; what the social and organizational contexts of our lives are; and, the kind of work that we want to spend our days doing. When our purpose is not aligned either personally or occupationally, then a wedge has been driven between our
personal life and work. For ultimately, to have alignment means I’ve defined who I am, and my work is simply a reflection of who I am.

If you love the work you do, then you are closer to being in alignment, than you are if you hate what you do. Our purpose is not simply what I can do well. It is deeper than that. Our purpose is rather the difference I can make that truly matters. When we are having an impact, we know it because we find satisfaction and peace of mind.

Aligning our purpose with our work is not just doing that which I love and can do. It is aligning it with the right situation where I have the opportunity to create the impact that my purpose identifies. Purpose isn’t just another way of stating how I’m going to fill up my days with activities. No, it is about the impact or difference that I can make..


Our values connect us to people and our social settings, whether at work or away. They define what our standards are, what matters, the boundaries of what is appropriate, permitted and our measures for success. The clearer we are about our values the more likely it will be that we’ll find people who can join us in our purpose.

For this reason, it is vital that our values are aligned with our relationships. At the heart of this alignment is trust. When there is alignment, there is trust between people. When there is trust, there is openness, accountability, mutuality, and confidence. These are the relationships that we need in our life and work that enable us to fulfill our purpose. I cannot achieve it alone. No one can. We are totally, absolutely dependent upon other people to contribute to the fulfilling of our purpose. If you think otherwise, then your ambitions are set too low.


Our vision is a picture of alignment. It is a picture of what we do with the people with whom we are in relationship through the social and organizational structures where we live and work to create the impact that our purpose points to. It is simpler than that last sentence, because when we are in alignment, we don’t see the parts, but the whole. We see the effect.

A vision therefore is more like a video than a snapshot. It is a view of what we see happening. It is a visual image in my mind’s eye that is a reference point for what we are constantly looking to achieve. It is as much the experience of it as it is the what of it.

The best place to start to understand what is your vision is to ask, “What’s changed?” The change you see is the effect of the activities of your purpose and values through people and structures. If there is no change, there is no solution to problem, no resolution to an issue, no growth, no progress, no forward movement. As much as we don’t like change, if you aren’t creating change, you aren’t fulfilling your purpose, and most likely finding that your values have less and less a role to play in your life and work.

Alignment is not the same as balance.

Balance is a picture of the compartments of our life and work in tension. Alignment is the parts of our life and work, functioning together toward an impact that makes a difference that matters.

Alignment comes when we connect our purpose, our values and our vision for impact with the people and the social and organizational structures in our life.

Start by clarifying your connecting ideas. Here are two simple quesstion to begin.

What is your life purpose?

How are you able to live that purpose out in your work?

If either one is not clear, then take some time to reflect on them both.

Three more questions.

What is it that I value and how is it reflected in my relationships?

Who are the people that I know that best represent a commitment to these values?

Are those values free to be lived out in my work?

If you are unsure of any of these questions, then take some time to reflect on them.

My advice is find one person whom you trust, and the two of you begin a conversation about these questions. To bring our life and work into alignment is a radical step because it will require change. This is why it is important that we are first clear about our purpose, values and vision, and that we have established some trusting relationships with people who can help us as we begin the hardest work of bringing alignment within the organizational structure of work.

You may well find that your work does not define you as a person. If so, what does define you? How can you marshal all the best of what you have to offer to live each day making a difference that matters. To do so may mean radical change. To do so may mean that you no longer live to be a apart of a leisure class for whom conspicuous consumption is the goal. Your vision for impact takes over and guides you to discover alignment in a whole new way than before
asking the question you’d never see.

When creating alignment, our life and work are in transition.

Transition through Time

I know many people for whom the daily grind is hard and unrewarding. The prospects of radical change to create alignment is not possible as long as there are children to educate and mortgages to pay. If this is you, then realize that our lives are not stationary, but always in transition from one point to the next. The measure of our lives is not its length, but its impact. Whatever point your life finds you, you can find ways to make a difference that matters. You may not be where you want to be, but you are also not where you used to be. Begin to create alignment and the way forward to a higher level of alignment will show itself.

Live through the tension of finding balance by creating alignment. Do so and both your life and work will open up to new opportunities. Keep thinking “What is the difference that I’m making here that truly matters ?” Keep asking that question, and the way to alignment will be discovered each day.

Photo credit:

This post originally appeared online at Weekly Leader with the title The Myth of Balance.

Impact, not Balance

Is there such a thing as balance between personal and professional life?

Twice this week I saw the question raised. Once in a webinar and the other in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece - Work and Life -- and Blogging the Balance.

The WSJ article was prompted by a comment Jack Welch made at a SHRM conference in June. He said, "There's no such thing as work-life balance ... There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

I agree with Welch. I don't know what work-life balance looks like.  The issue, for me, is a question of the impact that I want to have.

One of the ways I answered this was to work for myself. While it is never perfect or in balance, it has given me more freedom to be with my family in ways that people in typically corporate jobs cannot. On the other hand, my work does require 24/7 attention. I know there is a price for this. As Welch says, there is a consequence.

The greater question for us is whether our lives have an integration that allows for us to make a difference regardless of the situation. Balance isn't trying to find some median point of activity concentration between personal and professional life. We end up measuring our lives by the activities that fill up our schedules. That is not an effecive measure of much of anything, except energy. It is like going on a vacation trip, and only telling people how many miles you drove, and how much gas you used and what you spent for food and lodging. Not an accurate picture of vacation.

Impact, integration, wholeness, and congruence are better ways to approach the balance question. Find your purpose, make a difference and live your life as if it is a whole thing, not just a collection of parts. You will have to make sacrifices. But if you are doing what you love, and making a difference, then you have a type of balance that really matters in the long run.

Follow Up in Response to Comment below:

Thanks for your comment, Becky.

Women are more expressive about the issues. Men are (I'm over generalizing here.) just think of this as the way things are and deal with it in a more private, less open way. Listen to what they complain about and the issues of balance emerge.

A friend of mine used my Four Questions guide to focus his week. Within a few months his emotional intelligence website became the most visited in the world. He attributed it to focusing on the impact question.

Let's ask the Four Questions about the question about balance.

1. What is the impact we want from finding balance between our professional and personal life? 
2. Who do we want to impact through this balance?

3. What opportunities do we gain from achieving this balance?

4. What problems of balance have I created that I must address in order to achieve balance?

If we approach the balance question from an impact context, I think we can find some clarity that leads to real action that makes a difference.