Are you fighting forest fires or growing trees?


“I don’t have time for this”, said the senior level executive about the prestigious leadership development program she had landed in which required significant time in the class and being coached by me. “I have two small children, a husband who travels, and I just can’t see how I’ll add all of this extra stuff into my schedule.” Her spot in this program was an honor by all accounts, something that made her colleagues envious and put her on track for more senior level positions.

“I understand how this might seem like ‘one more thing’ to do. Let’s talk about that. What are your long term goals?” I asked.

“To make a bigger impact in senior level positions at work and to be able to spend more time with my family”.

Sound familiar? Although there is a lot of conversation and media attention placed on finding balance these days, the basic decisions that have to be made about work and life “balance” come down to individual and personal choices. You are not a victim of a conspiracy to test your mettle in dealing with too much to do, but rather a leader with choices and decisions to make about where you will focus your time and your energy.

This is a both/and, not an either/or situation

I believe you can make a bigger impact AND spend more time with outside-of-work pursuits, whatever they are. I wanted to help this leader to do that.

This executive had to make time for her own development in order to make a bigger impact. She couldn’t see her way to do that AND spend more time with her family.

“Tell me about what your day at work looks like”, I asked. That was the crux of the matter, we discovered. She was running herself ragged, responding to urgent emails, texts, phone calls and unproductive meetings. She was fighting fires when she might be happier growing trees. In other words, a lot of her day was spent in a reactive mode with almost no time for thinking about her choices.

Finding a way

Her goal for our coaching was to learn to make better decisions and choose where she expends her energy wisely – in such a way that her big goal of making a bigger impact at the company and spending more time with her family could become a reality.

That reality came to pass. She learned a lot in the leadership program. She became creative in finding ways to see more of her family. As a result, she became a much better leader and parent. Funny how that can happen when you stop seeing yourself as victimized by too much to do and start taking responsibility for figuring out what’s really important.

Yet, the biggest thing she learned was how to reflect. She continues after we’ve finished our work together to “be unavailable” (i.e., she’s blocked of time to think and plan) for a couple of hours a week in order to reflect on her choices, to live a better life and to give more to others. The portion of her time firefighting has shrunk and she’s now doing a great job growing trees.

What trees are you nurturing?



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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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