Leadership tends to steer us toward structure. We set SMART goals. We are data-driven. We take a vision into a concrete plan we can execute with measurements, KPIs, and corrective actions. A part of me gets a warm, comfortable feeling when I think about structure. This is the beauty and strength of the left hemisphere of our brain. We can be productive and efficient. We can get sh*t done.
And yet, if you are like me, you have spent far too much time in that space. I have spoken with many leaders who expressed the same concern I experienced for much of my career. They are proud of their achievements and grateful that they can provide for their family. But they worry they are so focused on doing that they are not present with their family. Or they feel out of touch with their values. These are the areas where we engage the right hemisphere of the brain.
Today, I’ll explore a technique I have embraced for years that helps to integrate these two hemispheres. It combines structure with what matters most to us that is not easily quantified. This technique is the life account.
What’s Important to Me
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know how much I love structure. I particularly love to set quarterly goals using the OKR framework. The upside is that it allows me to focus on what’s most essential and get a lot done. The downside is that I can get tunnel vision and lose sight of what’s most important to me. I wrote about this last week when I set a “goal” to leave space for wonder.
I am a relator. I thrive on a smaller number of deep personal relationships. My relationships with my wife, children, sister, parents, and closest friends. These are incredibly important to me, and a quarterly goal does not do it justice.
Another area of importance that doesn’t align with quarterly goals is values. Yes, I can build goals around improving or maintaining my health. But what about living a life of integrity? Experiencing growth? Being of service to others? Living a fulfilled and happy life? These are ways of being, not acts of doing, that can be checked off a master plan.
I touched briefly on life accounts when I wrote about the life-planning exercise I created for myself. Several clients have found this technique useful, and a good friend encouraged me to go deeper in this area.
I need to be mindful of these ways of being that matter to me. I need to hold these important things in the foreground of my daily existence so that I’m present in the moment when interacting with another human, and I remember and embrace what I value. The life account technique allows me to bring a light touch of structure in to help support this mindfulness.
Here’s how I apply the technique. First, I identify the life accounts that are important to me. The people and the values I want to be mindful of. Here are some of my life accounts:
- My wife
- My children
- My sister
- My parents
- My close friends
- My health
- My integrity
- My fulfillment
- My service to others
- My learning and growth
I bring in structure by reviewing each life account as part of my weekly review. Once a week, I reflect on each life account in turn. How strong was my relationship with my wife this week? What were the highs and the lows? How fulfilling was my week? Did I learn and grow? As I reflect, I rate each life account on a scale of 1-5.
This little bit of structure helps me keep my life accounts in the forefront of my mind. Personal fulfillment is a great example. When I made a career shift to be an executive coach, I recognized I’d be earning less, but I also expected the work to be much more fulfilling. The personal fulfillment life account is a check-in on that hypothesis. I’m on the right track if I get fours and fives. If I’m getting twos and threes, I may want to consider a return to my prior career. I am happy to report that my fulfillment scores have been consistently five since I began coaching. I know I’m on the right path.
By tracking the ratings, it helps keep me honest. Without the formality, it can be easy for me to lose sight of what’s important. I can go through multiple weeks of focusing on work at the expense of my family but tell myself I’m still being a good husband and father. Seeing threes for several weeks in a row can help pull me out of the details and re-engage with the big picture.
Once this structure is in place, it becomes easier to recognize when you are out of alignment. An important piece of this weekly review is to reflect upon your life accounts and decide what you need to shift. Perhaps this month is historically the busiest month of the year at work, and you know you have to work longer days and be less present with your family, but you know it’s a four-week sprint. A conversation with your life partner and children about the work environment and a commitment to be more present when the month is done may go a long way to strengthening those relationships.
If I score myself less than a five on integrity, there is always a reason. There was something I did (or didn’t) do that felt out of alignment. Those are specific, acute moments, and in reflection, I ask myself if I have done everything I should do to repair any damage done and repair trust. I also ask myself what to implement to ensure the issue never happens again.
A word of caution here: I recommend you not go to your life partner or children and ask them to rate you on a scale of 1 to 5. This is not a performance review, and this approach isn’t likely to support the relationship-building you seek. On the other hand, I do recommend regular conversations about what is going well and what shifts could improve the relationship.
Your Life Accounts
I encourage you to take a few minutes and brainstorm some potential life accounts:
- Who are the essential people in your life?
- What are the values you want to embody?
- Think through each domain of your life to stimulate possibilities, such as work, family, friends, life, spirituality, and community.
In your brainstorm, write down every possible life account that arises. Then, work through the list and pick a manageable number to focus on. When I began, I had seven. The list has grown over time as I got more comfortable with the practice.
If you are following along with the Journal of Awareness, these life accounts could be the subject of your journaling for the next month. Take a few minutes daily to reflect on one or more life accounts and journal the highs and lows. Use this to build your awareness of each life account’s importance and support your weekly reflection.
Putting It Into Practice
To put the life account technique into practice:
- Brainstorm five life accounts that are important to you.
- Create a spreadsheet or other log to rate each life account weekly.
- Add a step to your weekly review to rate each life account and reflect upon how to strengthen the account.
- Reflect daily on each life account in your Journal of Awareness.
I look forward to hearing what insights arise for you.
I am an executive coach and life coach with software executive roots in higher education and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.
If you would like to learn more, schedule time with me.
Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.