Deep convictions equal a strong you


The Corner Post Principle comes from wire fence building. The deeper you build your corner posts, the stronger the fence’s foundation and thus you can stretch the fence farther.

Expert leaders with solid personal leadership insight view their character as their corner posts. This includes trustworthiness, honesty, collaboration over competition, sticking to commitments, a strong work ethic and, most importantly, integrity.

Stephen Covey on integrity…

One of the most important ways to manifest loyalty is to be loyal to those who are not present. In doing so, we build the trust of those who are present. When you defend those who are absent, you retain the trust of those present.


Seven Secrets to Integrity

  1. Know when to say no to projects, ideas, and even jobs that aren’t congruent with your core values.
  2. Especially during your busiest hours, stay committed to a pre-defined list of priorities.
  3. Over-promise and over-deliver. Many times integrity at work and at home manifests itself through your work ethic.
  4. Gain clarity on all time and duty expectations. The clearer you understand what others need from you, the more specifically you can live up to those expectations.
  5. Apologize when necessary. Integrity is not about being right or having the answer all the time. Many times it only takes saying “I’m sorry” when other people would just walk away.
  6. Remember that you aren’t what you do once, you are what you do repeatedly. This is also an excellent metric when examining the other’s behavior.
  7. Respect people’s time and show up early. It is amazing how a person’s core integrity is illuminated in even the smallest of gestures.

Rhett Laubach is a professional speaker, author, leadership expert, and founder/operator of YourNextSpeaker, LLC in Edmond, OK. For 15 years, Laubach has presented interactive, educational programs, in 35 states, to more than 500,000 individuals. He also coaches hundreds of individuals to develop their communication skills. To learn more visit, PLI Blog:, & Speaking Blog:

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Adding all the pluses and minuses honestly might produce a different picture

The almost universal assumption that “the bottom line” in business equals the net amount of profit is not correct. That’s merely the accounting version—and generally accepted standards of accounting omit a great many elements of a business that carry significant weight in real terms. If you want to understand the true corporate “bottom line,” you must take account of all those intangible and non-financial items that affect an organization’s growth and progress. It’s the same in your own life: the bottom line needs to be calculated using all the data, not just the parts that are easily turned into numbers. The only version of the “bottom line” that really counts is the one that measures whether you are acting in a way that enhances life . . . or diminishes it.

For decades, businesses have used accounting conventions to provide a picture of their status and progress. If they are being honest, everyone knows that these are inadequate. They omit huge areas of importance, such as the power of a brand, the impact of customer attitudes to the business, and the impact of fashion and the changing nature of society.

There have been some attempts to put a numerical value on a brand, and “goodwill” is used as a financial proxy for the intangibles of customer loyalty and appreciation, but such intangible items play a minor role in reaching a calculation of “the bottom line.” And that is without all the growth in “off balance sheet” items that has been so characteristic of certain corporations—especially those that have later fallen foul of the law.

Corporate intangibles

Organizational types are always attracted to things they can measure numerically. It gives them a feeling of being “scientific.” It makes it easy to produce comparisons and benchmarks. It looks objective.

But what is easy is not always correct, and reaching a “bottom line” figure on purely numerical and financial data tends to distort reality.

What is the true position of an organization that is currently making substantial profits, but alienating its customers by the methods it has chosen to do so? What about one that is maximizing short-term gains by mortgaging—or compromising—long-term growth necessities? As the world finally wakes up to the size of the problem of the human impact on the environment, what is the “bottom line” for an organization that relies on old, polluting technologies to make its profits?

The rash of Chinese imports to the USA that break US standards of product safety shouldn’t surprise anyone. All these Chinese companies are doing is copying their Western models by finding ways to maximize short-term profits at the expense of quality and safety standards. The main difference is that they aren’t nearly as practiced at doing it, so they are caught out more easily. Western companies have been sacrificing ethical and environmental standards for over a hundred years in their belief that immedaite financial profitability is the only “bottom line” that matters.

Personal calculations

For individuals too, those “bottom line” calculations are far trickier than they look.

The writers of the Christian Bible were aware of this thousands of years ago. “What shall it profit a man,” they asked, “if he gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?”

That question is just as relevant today as then. Is it a fair calculation of your personal “bottom line” to look only at getting and spending? Is it enough to make as much personal profit as possible, if the cost includes wrecking relationships, threatening your own health, and reaching the end of your life rich, alone, and despised? What if your personal profit comes mostly by exploiting others or pillaging the environment? Is that acceptable, merely because it makes sense in financial terms? What value do you put on a clear conscience and a civilized world?

A fresh calculation

The assumption that profit and financial success are the only “bottom line” calculations that matter, even to corporations, seems to me to be hopelessly superficial and naive. The rise of Hamburger Management, with its mindless mantra of “faster and cheaper,” has merely made matters worse.

The most effective corporations have never subscribed to a view that short-term profitability is all that matters. Costco, for example, provides employee wages and benefits well in excess of what proponents of financial-bottom-line-only thinking believe is correct; and still makes substantial profits. Before it lost its way and gave in to the supposed financial gurus (and not incidentally nearly went bust by doing so), Marks & Spencer in Britain was noted for putting product quality and high ethical standards at the top of its list of priorities. So long as it did so, it appeared impregnable to competition. When it dropped such “antiquated” notions in favor of fashion and profit, it soon lost its premier place.

What about your “bottom line?” How are you calculating it?

Is your personal “bottom line” calculation based on nothing but the size of your bank balance, the number of expensive toys you own, or your prospects of promotion? Where do peace of mind, sound relationships, trust, ethical standards, and good health rate? You cannot put a monetary value on them, but many people have found after a while that they would give all the money they have to bring back these intangibles of a civilized life . . . if only they could.

The true “bottom line” is the value your life has. Does your presence on this earth enhance it or harm it? Are others glad that you are alive, or do they blame you for diminishing their lives?

Until you make that calculation—and make it honestly—you are nowhere near the real “bottom line” of existence.

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Work/life balance is NOT what you think

It’s easy to assume working less will inevitably make you happier or that spending 60 hours or more each week working is BAD. What is bad is betraying your identity: working longer hours that fits who you are; pretending to be a hard-driven, achievement-oriented workaholic to win approval, when you’re nothing of the kind. The true meaning of finding the correct work/life balance—correct for you that is—comes from selecting a game plan for your life that correctly fits your identity.

Work/life balance isn’t simply about allocating time: it’s mostly about creating a game plan for your life that works for you in your present circumstances. It’s about your identity and authenticity.

How much of your identity, your sense of self, and your self-esteem, is linked to your work?

For many people starting out on a career, the answer is nearly all of it. That’s understandable, since work is usually a continuation of education in terms of a field for achievement, and most young persons long to establish themselves as people of worth.

Later, especially if you gain family commitments, things get more complex. You likely want to be able to give your family a good life, which usually means higher earnings and probably regular promotions. At the same time, if all you do is work, they’ll hardly see you—except as some exhausted, harassed person who appears late at night and spends the weekends locked away catching up with work. Being a “good provider” isn’t sufficient. You have to be able to give your family regular, quality time. What was your authentic identity earlier (the rising star), no longer works. A new game plan is needed.

Later still, you may find yourself dissatisfied with your life so far. Many people find that what seemed such an obviously desirable career path in their 20s appears, in their 40s, to have been the wrong choice. They long to make a change, even if that means sacrificing some financial benefits. Yet another game plan is needed, with a different balance between work and other life goals.

Job or vocation?

Work has considerable advantages as a forum to establish personal standing: objectives and criteria for success are clear; lots of people are keeping score; rewards are well-known and visible to others. It has many disadvantages too: you are rarely in control of your own destiny; the criteria for success may change without warning; economic downturns half a world away may suddenly deprive you of your job; your organization’s goals will never include more than the most incidental interest in providing you with the avenues you need to meet your personal goals.

It’s much less easy to judge success in many other parts of life. The time-scales tend to be longer. How long will it take to know if you have been successful as a parent or a spouse? How can you judge whether you’ve fulfilled your potential as a human being outside the purely economic realm of existence? How can you compare the benefits of basing your personal identity on things outside of work with the benefits you can expect for making work your life?

I suspect many people focus on work success as much because it’s easy to estimate as because they truly see it as the center of their lives. In our achievement-dominated world, deciding not to pursue a path of economic and financial success is usually represented as something of a cop-out: an excuse to cover the fact that you knew you wouldn’t make it. We claim to admire those who follow a vocation rather than hard cash, but fail in many cases to translate this supposed admiration into a living wage.

It’s as if society assumes that those who aren’t primarily motivated by money don’t need the stuff anyway. Most of the jobs that are classed as vocational—teachers, social workers, police, fire, nurses, and the like—are abysmally underpaid. In contrast, guys assumed to be interested solely in money, like hedge-fund managers, are allowed to take home oodles of the green stuff.

How to set your own game plan

What are your standards for a successful life? It’s a question many people rarely consider in any depth. Most simply accept the conventional standards offered by society. That’s a one-size-fits-all approach that really doesn’t fit anyone too well.

Establishing a satisfactory work/life balance for yourself means first answering these basic questions:

  • What are your fundamental values? What matters more to you than anything else? If your actual game plan—the one you use, not the one you claim to use, but only aspire to—is at odds with your fundamental values, you will never feel satisfied, whatever you achieve.
  • What kind of achievements give you the greatest pleasure? If you ignore these, you may earn a great deal of money, or even reach the executive suite, but life won’t be fun or enjoyable. Why sentence yourself to 40 or more years of hard labor doing something that doesn’t even please you?
  • What do your current circumstances seem to demand? As I noted above, peoples’ game plans need to change as their circumstances change. What worked in college likely won’t work for you as you close in on retirement.

These are vital, life-altering questions and it’s always best to reach your own conclusions, whether or not they fit with what society expects, other people demand, or even what you expected yourself when you began to try to answer them. You won’t be satisfied with any game plan for work/life balance unless it accurately expresses your true sense of your own identity.

Take some time out to ponder (and discuss) the kind of person you see yourself as being and what game plan and type of work/life balance that implies.

You may really love your work and enjoy nearly most of the time you spend doing it. Equally, you may come to realize that work is a substitute for facing up to life’s other demands: it’s always there, it’s easy to get lost in it, it’s socially acceptable, and it prevents you from ever having the time to deal with whatever you’re set on avoiding. You may find that work, for you, is simply an economic necessity and your real love in life is something far from your working environment.

Whatever you find, act on your discovery. Look at the game plan you are following—the one that’s clear from your actions, not the one you maybe talk about—and see if it matches up to who you are. Every game plan implies its own unique work/life balance. And that’s the only one that matters.

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Why comparisons can so easily lead you astray

Competition and comparison have become shibboleths of our society, but there are times when it makes sense not to compare—especially when the basis for comparison is wrong or distorted.

In today’s society, comparison and competition have become so widely accepted as “good’ and “desirable,” that it seems almost a heresy to suggest than many of them are both false and misleading, and can lead to some very bad decisions.

That is, however, exactly the case. For example, you may compare your own career progress to others around you, without taking into account your different strengths and values. Some people progress faster because they’re more willing to suck up to those in power; or they’re more political; or they’re more ready to knife colleagues and competitors along the way.

Unreal comparisons and imaginary targets

Comparisons about career progress or lifestyle can be especially tricky. Merely because someone else has does something does not mean it is suitable for you. You see other people’s achievements only from the outside. In many cases, they’ve been gussied up for public consumption too. What you see may not be what you think you are seeing. If you set that as the standard, you are pitting yourself against an unreal situation.

People often compare themselves to more-or-less imaginary or invented beings (e.g. media stars or people reported in the media). Role models are chosen—or imposed by fashion —who are ideals of perfection that do not, and could not, exist. Such comparisons cause particular trouble, since they set standards for “winning” that are impossible to reach.

How genuine are the stories that you have been told about such people? Do you know? Or are you chasing a set of criteria that have never existed outside the words of an article, the pages of a book, or the script of a TV show?

Comparison is no substitute for proper judgment

Many businesses are managed largely on the basis of comparisons: comparisons with assumed targets, last year’s results, a competitor’s reported sales or profits. All have the potential to be highly misleading. Any comparison, to be a fair one, requires that whatever is compared is truly and sufficiently similar.

Numerical comparisons, in particular, can miss glaring dissimilarities. Comparisons between this year and last year may well gloss over great differences between the circumstances at the time. Comparisons with points further in the past are usually based on recollections that are faulty. Comparisons with future targets are based on assumptions and expectations that are often unprovable, over-optimistic, or just plain wrong.

In many cases, management by comparisons—or, to use the jargon term, benchmarks—is simply a substitute for judgment. It’s much less demanding, mentally or strategically, to rely on some simplistic comparison with past results than to take the trouble to consider all the circumstances and weigh all the options.

Fair competition

Comparisons—and the competition that they produce— can only be healthy and useful when the targets set are:

  • Appropriate to your situation now.
  • Comparisons against criteria that you have chosen freely because they represent your true aspirations.
  • In line with your actual strengths and talents.
  • Based on realistic and truthful information.

For the rest, it is better to dare not to compare—to be yourself, not some pale imitation of an ideal that never existed. To follow your own best interests, not torment yourself with aspirations that were never truly your own.

Competition is not essential to life, whatever conventional thinkers claim. Use it when it helps and leave it alone at other times. Like all false gods, it easily becomes a devil that can ruin your peace of mind.

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You can’t afford to squander any “teachable moments” in your life

Most of the time, your habits, ingrained social conditioning and long-term values have your mind tightly barricaded against any possibility of significant change. Yet when events are just right (or just wrong, depending on your viewpoint), that doorway to your innermost mind is forced open for a little while. Use it or lose it. It doesn’t come that often.

Change is more about letting go of old ideas than finding new ones. Most of the time, people are sufficiently happy with the way things are, so they see no need to change. Life may not be perfect, but it’s good enough; the effort and uncertainty change brings look too great to be worth it. That’s why the moments when you’re open to change are precious. Miss them and your life and growth goes back on indefinite hold. Seize them and you have moments of infinite preciousness, when your mind is open to new ideas and fresh perspectives.

Robert Thurman, scholar and friend of The Dalai Lama, describes such times as “teachable moments”: Moments when you recognize consciously that your previous ways of thinking and coping aren’t adequate for what’s in front of you; when life serves up something you can’t handle properly with the tools you’ve used before—plus the opportunity to alter them.

Of course, all those habits and past conditioning immediately set up a howl of protest and start trying to force you away from this precious moment for change, even if the result must be a choice or an action that probably won’t turn out well. They prefer to keep the status quo and never mind the pain. Still, for a few, precious hours or days, they aren’t in control and your mind is receptive to fresh ways of seeing the world.

Here are some ways to take full advantage of these precious moments:

  • Let yourself consider the opposite to your normal way of thinking. Even if it’s not the answer, it will allow you to see past your habitual mind-sets. For example, if you usually like to plan carefully before acting, imagine what might happen if you just took the first, most obvious decision and allowed things to develop from there.
  • Let your imagination to run wild. Create mental pictures. Play with analogies and metaphors for the situation. Challenge your mind with thoughts like: “Suppose I was 20 years younger (or 20 years older, or the opposite gender, or had unlimited money, or decided to re-locate to Mexico), what might I do then?”
  • Combine and recombine options into all sorts of novel combinations. Don’t worry whether they’re feasible or practical. Just allow your mind to play. Then pick a few options and see how you might make them work.
  • Don’t allow the idea of failure to enter your mind. There are no failures; only actions that didn’t turn out as you anticipated. Take them and track exactly what happened, using that knowledge to produce still more alternatives; this time, backed up by actual experience.
  • Above all, do something. Anything is better than nothing. Any action will lead to a result you can learn from, even if it doesn’t work out exactly as you wanted.

Precious moments of open-mindedness are worth more than gold or diamonds. Never waste them. Use every one to learn something to help you develop. There’s a name for the rare people who make this a way of life. We call them geniuses.

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The Turtle Principle

Expert leaders inspire their followers through the sheer force and clarity of their vision. Today we look at the seven secrets to achieving and leveraging your leadership vision.

“Make decisions in the short term to satisfy the needs of the long-term.”

The Turtle Principle comes from the Tortoise and the Hare. It states that expert leaders are interested in the benefits of the long-range approach and behave accordingly.

The Personal Leadership Insight Definition of Vision is: “To passionately pursue valuable opportunities.”

  • Clearly identify a personal definition of success. Know what makes you happy, content, challenged and strong. Just as important, identify the characteristics and traits you connect with failure. Knowing what to avoid is just as critical as knowing what to include in your life.
  • When you are setting goals for the future, cross reference them with your success definition. Make certain they are moving you closer to what is important to you. You can’t be too formulaic with goals because of the uncertainty of life. However, leaders always have more things to do than they have time to do it. Leverage this scarcity and invest in highly fruitful activities.
  • Become an expert at something by investing a large portion of time in a small range of activities. This prioritization is critical if your vision is to have relevance and meaning. That is why it is called “vision” and not “visions.”
  • Talk with other people in a long-term context. When you invest in conversations about tomorrow, you invest in tomorrow. Having a vision of where you are heading and where you see your organization heading is important, but that doesn’t make it real to others. Your language needs to reflect the power you feel for your vision. Only then will it inspire others to jump on board.
  • Use positive, optimistic language. It is amazing how many “visionaries” are simply great at talking up the future. This is not a rose-colored glasses approach. You must consider the up and down sides of your vision. However, expert leaders understand the power of their language and how it directs the opinions and behavior of others.
  • Get as clear a picture of your future as you can. Talk with others, listen to people who have been there, and visualize as many aspects as possible. As your vision gets clearer, your passion grows stronger. This visualization also helps you to make it through the extreme challenges you will face while making your vision come alive. I am a huge believer in faith. But I also understand that seeing is believing— even if it’s just in your mind.
  • Leaders with great vision don’t let short-term failures or set-backs break their spirit. You can’t just talk about the future; you have to believe it will come to fruition, no matter what happens today. There are thousands of leaders who have a vision for the future. Expert leaders fight the fights worth fighting and make it through the tough times.
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Knowing when enough is enough is a precious skill

We live in a society where “fixing” things is the norm. Despite the common saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” people are constantly striving to fix things that either don’t need fixing or are beyond help. People constantly try to “fix” their businesses, their careers, their lives—and especially other people. What is worst of all, they try to deal with the problems caused by one “fix” by adding another.

Let me share a story with you about exactly this problem.

Many centuries ago, a famous teacher lived high in the mountains of China, above a remote and poor village. Important people came to seek his advice, traveling hundreds of miles over barren lands to reach his small cottage.

The villagers were proud of their revered neighbor, so when he became old and found it hard to look after himself, they decided to send him one of the young people of the village as a servant. One after another, all the young men were sent, but each was rejected as too noisy, too clumsy, too stupid, too cheeky, or too lazy. It was a hard blow for their families when they came back to the village. The shame was keenly felt.

Eventually, only one family was left, and they had no sons. Their youngest daughter was unmarried and available, so she it was who had go, with strict instructions that she must, for the sake of the family’s honor and her own, do everything in her power to please the old teacher.

As soon as she arrived, she started sweeping the teacher’s house as vigorously as she knew how. But the teacher coughed and sneezed at all the dust and crossly told her to stop at once.

Next she began to dust and tidy.

“Sit still,” the teacher said. “How can I read—or even think—when you are distracting me like that?”

The frightened girl decided to creep outside and do some work in the teacher’s garden.

She was working away with a will, when the old teacher came outside.

“I see that you have pulled up my lettuce seedlings and ruined one of my favorite peony plants,” he said sadly. “I asked you to be still, my child, but you disobeyed me. I am going to meditate. We will talk about your future when I am finished.”

It seemed that everything the girl had done had displeased her master. She would be sent home in disgrace, her mother would weep, her sisters would refuse to speak to her, and her father would beat her soundly.

Then she had a wonderful idea. She would make her master a cup of tea. Everyone knew he loved tea, so a really nice, fresh cup might persuade him to give her another chance.

In those days, good tea was rare and expensive. Ordinary people couldn’t possibly afford it, so she had never made tea before with expensive leaves and in a good china pot. Still, making tea is, she reasoned, simple enough—and she was fairly sure she knew how to do it properly.

She heated the water and put it in the teapot, then found a box of tea leaves. She had no idea how much of such fine tea to use, but she put three huge spoonfuls into the pot. The old teacher liked tea a lot, so she reasoned that the more tea he had, the more he would enjoy it.

Finally she took a tiny taste . . . and spat it out in horror. The tea was so bitter it made her whole face pucker in disgust. No one could drink that!

Now she really was in a mess. She had spoiled her master’s expensive tea. How on earth could she fix the problem?

She recalled that, when her mother was cooking, she often used spices to hide any bad taste. The family was poor and could not afford to waste anything, so meals often had to be made from food that was well past its best. That must be the answer. Something had to be added to fix the taste of the tea.

So the girl added first salt to the tea, then ginger, nutmeg, coriander, turmeric . . . and every other spice she could find, even a clove of garlic. Nothing would fix the problem. Each time she tasted it, it tasted even worse.

When the old teacher came back into the cottage, he found his new servant crying her eyes out, surrounded by every spice and flavoring box from his kitchen.

Stammering and ashamed, she told him what she had done, holding out a cup of the most revolting brew for his inspection.

“Throw it away.” the teacher said.

“But it is expensive and I have worked so hard to try to please you,” the girl wailed.

“Throw it away,” said the teacher. “It was trying to fix the original problem that made it so much worse. It is usually better to start afresh when things go wrong.”

The girl did as she was bid, and the teacher told her to heat fresh water, warm the teapot, and put in fresh tea.

When he saw how much tea she was about to put in the pot, he laughed.

“A quarter of that amount will be enough,” he told her. “Now taste it.”

The girl still pulled a face. “I have never tasted good tea before, master,” she said. “To me, this tastes bitter, but it is certainly far better than my last attempt. I believe that you should drink it like this. I don’t think anything else is needed.”

“You are an intelligent young woman,” the teacher said to her, taking a cup of the tea she had made. “And you have already shown that you are eager to please. Sit down, my child. We will rest and enjoy this tea together. You may add a little honey to sweeten your cup, if you wish.”

So the girl stayed and served the old teacher for the rest of his long, long life.

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Overwork can be a seemingly respectable way to avoid dealing with other difficult issues in your life

Working long hours is a great way to hide from life’s problems. It can absorb so much of your time and energy that you never have any left to deal with aspects of your life that you’d like to forget about. From relationship problems to excessive drinking or financial woes, overwork is used by some people as a smokescreen to hide far worse issues.

Working too hard and putting in excessive hours is quite often often used to avoid facing other, more serious problems. After all, who is going to criticize you for being too diligent, or showing too great a commitment to your job? Besides, making your way up the corporate ladder can also offer some compensation—money, status, power— for the misery you are likely facing elsewhere.

Many, many people have aspects of their lives which are unsatisfactory or unpleasant, yet too difficult or scary for them to want to tackle. They need a diversion that works and is socially acceptable, and working too hard is nearly always the best.

Relationship problems are probably the most common type avoided in this way, if only because overwork will likely cause them if they weren’t there before. Not only can you make sure that long working hours keep you away from the other person as much as possible (periods traveling are good for this), you can honestly point to being so tired when you are together that it’s never the right time to tackle known personal issues. It’s a variant on the old excuse of not having sex because you have a headache.

Avoidance behavior

Here are just a few of the reasons why overworking is so often used to avoid dealing with other problems:

  • Working extremely long hours is widely seen as acceptable, especially in a society obsessed with competition and winning. Far from being criticized for doing so, to the detriment of other apsects of life, workaholics are given sympathy, or even praise.
  • It’s inexhaustible. There is always more to be done.
  • It usually gets you physically away from whatever the other problem might be.
  • It can absorb as much energy as you want to give it.
  • It provides benefits and rewards that may be seen as making up for the dissatisfactions and frustrations of the other parts of your life.
  • It can provide the illusion of a separate, far more enjoyable world, with its own relationships. Many people have almost a parallel existence at work, quite unlike they way they are outside it.

Armed with such a diversion, it’s perfectly possible to avoid dealing with unpleasant realities for many years. In the case of a sour relationship, if you wait long enough, and act distantly enough, the other person is very likely to give up and either accept prosperity in lieu of intimacy or walk out on you.

Sadly, deep-seated problems don’t go away so easily. In fact, the stress of all that excessive work will likely worsen problems, especially any that involve bad relationships, drinking, or drug use. Only getting out of debt can be helped by fat bonuses and rapid promotions. Even then, keeping up with other executives in terms of big houses, fast cars, and other toys—or buying off family problems with a super-rich lifestyle—might just land you in even worse financial problems.

Modern-day karma

Spending your time caught up in an illusion is a poor way to live, whatever the incidental material rewards you can get out of it. Inside, you know it’s an escape from reality. That makes it always fragile—and liable to collapse at any time.

There are also heavy costs: a constant level of dishonesty with yourself or others; the on-going anxiety to protect your carefully constructed world against the blows of reality trying to break in; the stress of dealing with those periods when you cannot avoid returning to the real world, with all its frustrations; and unexpected problems with maintaining your more-or-less-fictional successful existence.

As well as the strain associated with working so hard, this additional stress, coming from whatever issues you’re trying to blot out of your mind, may be just enough to push you over the edge into real burnout.

The Buddhist concept of karma is often misunderstood as some kind of cosmic retribution for past sins. I don’t see it that way. I think it points to the simple fact that every action has consequences. If you live a lie, based on erecting your working life into either an avoidance mechanism and a consolation, there will be consequences on both fronts.

Don’t depend on illusions. They are fragile and easily destroyed. Work isn’t, in most cases, sufficient to act as a proxy for the whole of life. The gaps inevitably show. Tackle your problems honestly and leave work out of it.

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Dealing with objections to slowing down

“I can’t slow down. I have so much to do. If I slowed down, my results would fall off and I’d be in a total mess.” It sounds like a reasonable objection to the idea of “Slow” in the workplace, but it’s not. Much of the reasoning that justifies our frenetic world is like this: plausible on the surface, but deeply flawed on closer inspection.

Why do people have so much to do? Much of it is genuine overload, caused by macho management and greedy cost-cutting. But a significant part is also due to faulty working styles. They’re overworked because they rush too much and cut too many corners, so they’re forced to go back to correct mistakes. Put plainly, they are encouraged to substitute effort for effectiveness.

It’s easier for bosses and organizations to force employees to do more work and keep longer hours than to invest in what would be needed to help them become more effective in the time normally available. Increasing effective working takes thought, research, investment. Making people work harder usually takes little more than inbred dictatorial behavior and a certain amount of posturing and shouting.

The rationale of excessive work demands

Let’s be honest. Business today isn’t about making goods or providing services—let alone providing employment. It’s about making money. It always has been. Once you accept that, a good deal of what is done becomes totally rational.

If you can increase output by making people work longer hours, while paying them no more to do so, why wouldn’t you? And why wouldn’t you keep on doing it until they collapse? It isn’t making your business a whit more genuinely productive (productivity is the ratio of effort to output in a given time, not length of working hours). But it is making you a whole lot more money in the short term.

Pleasing Wall Street is vital because most money today is made by trading stocks and financial derivatives, not by making or selling things. With executives’ incomes also dependent on stock options, they’re only interest is in stock trading too. Look at the vast salaries “earned” by people who run hedge funds. Doesn’t that show you where the real money is being made?

That’s why so many business leaders happily sacrifice long-term success for short-term profit. It’s a simple case of “take the money and run.”

Back to slowing down

If you really want to prosper in the long term—individually or organizationally—it’s going to require you to be more effective. Focusing on short-term gain, and gambling in the financial markets, won’t help you in that. If you want to have a long-term, fairly secure path to success, being more effective at what you do is the only thing that counts.

How do you improve your effectiveness? By thinking hard, exploring deeply, listening carefully, and finding ever more creative ways to do better than you have until now.

What do all these actions have in common? They take time, attention, and careful focus. They can’t be accomplished by tearing through your day like a hamster trying to break the world speed record for spinning its wheel.

Slow down. Give yourself time to think more clearly. Use that thinking time to become more effective at whatever you do. Then use the time that frees up to do even more thinking and improve still further.
You’ll establish a virtuous cycle that will pay big dividends over and over again. You’ll both work less and see more for your efforts.

Isn’t that what productivity really means?

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