Achievable work/life balance? It’s possible.

Last week I offered an idea on how to manage business development through upcoming hectic vacation times, and boy did that strike a chord! I received a bunch of responses asking for more suggestions.  And so…

This week I’m reprinting a 2011 review of Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life by Wharton professor Stewart Friedman. This book asserts that building an integrated life calls for finding activities that will benefit more than one domain of your life (work, home, community, and self) so that you can maximize the positive effects of each action. Instead of doing one thing to serve your practice and another to serve your family, maybe there’s a way to serve both at the same time—and perhaps even your community and your self as well. It’s the soundest approach I’ve seen to living a high-performance, satisfying professional and personal life. And doesn’t that sound more achievable than work/life balance?

Book Review: 

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life

By Stewart D. Friedman

Spurred by conversations I’ve been having with clients recently, this month’s book review focuses on “work/life balance” or (as I prefer to call it) work/life integration.  As I’ve previously written, self-management is a critical skill for leaders.  That it’s also a challenge is reflected in the number of leaders who excel at work but have less satisfactory home lives, or those who prioritize “success” above health and suffer the consequences.

In Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life, Stewart Friedman urges leaders to seek “four-way wins,” meaning high performance in the four domains of life: work, home, community, and self (mind, body, and spirit).  Achieving these wins creates “total leadership,” which in turns creates sustainable change to benefit the leader and the most important people around him or her.

Traditional “work/life balance” principles, which suggest that there’s one single point called balance and innumerable other points that are unbalanced.  That connotation is why I prefer the phrase integration to balance, and why I find Friedman’s approach to be so helpful.  By recognizing that our lives are more than “work” and “everything else,” Friedman opens the possibility that we don’t have to live on a see-saw.  Instead, we can find give-and-take among the domains, ideally finding activities or ways of being that serve all four.  Doesn’t that sound better than stealing time from work to serve life, or vice versa?

Scoring four-way wins is grounded in a clear view of what you want from and can contribute to each domain of your life, now and in the future.  Naturally, you must pay thoughtful consideration to the people who matter most to you in each domain (the “stakeholders”) and the expectations you have for one another.  Doing so raises the likelihood that you will take steps that serve not only yourself but also the stakeholders in each domain. Otherwise, you might end up with a brilliant plan that suits you perfectly but undermines or alienates colleagues, friends, and family members—or one that serves everyone in your life except yourself.

Having done this foundational work, the next step is to systematically design and implement carefully crafted experiments, doing something new for a short period to see how it affects all four domains.  If an experiment doesn’t work out, you stop or adjust, and little is lost.  If it does work out, it’s a small win; over time these add up so that your overall efforts are focused increasingly on what and who matter most.   Either way, you learn more about how to lead in all parts of your life.  The ROI that Friedman reports is truly impressive:

In a study over a four-month period of more than 300 business professionals (whose average age was about 35), their satisfaction increased by an average of 20% in their work lives, 28% in their home lives, and 31% in their community lives. Perhaps most significant, their satisfaction in the domain of the self – their physical and emotional health and their intellectual and spiritual growth – increased by 39%. But they also reported that their performance improved: at work (by 9%), at home (15%), in the community (12%), and personally (25%). Paradoxically, these gains were made even as participants spent less time on work and more on other aspects of their lives. They’re working smarter – and they’re more focused, passionate, and committed to what they’re doing.

Four-way wins tend to have direct impact in one domain of life and indirect impact in others.  For example, a commitment to working out three mornings a week directly benefits the leader’s “self” domain, with better health and reduced stress, and the work and home domains indirectly benefit as the leader focuses more effectively on matters at hand, has greater emotional stability, and is a better “partner,” whether to colleagues or family members.

Each individual will create his or her own unique experiment, but Friedman has identified nine general categories of worthwhile experiments:

  • Tracking an activity and reflecting on progress toward a goal: increases self-awareness
  • Planning and organizing: find ways to use time more effectively and plan for the future
  • Appreciating and caring: building relationships
  • Focusing and concentrating: being fully present to key stakeholders
  • Revealing and engaging: enhanced communication and relationship-building
  • Time shifting and “re-placing”: changing when and where work is done
  • Delegating and developing: passing appropriate tasks to subordinates and assistants
  • Exploring and venturing: taking steps to align the four domains of life with a leader’s core values and aspirations

As Friedman recommends, tracking the results of the experiment is critical, and tweaking an experiment as it proceeds will often increase the benefits.

What’s in it for lawyers?  Friedman’s approach is an evidence-based approach to help lawyers learn to make changes that will benefit all aspects of their lives.  Choosing no more than three experiments, measuring the results, and then deciding whether to continue the experiment removes the “high stakes” nature that so often tanks sweeping changes.  (For example, how often have you sworn “never” to do something again, only to find yourself doing the foresworn activity within the next few days?)  This excerpt encapsulates why I expect Friedman’s work will speak to lawyers:

The best experiments let you try something new while minimizing the inevitable risks associated with change. When the stakes are smaller, it’s easier to overcome the fear of failure that inhibits innovation.  You start to see results, and others take note, which both inspires you to go further and builds support from your key stakeholders.

If you’ve been looking for a workable work/life integration solution, pick up Friedman’s book.  You’ll find it a rational, sensible approach that will offer substantial directions toward a life you want to lead.

Legal Marketing: What’s today’s biz dev goal?

In the northern hemisphere, we’re looking forward to summer break, while southern hemisphere dwellers are looking toward a winter break. Wherever geography may place you, at some point or points over the next couple of months, you’re probably going to be facing an even stronger than usual collision of work, personal commitments, and culture-driven expectations. “Spare” time, probably never plentiful, will become even more rare. 

It’s easy to let business development take a back seat during this time (or when you’re especially busy otherwise), but instead of dropping back simply because you can’t squeeze in a lot of activity, set one simple goal a day. Get in touch with someone you’ve been meaning to contact, send a useful resource, put some time into turning your LinkedIn connections into real relationships.

Here’s why:

Your task: for the next thirty days, select and accomplish one strategic business development action each day. If it doesn’t work for you, you can always go back to spasmodic action… But chances are that you’ll see significant benefit from this simple approach. And if you don’t know how to select the right step, check this post I wrote in 2011.

Legal Marketing: How do you handle silent rejection?

It’s hard to hear “no” when you’re working to increase your visibility through speaking or writing or when you’ve asked a potential client for new business. But as difficult as it is, you probably hear “no” on a regular basis. (In fact, if you don’t get turned down at least every now and again, you’re probably playing it too safe and not pursuing enough opportunities.) 

You’ve likely come up with some methods to handle the disappointment of the “no”…

But how do you handle it when you’ve made an overture and all you get back is silence? Do you assume rejection? Do you follow up, or follow up again, and how do you avoid becoming a pest? Do you take a new approach and see if that gets you further? Do you tuck tail and give up? Ugh—these are tough questions.

Consider these questions when silence is the only answer to an inquiry:

Diagnostic questions: What (maybe) went wrong?

Was your overture interesting enough? Did you offer a juicy tidbit designed to pique interest? For example, rather than simply describing an article you’d like to write on some aspect of law, offer the same description plus a snappy tentative title.  If you’re requesting a meeting with someone, be sure you’re offering a good reason for your contact to give up the time to meet with you. Always seek to show explicitly or implicitly, what’s in it for your recipient.

  • Was your request clear enough? Instead of asking for a short meeting, ask for a 15-minute meeting. Suggest a target length for the article you’re proposing. If you’re inviting someone to speak on a panel, suggest a couple of topics she might consider. Details yield specific thought, and you’re more likely to get a response if it’s clear what you want and why (and,as above, why it is in their interest to respond positively).
  • Did you choose the right method of communication? Sometimes you’re stuck with a prescribed format (how to submit an article proposal, for example), but take the time to think it through when you have options. If you know the recipient, what mode of communication does he prefer? How likely is it that his email in-box is overflowing and yours simply got overlooked in the volume?

Prescriptive questions: What can you do now?

  • Might you follow up to try again for a response? Follow-up is fairly easy when you have a somewhat close relationship with your contact or when your contact actually suggested you be in touch. Even without some previous connection, you can typically follow up once (and, depending on the circumstances, perhaps twice) even on a cold contact.

    If you’ve pinpointed a potential problem with the diagnostic questions, edit your request and try again. To avoid looking like a pest, give serious thought to calling if you’d previously emailed or vice versa. Pay attention to the way you phrase your follow-up: consider the difference in tone between “my email dated 5/1/15 may not have reached you” vs. “you may have overlooked my email dated 5/1/15.” Whatever you do, think pleasant, not pushy.
  • Do you have some other reason to be in contact? Be careful with this approach, because it can backfire if you’re clearly manufacturing a reason to communicate with the person. However, if you have an article that they might find useful or if you bumped into a mutual acquaintance who shared some interesting information, pass that along with a gentle reminder about your initial request.
  • Look for another route to that person. Especially if you’ve made a cold contact, look for a way to network into the connection. Check for mutual connections on LinkedIn, for example, or ask around in your firm or circle of acquaintances. Finding someone who can introduce you or promote your request can be an effective way to gain attention.
  • Let time pass, then try again. When you can’t follow up again, make a note on your calendar to get back in touch in a few weeks or months. End-of year and summer holidays are often a good time to get back in touch with someone thanks to cultural expectations. You might also watch for an announcement or publication that affects your request or for some suggestion that your contact was involved in something time-consuming that may have prevented a response. One of my clients was frustrated by the lack of response from a distant friend until he discovered that the company in which the friend was an executive had just negotiated an agreement to purchase a competitor. That news both explained the silence and opened an opportunity to get back in touch.

Most importantly, don’t take silence personally. Chances are good that your contact was simply too busy to respond to you. Even if the silence was intentional, the lack of an explicit rejection leaves the door at least cracked for a future attempt at communication.

What if small talk fails?

Relationships are at the heart of business development. That’s true regardless of the length of your sales cycle, meaning the typical amount of time required for a potential client to move from first encountering you to hiring you. It isn’t necessary to build a deep and personal relationship in all cases, but you do have to have enough of a relationship to allow your potential client or referral source to know and trust you.

Whether your potential client first finds you online or offline, one-on-one conversation is where a true connection may bloom. Most commonly, you’ll find that the process of building connection takes time. (That’s why follow-up is so critically important.)

You’re probably aware that small talk paves the way for follow-up contacts. Through small talk (conversation that meanders through a variety of topics at a relatively surface level), you learn more about your conversational partner. You discover mutual interests and experiences, and you start to build a common bond. Through follow-up, you develop that bond, and over time a relationship flourishes… And you’re off to other business development issues. (If small talk isn’t your strength, you’ll find plenty of resources online that can help you improve your skills and increase your comfort.)

But what about those situations in which small talk fails? Perhaps small talk isn’t culturally accepted or, despite your best efforts, your small-talk skills aren’t creating an easy flow in conversation. In these instances, you’ll need to find ways in addition to small talk to establish and deepen connections.

The Harvard Business Review article Building Relationships in Cultures That Don’t Do Small Talk offers good tips for recognizing a no-small-talk culture (something that you should already know based on your due diligence) and for adapting. The most important two sentences in the article apply to relationship-building generally, not just across cultures:

One essential piece of advice is to take a longer-term perspective on developing relationships. If you assume that relationships and rapport can indeed be developed in a matter of moments, you’ll inevitably be disappointed.

The article goes on to suggest several tactics to use in the absence of small talk, including working to ensure that “your colleagues see you as someone worthy of having a relationship with, even if it’s not going to happen immediately,” finding impersonal topics for conversation, and knowing when it’s acceptable to build personal relationships.

Use these tips when small talk fails you, but also incorporate them into your relationship-building approach even when you get things going with chitchat. The better you are at adapting your approach to your new contact’s style and the more alternatives you have in mind for building a solid foundation for your relationships, the stronger your network will be.