Spirit At Work -- Integration, Not Balance:

Dec. 21, 2004
Enlightened leaders realize that boundaries are dissolving between the two former solitudes of work and life.

Your business is being Webified and dot.commed. Your products have been commoditized. Your margins have been eliminated by Internet exchanges. Your life has become wireless and networked. Your employees chase offers from Internet start-ups. Your e-mail inbox is overflowing. The VCR of your life is on fast forward. And now, in the midst of this wild, wired world of the new millennium, some clown is yammering about the need to get some balance in your life. But it isn't balance we need. The very notion of balance infers that there are two solitudes to choose from: work and life. What we are yearning for today is not balance between the two, but seamlessness. The ideal is integration of work and life. Old-story leaders seek to create balance in the lives of employees by providing concierge services, dog-walking services, and the like. Even Wall Street firms are attempting to stem the hemorrhaging of employees from their firms by allowing them to wear what they wear in the "other half" of their lives. At Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, and PaineWebber, every day is now a dress-down day. But the goal of these superficial activities is enlightened self-interest that is intended to bribe employees into staying with the company, to keep them physically planted at the organization, and to boost their productivity. Now these are laudable goals in themselves, but too narrow in a wireless, liberated, holistic world where job openings outnumber candidates. Enlightened leaders are realizing that the boundaries between the two former solitudes of work and life are dissolving. They know that employees are looking for leaders who do not peer over their shoulders, manipulate their time, or judge their actions. Employees yearn for an integrated world where they can think about their work as they walk on the beach and order their groceries online while sitting at company computers, without noticing any difference between the two. This is not a new idea -- it is the way that great poets, musicians, and artists have always worked. Creative thinking, the kind we all hope our employees will generate, is not a 9-to-5 thing -- in work or in life. We live in a seamless world where we bring our gifts to our whole life, not just that part of it we call work. Inspired, creative people use their brains and deploy their gifts whenever and wherever they feel the urge. They understand that an overinvestment in work outside the office will be offset by a compensating investment in life at the office; an overinvestment in personal matters at work will result in work-related thinking at home. This is integration. Leaders of inspired organizations aren't concerned about this -- they are excited by it, because it means they have achieved a breakthrough with their teams, guiding them from a world of balance to a world of integration. Luddites moan that we need to slow this crazy world down. They call for more opportunities for balanced lives and chances to return to "the old days." But the old days aren't coming back. On the contrary, we need to speed up those parts of our lives that can yield to speed -- becoming more connected, more integrated, more effective and efficient, more wireless, and more automated -- while at the same time learning how to meditate, contemplate, and chill out. We need to go faster and faster while at the same time knowing when to slow down -- to cram as much as possible into the last few moments before we leave to catch the plane and to meditate when our flight is canceled. This is integration: when life becomes whole. Balancing is what we do to our checkbooks; integration is the happy confluence and merging of all of the activities in our lives. Lance Secretan is an advisor to leaders, a public speaker, and a recipient of the 1999 International Caring Award, presented by the Caring Institute, Washington. Author of nine books, including Inspirational Leadership, Destiny, Calling and Cause (1999, CDG Books).

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