Roger Federer, seen here with his wife Mirka, has found success by getting the simple things right. Photo: Dmitry Lovetsky
How can entrepreneurs maintain peak performance for long periods, often under conditions of extreme uncertainty, stress and fatigue? And protect their venture’s most important asset: the founder’s physical and mental wellbeing, and motivation?
These are critical questions for fast-growing ventures and their owners. In emerging companies, success is sometimes as much about stamina as skill: develop a great product or service, find the best business model, and scale rapidly. You need enough energy to manage rapid business growth and all its challenges.
I’ve seen successful ventures implode because the founder’s personal life goes astray. A relationship breakdown, health problems, or personal financial difficulties kills the business. The founder was great at business planning, but hopeless at life planning.
Executive life strategist Shannah Kennedy deals with these problems every day. She counsels burnt-out executives, business owners and athletes, and wrote the successful executive self-help book, Simplify Structure Succeed, to help busy people regain their life.
“I see business owners who have given up on their life partner, given up on friends, given up on going to the gym, and given up on building the basic foundations for a successful life,” she says.
“They are over-committed on their mortgage, have unrelenting pressure to perform at work, and have forgotten how to have a conversation with their life partner, beyond talking about work or the kids.”
Kennedy adds: “The result is a deep feeling of resentment and a sense of losing control. These people are desperately unhappy, despite achieving career or business success. At the same time, they have this incredible lack of responsibility to do something about it. It just seems too daunting. Inevitably, their personal life spirals out of the control and their career or business suffers as a result.”
Kennedy uses a tennis analogy to describe how business owners can build a stronger life foundation to underpin their business success. “I call it the Roger Federer approach: master the basics before you go for the big plays all the time. For business owners, the basics are often about getting their personal finances in shape, getting fit, allocating time to have a life, and reconnecting with their life partner and friends.”
Mastering the basics requires a strong commitment to life planning, says Kennedy. “I have counselled executives who are in such a bad way that it becomes a daily struggle to function properly. It’s all about setting short- and long-term life goals. Short-term goals might be about improving physical health each week, and building up to a bigger goal. Long-term goals might have a five-, 10- or 20-year focus, where you think about what you want your life to look like, and how to get there.”
The Venture asked Kennedy for five tips on how stressed-out business owners can regain control of their life, and sustain themselves and their business.
Understanding your personal values is the first step, says Kennedy. “Sit down and work out your top three values in life,” she says. “Understand why you are doing things, and what your purpose is. Your values might include mental/physical health, family, achievement or economic security. Knowing them helps you make the best choices for success personally and professionally.”
2. De-clutter for clarity and wellness
Kennedy says: “Go through the main areas of your life: is your personal space clean and tidy and cleaned out; are your finances up to date; are your relationships in order and giving you energy instead of draining you; does your diet provide you with energy; do you have a one-, five- and 10-year plan for yourself?”
3. Know your vision
“Don’t be a passenger in life,” says Kennedy. “Rather than just working along day to day and treading water, many executives who invest some time into thinking about what they want, rather than what they don’t want, gain clarity and purpose. Once you can establish where you want to be in five years, you have perspective in what you are doing, and enjoy the path you are on with some purpose. You can also set yourself some projects that help increase confidence and motivation.”
4. Create boundaries
Kennedy suggests structuring your week with some boundaries, to free up time. “Executives who are confident and energetic take full responsibility for how they structure their lives,” she says. “They have their exercise marked in a diary; a date night booked in with their partner; time set aside for family activity; a night out with friends, or the odd golf game each month. There is a structure that keeps them feeling like life is intact, balanced and great. They take the time to plan the whole month, and year, and understand the effect of every decision they make.”
5. Take responsibility
Kennedy says personal performance improves once executives take responsibility for their life and stop playing the blame game. “When they get themselves fit and get some hobbies, their results are better, because the focus is there to perform. Also, there is a confidence that they are whole person and have a life developed outside work that inspires them.”
- Simplify Structure Succeed is available at shannahkennedy.com