Twenty-five years ago, when I worked at America’s largest organizations as a consultant, the hallways were empty by 5 p.m. I could have fired a cannon and no one would have known! In those days, professionals and leaders alike worked a 40-hour week. Today, we work longer hours, perhaps too long, often to the point of neglecting our friends, our families, and sometimes even our own well-being. That’s probably not going to change. The days of four-week annual vacations and eight-hour workdays are gone. But as Joe Grano points out, the time that we do spend with our families can be more meaningful. Success doesn’t come without a price; then again, neither does failure.
— Marshall Goldsmith is a leading executive advisor. His most recent book is Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It (with Mark Reiter; Hyperion, 2009).
Excerpt from You Can’t Predict a Hero:
From War to Wall Street, Leading in Times of Crisis,
by Joseph J. Grano Jr. with Mark Levine (Jossey-Bass, 2009)
All successful, ambitious people are personally selfish to some degree. This goes beyond just the desire to pursue your self-interest in carving up the power and money in business. You can’t work the long hours that success requires and can’t set the individualistic priorities that ambition dictates without stealing somewhat from your loved ones. Some may think that a selfish perspective is rationalized with the rewards of money and prestige. Perhaps. But what if your loved ones don’t really care as much for those material rewards as you do? The truth is that successful people do what they do because they love doing it. The career is their passion, their mistress. It’s the adrenaline that drives their metabolism. The drive to spend those long hours working is as essential a part of their genetic makeup as is their DNA.
When I was a young, ambitious manager climbing the ladder at Merrill Lynch, I worked six days a week and practically every night. My first wife and I had been having problems for years, and my focus on the job was certainly one factor in our eventual breakup. After we divorced, my two young daughters spent every weekend with me, and I ended up taking them to work with me on Saturdays. If there was a silver lining to the dissolution of my first marriage, it was that it forced me to spend time with my girls every weekend and on holidays. I’m sure going to daddy’s office was not high on the list of what two children wanted to do on their weekend, but at least we were spending time together — more time together, in fact, than when their mother and I were still married. I felt I simply could not refuse any business-related request. It wasn’t until much later in my career that I learned people will accommodate your calendar, that you can sometimes say no, and that you can and should prioritize time spent with your family.
Today I still work long hours — but only Monday to Friday. I still have a great many evening appointments, but only from Monday to Thursday. I do not bring a briefcase home on the weekend. I’m working just as hard as I did then, but now much smarter. My staff adjusts to my calendar, and my secretary manages my appointments to conform to the rhythms of my condensed seventy-hour week.
If you’re going to become a successful leader, you need to reconcile yourself to your own selfishness, not just the selfishness of others. Many of your peers will spend more time with their families than you do with yours. Finally, accept that the psychic rewards that come from your ambition and eventual success, while satisfying to you, may mean much less, if anything at all, to your loved ones. This is one of the prices of success. You’ll need to sacrifice on the amount of time you spend with your loved ones. Compensate by not sacrificing on the quality of that time.