At What Cost?


So many of the driven leaders I coach are on what I call “the performance treadmill”.  Running ever faster to catch elusive, constantly changing destinations where the incline angle keeps getting steeper.  Every time they think they are close to their goals, they change and/or new ones are imposed.

The gadgets and devices that have mushroomed and taken over our lives ensure that they are constantly “connected”:  they are “on” all the time.  They barely have time to talk, to really listen or to take in their spouses and children.  The distances they travel regularly have their bodies in states of continuous stress and adjustment to the point where they surrender to states of sleep deprivation, stress induced anxiety, mild to noticeable depression, changes in appetite and even eating disorders. Over the longer term this is unsustainable and leads to physical and psychological breakdown. The effects are noticeable and increasingly the focus of my coaching conversations.

For many, relationships that once nourished and sustained them have become all but mindless routines akin to a living with a roommate.  Days and years pass with each going through the motions of life with the other; falling into bed, and either tuning out the other with an electronic device or passing out in exhaustion.  Many of them have gone through divorce or are in the process or trying to rescue their personal lives.  Frequently they are out of touch with their families; they can hardly tell you the names of their children’s friends, their favorite foods or books, or the names of their teachers.  In turn their spouses and children tolerate them as bread winners and go through the obligatory rituals of Thanksgiving, Father’s/Mother’s Day and birthdays, collecting the material spoils as each side goes off into their own separate worlds.  Some of these symptoms were wonderfully brought to life by Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in the 2012 movie “Hope Springs”.

Unfortunately for many, reality starts to set in once the spouse or the child can no longer tolerate the situation and moves on to a life that is more fulfilling.  At that moment these leaders finally experience a eureka moments of “Oh my god I did not know what I had until I lost it….” and then the same driven, ‘only-business-and-facts-please’ leaders go into a vortex of guilt, sadness and depression which significantly affects their performance at home and work.

What if these leaders could be facilitated through a process of backward visioning?  What if they could visualize, live and breathe their own divorces or separations? What if they could recognize the fatigue, anxiety and stress? What if they could anticipate the breakdown and from that place they started to prioritize and live their present lives?  It is astonishing how many do reprioritize once they are able to visualize the pain and suffering that awaits them.  Like those who were working at or near the World Trade Center during 9/11 and who fundamentally changed their lives and priorities afterwards.

It is not necessary to await catastrophe to make the necessary changes.  It can be simulated and prepared for.  One of the executives that I work with had an emerging disaster of this nature.  As part of my interviews he asked that I also talk with his wife.  As expected his wife shared that “..he might as well stay at work as all his talk and passion about is about work”.  She felt no connection with him and that he has basically missed the life of their children.  As we started to talk about what could be done to change the situation she asked me an interesting question,  “Do you think the culture of his organization would ever let him change…even if he wanted to?”   I answered “How useful would he be to them if you and the children left him?”  She told me he would be lost and his productivity and focus would be affected for a long time.  As we looked at each other, our silence signaled complete agreement.  The culture of his organization had to change or some of its most talented and highest performing stars would risk losing their families, the most important motivators in their lives.  We have since convinced her husband to take matters into his own hands and lead a cultural change in the broader organization that ensures “Whole Hearted” leadership and life.

Questions for Online Conversations

  1. How are you balancing your life?
  2. How is it working?
  3. What changes, if any, would you want to make?

About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

One Response to At What Cost?

  1. Kevin Byrnes says:

    Well stated Kaveh. As you posed, why wait for the crisis? It could then be too late, and then what? Likely, nothing good!

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