The (Almost) Perfect Executive Leader


The (Almost) Perfect Executive Leader

He was, by all accounts, the perfect executive leader; excellent reviews, self-assured, well-respected, widely admired, and generally thought of as a “nice guy.” Highly detail oriented in his work and used to working long hours (“until the job got done”), it was a guarantee he would one day sit in the executive suite. Yet, that day in November when he walked into our VIM Executive Coaching office, he was ashen, shaking and beside himself with shame and guilt.

A Wake-Up Call

Naturally, I wondered what was wrong. The man was nearly in tears.

“I was on my way here in a rush. I was thinking of a report, a doctor’s appointment, my wife’s shopping list, several phone calls and a conference where I had to prepare a speech. I went through a red light and bumped a pedestrian who was walking her dog. I am so lucky she didn’t press charges. I am so ashamed. I can “feel” her hand on my car hood right now.”

His breathing was rapid and I could easily see how distraught he was.

I shared that he had every right to feel upset. He shared he possessed a perfect driving record; not a single accident in 25 years of driving.

“I could have badly injured her, or worse!”

I then asked him a simple question with a lot of weight behind it.

“If you could re-live the incident over again, would you have chosen to go through the light and hit the pedestrian?”

“Of course not. Only a fool – or worse, would ever want to hurt someone.”

“Then why are you happy to constantly run over yourself most every time we meet?”

How About Breathing?

The almost perfect executive was, in fact, a lovely person with a good heart and I am thankful his running a red light did not have worse implications. However, I am not at all surprised than he – and thousands of others like him, don’t become involved in accidents every day. In essence, many of us “run over ourselves” with stress and anxiety in our daily lives.

The almost perfect executive forgot a key component of living, and that is that we must show the same kindness, authenticity and compassion to ourselves that we strive to show others. When we over-schedule, over-achieve, over-manage and over-exceed sensible expectations, it is a guarantee that something will give at its weakest point.

For the executive that morning, he was so distracted trying to be everything to everybody, he had forgotten his prime responsibility was to safely drive to an appointment. For someone else, it might have been doing something dangerous with a hasty repair, for another executive it might have been to overlook a crucial detail in a plan or a negotiation.

We are – fortunately, imperfect creatures trying to do the best we can all do. I use the word “fortunately” with intention. It is our imperfection that allows us creativity, compassion, empathy and understanding. We are not robotic, but deeply human. Therein lies the problem.

Many of us are placing our faith in our circuitry. We believe that we can function, or work at functioning with robotic precision. We place our faith in online platforms, spreadsheets and endless variations of executive leadership to-do lists.

The key is to put all of the scheduling devices away and schedule time for ourselves. We must go from mindless planning tasks and precise cells in spreadsheets to being mindful. Mindfulness, is a practice and not a precise machine part. I led the executive through several mindfulness meditation exercises and even then, and there, he calmed and was able to see how much he had piled on his plate before ignoring a red light.

Mindfulness allows us to be aware of the world around us.

There are no guarantees that mindfulness meditation will cure you from traffic accidents or making mistakes on a report, but it will allow you to slow down and reset. It is most rewarding to realize we are, after all, only human.

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Bruce Wolk