Jim Huling

Wednesday, 28 February 2007 19:00

Strength in vulnerability

I stood before the people of my company in what I knew would be a defining moment.

After a decade of phenomenal success, the market had turned, sharply and unexpectedly. The financial impact was devastating. Difficult decisions that included layoffs, expense reductions and the plotting of a new strategy had to be made. It would be painful, and a fearful uncertainty overshadowed my team.

As I walked to the podium, their faces showed the same concerns that I felt churning inside me. In that moment, I had two choices of what I would say.

One was to be vulnerable, to let them see that I felt the same emotions and the same regret they did over the issues we faced and to then use that connection to take us forward together. The other choice was to act as though I had everything under control, displaying confidence that, in my heart, I did not feel.

Unfortunately, I chose the latter.

The message I gave could best be characterized as a pep rally speech, with lots of bravado that I now know seemed as false to them as it did to me. I concluded by stepping off the stage and shouting, “Let’s make it happen!”

After a brief moment of forced applause, they quietly left the room, having gained no hope or courage from my attempt at a rallying message.

Even today, I cringe at this memory. And yet, this experience taught me one of the greatest lessons in the business of life.

Are you facing a challenge today that has you feeling overwhelmed or frightened, unsure what to do?

Whether you are a leader in business, the coordinator of a community project or a parent, you will inevitably face a moment such as this. And when it happens, you may be tempted to act as though you have it all under control and need little help from anyone else. Take it from me, this is the wrong approach.

It’s easy to believe you should have all the answers for every situation. And when you believe that, you hesitate to ask for help, even when you know you need it. You work to seem confident and assured, when what you should be doing is asking the people around you to join you in finding a solution.

Imagine if I had begun my meeting by acknowledging that I had been affected by the changes, just as they had, and then asked for ideas on how we could get through the crisis together. Would they have thought less of me as a leader, or more?

I think you know the answer. And the same is true in your situation.

When you are willing to let others see that you have the same doubts and fears as they do, it does not make you weak. It makes you human. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action taken in spite of it.

Your willingness to be vulnerable creates a connection that not only enables others to help you, it makes them want to. The result is unity, in your family or on your team, which strengthens everyone and displays the truest form of courage.

Vulnerability also makes you stronger when you’ve made the wrong decision or said something that you regret. Instead of defending your actions, acknowledge your mistake and what you learned from it.

The people around you always see the truth eventually. They can respect you, in spite of your mistake, if you are simply willing to admit it.

I once worked for a leader who, although respected for his passion, thoroughness and hard work, was widely known for never making two important statements: “I was wrong,” and, “I’m sorry.”

Like everyone, he was sometimes wrong, but staunchly refused to admit it. Because of this, the people on his team became unable to trust him, and eventually, he was removed from his position.

Your vulnerability is what enables you to connect with the people in your life. The more you connect, the more engagement, respect and trust you will experience, and the more of a leader you will become.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Remember your purpose

“And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Does the chorus of this well-loved song echo a message that’s always playing somewhere deep inside you? I don’t mean on the surface. On the surface of your life, you’re busy — so busy that questions like this can frustrate or even anger you. But even if you’re frustrated, stop and think for a moment. Is the message there?

I know it is because it’s there for me, too. And I know from personal experience that throughout even the happiest, most fulfilling life, you can still feel a calling to something more, a sense of purpose that pulls you forward.

You’re conscious of this calling when you’re doing something that feels especially right.

You might be writing in a journal or dabbling with watercolors and canvas. You might even be teaching a group of students or solving a complex problem at work. Whatever it is, when you’re doing it, you lose all sense of time and you feel a level of energy and peacefulness that seem to elude you in your day-to-day routine.

For me, these moments always came in my professional life when I was teaching. As an executive, I consistently created situations where I could deliver a passionate message, usually to those in leadership. A close friend once remarked that he thought running a company was simply the price I paid for the opportunity to teach the leaders. I didn’t realize it then, but he was speaking a great truth about my calling.

You’re also conscious of your calling when it’s absent.

Have you ever noticed in a special moment — a moment when everything else in your life is going well — that you still feel something’s missing? When you feel this, you may berate yourself for never being satisfied with things as they are or some similar inner criticism. But often, something far more powerful is at work.

A homing pigeon can be placed in a container with no ability to see, taken hundreds of miles away, and when released, it will fly directly home. Like the instincts of a homing pigeon, these moments confirm that there is a vision inside you of the life you were born to live. And in every moment of every day, they are guiding you home.

You may not always be aware that you’re searching.

The pull of your deeper calling can come and go, sometimes disappearing for entire seasons of your life. Often, it can seem to haunt you, bringing pain and frustration, and make you determined to put it behind you once and for all. But still, it returns. And in returning, you are reminded again that you were born for a purpose.

Today, I spend my professional life doing what I love most: teaching others about leadership and life. And I can say without any hesitation that every experience of my life has led me to this moment, that I have never been happier and that I know there is still more to come.

The challenges of these times are hard and may have caused you to do whatever was necessary to sustain your life in the short term, for yourself and for those you support. But you must not give up. The greatest human tragedy is to abandon the search for what lies in the deepest part of your heart.

Remember that you have a purpose.

The larger story of your life is still being written. When it is finished, your current challenges will be little more than a footnote, but following the constant calling of your heart will have led you home.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

Good will come

It was almost midnight when I ran through the rain to the waiting taxi. I tossed my bags into the trunk and literally fell into the backseat, exhausted, angry and wet. I had just completed a long consulting assignment that included difficult work and many days away from home, and the late arrival of my flight was the final frustration.

If you’ve ever suffered the rigors of business travel, you can imagine what came to mind when the cab driver asked in a heavily accented voice, “Did you have a good day today?”

He listened for a few moments as I vented my struggles with a difficult client, the physical and emotional fatigue of traveling, and the tremendous effort I was expending to sustain a successful business in a difficult economy. Then he began to speak.

“When I was young,” he said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror, “I was forced to leave my country. It was very hard and I was terribly frightened. But as I boarded the plane, my father said something to me that I have never forgotten. I think it will help you.”

The cab rolled to a stop at a traffic light and the driver, whose name was Fredrik, turned in his seat to look at me. With a slight nod of his head, he told me, “Always remember: Good will come.”

Have the circumstances of your life brought so much change and difficulty that you no longer believe the ultimate outcome will be good? If so, Fredrik’s story will mean as much to you as it did to me on that rainy night.

“When I arrived in this country,” he said as he drove, “I could not speak the language. Even though I had a degree in engineering, I could not find a job.”

Fredrik told me how a relative who owned a pizza restaurant offered to give him a delivery job if he could learn the map of the city. Each day, Fredrik memorized the names of different streets, and after obtaining his driver’s license, he drove a friend’s car through areas that were particularly difficult.

“It was very frightening,” he said. “Often I would get lost and have to study the map to get back home since there were no cell phones or GPS in those days. But each time I wanted to give up, I heard my father’s voice saying, ‘Good will come,’ and I was able to continue.”

Fredrik earned the delivery job, and because of his willingness to work hard, he was soon the top delivery person in the restaurant. He shared with me the difficulties of delivering in a large city, the pressure of traffic and the risks in unsafe neighborhoods. All through those years, the belief that something good would come from his challenges continued to sustain him.

“One day,” he said with a smile, “I delivered a pizza to a man who owned a taxi company. He commented that I was always on time and had a good attitude. Then he asked how well I knew the city, and when I told him, he offered me a job driving one of his cabs.”

In only a few years as a taxi driver, Fredrik was able to buy his own cab and then another and another.

“Can you believe it?” he said with a deep laugh. “Today, I own my company. We have six cabs, and I have been able to bring my mother, father and two sisters here to work in the business and become citizens. So even now, when business is hard, I still remember that good will come.”

Sometimes a miracle can be as simple as a change in perspective.

When I got into Fredrik’s cab at the airport, I was consumed with worry, frustration and doubt. By the time we arrived at my hotel, he had reignited two powerful forces — faith and hope. Faith that the purpose and destiny of my life is greater than whatever challenges surround me at this moment, and hope that these very challenges are leading me to an outcome greater than I could have imagined.

Whatever you are facing today, I know what Fredrik would say to you, “Always remember: Good will come.”

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Huling is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

What stops you?

“Jim, I’m completely stuck,” said Kyle over the phone that morning. “Every time I try to move forward, something stops me, and I’m close to giving up.”

As both a coaching client and a good friend, I knew that Kyle had been going through a number of changes in the past year — changes that had taken a toll on his confidence and his health.

When we met in my office later that afternoon, Kyle began to tell me about the difficulties he was facing in his new job — one he had taken after being laid off from a company where he had worked for many years. As he listed the challenges that frustrated him, he compared each of them back to his old company, and never favorably.

Where is your focus?

Are you frustrated or even angry over changes in your job that are being forced on you? If so, it’s likely you are viewing them as Kyle did, by constantly comparing them to the past. Every time you do this, you take all the energy and capacity you possess and send it backward in time to a place where it cannot help you.

How long would you be willing to stare into the rearview mirror while driving your car? Hopefully, less than a second. And yet, whenever you’re looking back on a previous job, an old relationship or the balance that once showed in your bank account, you are driving your life with your eyes locked on what’s behind you, instead of where you’re headed.

The next time you start longing for the past, know that it probably wasn’t as perfect as you remember. Your memory will trick you by recalling only the best moments, leaving out the ups and downs of real life, making the comparison to your current circumstances fall short and leaving you depressed and immobile.

Instead, keep your focus on today, on where you are rather than where you’ve been, and you will regain the energy you’ve been losing to yesterday.

What’s right about your current situation?

When Kyle finished explaining his current challenges, I asked if he would then tell me everything that was right about his new job. He was startled by the question, but when he saw that I was serious, he began to think about the answer.

First, he listed the obvious — it was good to have a job in a difficult economy, good to have a paycheck each week and the things it provided his family. But as he continued, a change began to happen that was as clear in his answers as it was in the expression on his face. Kyle said that he liked his new manager and felt that he appreciated Kyle’s work. He had also been able to learn some new skills and looked forward to the increased opportunity they would one day bring. He continued on for several minutes, with each new answer leading to another.

When he finished, both Kyle and I knew that the list of all that was right about his new job exceeded those things that were not. Kyle’s circumstances had not changed. What had changed was the quality of the question he was asking.

Each time you find yourself focused on all that is wrong in a situation, begin to ask yourself what is right about it and watch your perspective shift. While the challenges may remain, the way you see them will be different, and that difference will enable you to move forward.

What do you really want?

At the end of our time together, I asked Kyle if he would go back to his old job if he were given the choice.

After a moment’s reflection, he smiled at me and said, “No. All things considered, I’d rather go forward from where I am today than go back to where I was.”

Sometimes in the wind of change you find your true direction and you realize all that’s stopping you from seeing it is you.

Keep your eyes forward and your perspective balanced. The only thing standing between you and the next great chapter of your life is the faith to believe it’s possible and the will to try.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 20:00

Bend without breaking

At the highest levels of the martial arts, there is a test given to those who apply to become a master. Following hours of intensive skill demonstration, both in solitary forms and in combat with multiple opponents, the student is asked to sit in complete stillness on the floor. A thin glass rod is then placed in his hands, and he is given the simple instruction: “Bend without breaking.”

Over the next several hours, the student must bend the glass rod, using a careful combination of pressure, heat from his hands and patience.

Are the circumstances of your life or your job forcing you to change, perhaps even to the point of breaking? If so, then the lessons of this simple but demanding test can help you master the challenges you face.

Apply constant gentle pressure.

Most students who hold the glass rod break it within the first few minutes. Because they are anxious to finish and see the end result, they unconsciously apply more and more pressure until the sound of the rod suddenly snapping in their hands signals their failure.

When the requirements of your job are changing, it’s easy to believe that you must master every new aspect immediately. Not only is this impossible, it can overwhelm you to the point that you lose your ability to perform even in areas where you were already strong. Focusing on too many changes at the same time will ultimately lead you to a break — in your results and in your confidence.

Instead, identify the few most important changes you must master and then build a plan for the daily or weekly improvements that will lead you to that level. Designate a specific objective for each week, such as practicing a new skill for a certain number of hours or reading background material, and then build your confidence by consistently accomplishing it.

Approaching a significant change through small adjustments will not only lead you to the outcome you want more quickly, it will make you stronger in the process.

Use the heat of your inner fire.

Pressure alone would not allow the glass rod to bend. The martial artist knows that it is the heat from his hands that also enables the result to be achieved.

Every time you allow your mind to dwell on thoughts about what has happened to you, whether or not it was fair or who was to blame, you are literally dousing the inner fire that is essential to your success. These thoughts, whether true or not, place you in the role of victim — a role from which you will never generate the heat needed to change.

Instead, use the power of your mind to reinforce the outcome you truly want: success in this new chapter of your life.

The most powerful way to shift your thinking is through gratitude. Each time you are tempted to focus on your difficulties, simply begin to list all the things for which you are grateful. While it may feel awkward at first, saying phrases such as, “I am grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful to have a job and the ability to support the people I care about,” will literally transform your thoughts and will give you the energy and optimism you need to change.

Be patient.

Real change takes time. You cannot force a plant to grow faster by commanding it to hurry. Most often, the pressure you are placing on yourself is actually greater than any that is being placed on you by others.

By making a plan for consistent progress and harnessing the power of your thoughts to keep your confidence strong, you will have the tools you need. All that remains is to give yourself time to make them work.

No matter how dire your challenges may seem today, they are just as likely to represent the beginning of a great new chapter in your life for tomorrow — one where the changes you are making are a needed prerequisite. By using the lessons of gentle pressure, inner fire and patience, you will be able to adapt and move into the future that is waiting for you.

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

Believe in yourself

“Jim, I’m completely lost,” said an angry young man, raising his hand to interrupt my presentation. “As a vice president, I had an identity I believed in, and over the last several years, I’ve done everything that identity required, even sacrificing my relationships and my health. Now that it’s gone, what am I supposed to do?”

I was speaking to a group of executives who were searching for their next opportunity, having been laid off from their previous companies. Every seat in the room was filled, and in their faces, I could see a mixture of hope and fear, as well as anger and desperation. 

“What advice do you have for someone who has nothing left to believe in?” asked the young man.

The murmur of agreement that echoed through the room following this question told me he was not alone. I prayed that the words I was about to speak would reignite his inner fire.

Believe that your life is bigger than your job.

Over the course of your career, it’s easy for your world to become very narrow. Thoughts about your job and the challenges you face start to consume you, no matter what you’re doing or whom you’re with. You slowly begin to value people and relationships based solely on how they can help you succeed, and you are unable to have a single conversation that isn’t punctuated by checking your BlackBerry for incoming messages.

And then, one day, the job is gone. Only then do you realize that you’ve lost the perspective and the sense of purpose that originally drove your success.

Stop now and remember the dreams you once held, the vision of what you wanted to do with your life and, more importantly, why you wanted to do it. Remember, also, the people and relationships that bring real meaning to all that you do. Open your journal or laptop and begin to write the story of your life as you will want it told at the end when all your days are finished.

Don’t allow your life to be defined by your job. Instead, rediscover your true vision and you will see that your job is only one important aspect of the life you were born to live.

Believe in the talents you have been given.

When you’ve been rejected from an interview or a position, your first reaction is to conclude that you were not good enough or that you somehow lacked the ability or the intelligence to succeed. But what if, instead, your talents were simply not matched to the requirements of the position?

Do you remember watching Michael Jordan play major league baseball? If you had only seen him on the baseball field, you would have judged him to be average at best, never imagining his amazing abilities at basketball. Likewise, you may have been struggling to succeed at a job where your greatest skills were not utilized or valued.

Begin to reassess your true talents by listing your greatest achievements and the core abilities that drove them. Use outside tools and coaches to identify other talents that may be dormant or undeveloped. Then build a profile of your ideal job — one that focuses on the things you do best — and watch your confidence begin to grow as you begin to align your career direction with your strengths.

Believe in the support of people who believe in you.

The strangest paradox in life is that when you need help the most, you are least likely to ask for it. Embarrassment, pride and shame are the real obstacles in your way, not the absence of your next job.

Reach out to the people in your life, ask for help, and then be willing to accept it knowing that one day, you will do the same for them. The power of your personal network to help find your next opportunity exceeds all other resources combined. In the process, you will strengthen your connection to the people who matter most.

Whatever the challenges you face, remember there is always a reason to believe in your purpose, your talents and, ultimately, in yourself.

As I said goodbye to the young man who had spoken, he smiled and said, “Thank you for reminding me of all I have to believe in.”

Jim Huling is an executive consultant, a national keynote speaker and a professional coach. His leadership experience spans more than 30 years, including a decade as CEO of a company recognized four times as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work For in America.” Jim is also the author of “Choose Your Life! a powerful proven method for creating the life you want.” He can be reached at jim@jimhuling.com.

Sunday, 26 August 2007 20:00

Determine your destiny

“I can’t believe this has happened to me,” said Steve, a young man whom I had been mentoring. “I never intended for my boss to find out this way,” he said with real anguish as we sat in my office late one night.

For several months, Steve had been questioning whether his current job was still a good fit. He had an important position, as well as a supportive relationship with his manager, who had invested heavily in him during the past two years. Steve’s loyalty to his manager had him torn about whether to explore other opportunities within his company.

In our last meeting, Steve decided that his intention was to stay in his current job and that if he chose to explore other positions in the future, he would first discuss it with his manager because of his loyalty to her. At least, that was the plan.

But in the weeks that had passed since that meeting, Steve began to have casual conversations about a position in another group at his company. As his interest grew, he sought out several people in that group and asked them to quietly recommend him to their manager. Steve also recruited a friend outside of work who knew the manager to send a recommendation, along with a copy of his resume.

It wasn’t surprising that all of Steve’s actions became known when the manager of the other group eventually called Steve’s current manager. It also wasn’t surprising that Steve’s current manager felt betrayed, not by Steve’s interest in the position, but by the way he had chosen to approach it.

The only real surprise was Steve’s sincere astonishment as he said over and over, “I can’t believe this has happened to me.” I wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. It was obvious that Steve’s actions had made this outcome inevitable from the moment he began discussing the new position. Now, he sat in my office knowing that, at best, he had damaged an important relationship and, at worst, may have lost his job.

Have you ever experienced an outcome that was radically different than what you intended?

With every action you take, you define the path of your life. And every path has a trajectory toward a certain outcome. While it’s important to know what you really want — in essence, to have a clear destination — it’s far more important to ensure that the path you’re on will take you there.

If you want to become a trusted and respected leader in your team at work, examine your path. Are you completing every assignment with real excellence? Do you support and encourage the people on your team who are struggling? Can your teammates trust you?

If you want to become a loving and engaged parent or spouse, examine your path. Do you create time every week for the people who matter most? Do you regularly tell them how much they mean to you? Are you there when they need help?

It’s easy to focus on the illusion of who you intend to be and to miss the reality that the choices you’re making every day are leading to a completely different outcome. Like a person who talks of driving north while consistently heading south, if you’re not careful, you will trade in what you want most in life for what you choose to do in each moment.

Make a list today of the five most important things you want to become, such as a thoughtful spouse, a trusted friend or a successful leader. Now, beside each item, write five actions you took in the last week that are helping to create this outcome. Complete the exercise by listing any actions that took you away from these outcomes.

If you’re honest with yourself, the results of this simple exercise will show you the path you’re on and where you need to change.

In the end, it’s your actions, not your intentions, that determine your destiny. Choosing actions that align with your intentions will enable you to become the person you want to be and to create a life that is truly extraordinary.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the third year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Creating your own crisis?

I was already late when I left the office heading for the airport. My flight was the last one of the day that would enable me to have dinner with an important client in a distant city, and I had to make it.

Driving well above the speed limit, I could feel my hands tighten around the steering wheel. My pulse was throbbing in my temples as the stress of the possibility of missing my flight began to rise. When another driver attempted to cross over into my lane, I accelerated to close the gap between my car and the one in front of me, blocking him out.

Speeding around a curve in the highway, I suddenly saw a sea of red brake lights ahead, forcing me to a complete stop. Soon, I heard sirens and saw the flashing lights of two ambulances racing down the shoulder of the highway.

When I finally reached the accident, it was a vision of total devastation. One car was overturned, and several others lay crumpled at odd angles, while emergency personnel hurried from one injured person to another.

Staring in shock at this terrible tragedy, I witnessed a scene I had experienced many times on television but never in reality. Barely 20 feet in front of me, two emergency workers lifted the body of a man and placed him into a long, white bag. They pulled the zipper from foot to head with a slowness that seemed almost reverent, closing the body within it, and closing the journey of a life.

Even as the shrill command of a policeman’s whistle forced me to drive on, I knew that image would stay with me forever.

Had the man in that bag been in a hurry, just as I had? Was he driving too fast, dialing his cell phone or mentally distracted by a problem at work when his last moment occurred? I’ll never know. But I will always suspect that it was the same frenzied pace that I felt — the same urgent need to hurry — that created the devastation on that highway. Except for a few minutes’ difference in time, and the miracle of grace, the man in that bag could have been me.

Are you always hurrying through your life? Is your pace so urgent that you become angry at the smallest delay, such as a lengthy traffic light or a customer in front of you counting out exact change to pay? If so, then here are two questions you should consider.

Are you creating your own crisis? On that day, making my flight was so urgent that I felt compelled to drive dangerously, but it was a crisis I had made myself by squeezing in one additional meeting before I left. Today, I can’t even remember what that meeting was about, but the urgency it created could have cost me my life.

Instead, why not plan adequate time for the things you need to do and leave a small buffer between commitments for the unexpected? As radical as this may sound, you will actually get more done by remaining in a calmer, more focused state than you will by rushing frantically from commitment to commitment.

Are you always distracted? Constant multitasking only creates the illusion of productivity, not the results, while adding extra stress.

I recently received a call from a colleague about a complex financial spreadsheet. In the background, I could hear the sounds of a crowd cheering. When I asked, he told me he was at his daughter’s soccer game and how important it was to her that he was there to watch her play.

I realized this man was sitting in the stands with his laptop open, discussing an issue on his cell phone, while believing he was fulfilling an important commitment to his child. The sad truth was that both his work and his daughter received less than his best that day.

The commitments you make and the people to whom you make them are essential elements in creating the life you want to live. Slow down enough to give them the time and the undivided focus they deserve, and you will find that both your work and your relationships reach a new level of success and fulfillment.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Job vs. life

The headline in the newspaper instantly drew my attention to the article below it.

Less than 24 hours ago, a prominent local attorney had taken his life. I had known Bob casually through professional associations and a few deals between our companies. He was very competent; I remembered how detailed he was in the negotiations we had conducted.

As I read on, I learned that he had a wife and two children, now left behind in the horrific wake of his actions the day before. Over the next few weeks, Bob’s suicide was the topic of much discussion, and through friends and contacts, I learned what had happened. Bob had been working on a very large deal, one that would merge his company with a competitor, creating a dominant player in the market. For almost a year, the merger had been his sole focus, and he had worked as many as 100 hours each week, even sleeping some nights in his office.

At the final hour, the other company decided to abort the merger. No one knew that when Bob left the office that day, he would never return. Distraught, disillusioned, hopeless — all of these emotions must have overwhelmed him, and in the end, he took his own life.

Bob’s story had a profound impact on me. Somehow, he had allowed the circumstances of his job to become so important that when they failed, he felt his life was over. It was a mistake I was determined to avoid, in my own life and in the lives of everyone I could influence.

Are your responsibilities overwhelming you? Everyone is being asked to do more today than they were a few years ago and often with fewer resources. While you need to stretch and grow to be successful, there is also a point where the impossibility of your workload can overwhelm you.

Instead of becoming immobilized, take control by making an inventory of everything you’re working on, then take note of the deadlines, the level of effort required and the resources you will need to be successful. Use this inventory to realistically assess what you can do, then start to let others know where you need help. The risk you may feel in stating that you can’t do it all is far less than the risk you’re taking both personally and professionally by trying and then failing.

Are you secretly afraid you’re not qualified? Anyone with significant responsibilities has at least once had the fear that he or she isn’t smart enough or talented enough to meet the demands of the role.

As soon as you have this feeling, your next fear is that someone will find out. It’s a natural reaction and one that, if left to grow, will undermine your energy and your confidence. The antidote to this fear is disclosure.

When I first became a CEO, I reviewed financial reports that I didn’t always understand. And although I needed to understand them, I was embarrassed to admit that I didn’t for fear that I wouldn’t seem qualified. As soon as I asked for help, others were happy to give it, and a fear that might have disabled me was relieved.

Is there no room in your schedule for your life? Take a look at the week ahead and pretend it’s the calendar of a stranger. What can you conclude about the life it reveals?

Is there time designated for a family event such as a ballgame or a movie? Are there entries for dinner or buying a special gift for a spouse or partner? What about time for exercise, prayer or lunch with a friend? The absence of items such as these is an early warning sign of exhaustion and burnout.

Although several years have now passed, I still wonder what might have happened if Bob had asked and answered questions such as these. Unfortunately, I will never know.

But if he could speak to us now, I believe he would say something like this: “Dedicate yourself wholeheartedly to your work, but never allow your job to become bigger than your life.”

I hope we’re all listening.

JIM HULING is CEO of MATRIX Resource Inc., an IT services company that has achieved industry-leading financial growth while receiving numerous national, regional and local awards for its values-based culture and other work-life balance programs. The company was recently named one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for the second year in a row by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management. In 2005, Huling was awarded the Turknett Leadership Character Award for outstanding demonstration of integrity, respect and accountability. Reach him at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com.

Wednesday, 28 December 2005 05:57

Taking control of your life

Desert nomads have an ancient teaching: Trust Allah, but tie your camel. They know that crossing the desert requires real faith, for there will be violent wind storms, long days filled with the burning rays of the sun and those mystical visions of oases that vanish when you reach them. Each successful desert journey is a small miracle and the traveler who survives must rely on faith to see it through.

The desert people also know that camels have minds of their own. Unlike dogs that can be trained to stay, camels wander wherever they please. Unless they are tied, a surprised traveler can awaken to the reality of completing the journey on foot, and even the strongest faith will not sustain one who is dying of thirst in an ocean of sand.

The business of life is often like a desert crossing. There are many circumstances beyond our control: economies that rise or fall, jobs that are offered or taken away, promises that are kept or broken. In the face of these uncontrollable possibilities, it is only our faith that sustains us and enables us to go on.

But, like the desert traveler, faith alone is not enough for a successful journey. We must also do those things that represent our part of the process. In business, we must plan and execute with excellence. In relationships, we must invest our time, energy and passion in those we care about. We must remember to tie our camels.

When our journey to success goes off track, it’s easy to blame other people and all the forces beyond our control for not having obtained what we most wanted. Too often, we waste our energy recounting how we became victims of the challenges we faced. But if we look closely and honestly, we can usually see the small choices, the seemingly insignificant responsibilities we neglected along the way.

Have you been denied a promotion or some recognition that you feel you deserve? Did you miss the deadline or the sale that you were certain you would make? Did you depend on the constancy of a relationship that proved unfaithful?

Instead of focusing on the outcome, look back across the steps that led to it. Can you remember the moment when you first veered from the result you wanted? When you said something that wasn’t completely true or decided to avoid a problem rather than confronting it? When you lost your passion and began faking so no one would know?

If you look deeply, you can not only remember the moment, but you can also remember that it felt wrong, that you had a chance, right then and there, to retrace your steps and get back on track. But the moment passed, and if you didn’t act, the awareness of your shift in direction was lost.

Often, it’s only when we arrive at a painful outcome that we look back and see how that first choice, and each successive choice after it, brought us to where we are now. Even if our journey included a significant event or action by another person that truly was out of our control, we still had a choice in how we responded and even how we felt.

Ultimately, it is our choices that determine virtually every aspect of our life. Choices that are consistent with our vision create the life we want. Choices that are aligned with our beliefs create a strong and visible character. And when unfortunate events occur, choosing patience and forgiveness makes our faith a reality.

Far more than the influence of any external force, our choices create the life we experience. Accepting this is the first step in taking control of the direction of our lives. When we combine faith and faithfulness, balancing our vision with the choices that are ours alone to make, we can create the life we were born to live.

Be a person of great faith, but be sure to tie your camel.

Jim Huling is CEO of MATRIX Resources Inc., an IT services company that was recently recognized as one of the 25 Best Small Companies to Work For in America by the Great Place to Work Institute. Contact Huling at Jim_Huling@MatrixResources.com or (770) 677-2400.

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