Note: A version of this column appears in the Fall 2013 issue of The Journal.

My college friend Tom Roesler (blogger, K-State staffer and entrepreneur) has been on a crusade to help people slow down and get a grip on the “crazy busy” life so many of us lead. Too many of us are devoted to accomplishing things, stuck in a hamster wheel, running faster and faster, only to stay in place.

We are rewarded for running faster while keeping every ball in the air, all the plates spinning.

There is plenty written about work/life balance in the self-help and therapy books. But what about the crazy-busy/leadership balance? Exercising leadership requires more time to engage others, reflect, plan and experiment. How will we do that if we are crazy busy?

A few true stories:

A friend of mine, we’ll call him Fred, is the owner of a modestly successful small business. He is totally swamped delivering products and services to clients, because others in the organization honestly don’t have the talent. He is stuck working IN the business rather than ON the business. He is on the far-edge of the crazy-busy side of the continuum. He can’t see the forest for the trees. He can’t take in enough oxygen to think clearly and realize the real leadership challenge facing him is building the capacity of his team.

Another friend, “Susan,” works in a large, bureaucratic organization. She worked her way up to lofty positions within the administration, rewarded along the way for keeping all the trains running on time. Now, she is busy “being an administrator,” she’s unable take a breath and think, and therefore less effective at mobilizing others.

As a result of being crazy busy, their ability to exercise leadership is suffering. In addition, their physical health is suffering. It’s harder to judge, but I wonder about their spiritual, emotional, relational health too.

All of this takes us into the KLC Competency Manage Self and the charge to “take care of yourself.” We cannot exercise leadership consistently – and our daunting, adaptive challenges require us to stay the course – without taking care of ourselves.

Furthermore, to be the best version of ourselves, we must tend to our spiritual, social and physical needs.

Despite teaching these ideas regularly, it’s as hard for me to follow them as the next person. I realized I was trending towards crazy busy recently. Realizing my limits helped point a way forward. I began saying “no” to things when I normally would have said “yes.” For example, I’ve turned down some speaking opportunities. They feed my ego, so saying “no” was harder than I expected. I’ve declined to meet with some people. I used to meet with just about anyone who wanted time, I’m more selective now and learning to live with disappointing others.

I crafted and stuck with a schedule that values my spiritual, physical, emotional and relational health. I’m finding myself much more effective in my work and leadership efforts. By taking better care of myself I stand a better chance of making more progress on the things that matter most – at work, in the community and at home. In short, I stand a better chance at exercising leadership.

It’s as simple as this: we have no hope of mobilizing others to take on deep, daunting challenges if we can’t mobilize ourselves. By taking care of ourselves, we give ourselves a chance to lead.



Ed O’Malley

President & CEO

Kansas Leadership Center