The Maxims of Delphi

Last week I was in Greece, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to Delphi. Inscribed, in ancient Greek, at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi are the following “maxims”:

  • Know thyself
  • Nothing in excess
  • Certainty brings ruin

In addition to these three, another 147 Delphi maxims provide a framework for an honest, worthy way of living. These “maxims,” short, pithy statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, are intended as guidelines and advice, not absolutes, and speak to the following:

  • character
  • worship
  • justice
  • knowledge
  • work
  • finance
  • family

One hundred years later, Confucious teachings were remarkably similar to those found at Delphi. Did Confucious travel to Delphi and copy them down? Doubtful. And, of course, modern religions are also based on these principles.

A few days after visiting Delphi, we visited Akrotiri, where archeologists uncovered a town from the 16th century BC. What was most stunning about this town was the level of sophistication of the inhabitants, including indoor plumbing!

As I left these two historic sites, it occurred to me that the only difference between humans today and in the past, no matter how far back in the past we go, is our technology.  

We have and probably always will strive to understand the motivations of ourselves and others and seek to understand the meaning of life.

Quiet Time, a Luxury or Necessity?

Call it meditation, or simply call it quiet time. Spiritual leaders say taking time to clear the mind is the secret to awareness and peace. For centuries, humans have gone to mediation classes, yogis, ashrams, the Dalai Lama, etc., in search of The Way.

More recently, our physicians have begun to tell us that meditation will lower your blood pressure, protect us from cancer, manage pain, and more. Mayo Clinic’s website contains this article on the health benefits of meditation.

And in this powerful New York Times opinion, the author reminds us our businesses will benefit too. “Creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations, and other forms of mental load. Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”

Summer is a great time to experience quiet, to test this out and see if perhaps a few moments of quiet each day could add value to our lives.

No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.

Reduce Your Choices

How often do we pause during a day and ask ourselves, “what was my intention today? What did I want to accomplish?” 

  • What if, instead, discipline became a habit? 
  • What if, instead, we gave ourselves fewer choices each day?
  • What if, instead, we prescribed our day such that we spent more time on action and less on deciding?

According to Tony Schwartz, author of Why You Need to Make Your Life More Automatic, “the more conscious willpower we have to exert each day, the less energy we have leftover to resist our brain’s primitive and powerful pull to instant gratification.”  

Conversely, the more of our key behaviors we can put under the automatic and more efficient control of habit — by building something he calls “Energy Rituals” — the more likely we are to accomplish the things that truly matter to us.

And the fewer decisions we have to make, the more likely we are to make better decisions. This sobering story, Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney, drives home both the value and the societal impact of leaders choosing to make fewer choices. 

So how do you get started? Begin by slowing down. Then decide your priorities and make those a daily habit. With the remaining time, reduce your choices. The counterintuitive result is by doing less, we accomplish more. 

The Ever Elusive Search for Work-Life Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance.” It is a topic of frequent discussion in my coaching sessions and is often first on the list when we start working together.

And yet, despite all the discussions, books, and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. Perhaps, it is because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life to achieve balance?

What if, instead, we saw it, as James Michener did, becoming masters in the art of living.

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction
between their work and their play, their
labor and their leisure, their mind and their
body, their information, and their
recreation, their love, and their religion.
They hardly know which is which.
They simply pursue their vision of excellence at
whatever they do, leaving others to
decide whether they are working or playing.
To them, they are always doing both.”

Boundaries Do Have Consequences

As leaders in the 24×7 culture of the 21st century, we all must set boundaries. And they are different for each of us. Some of us like to stay at the office until the work for the day is complete and separate work time from family or playtime. Some of us want to be connected all the time, handling things as they come up. These folks prefer a more integrated life rather than a separation. Still, others want to be home in the early evening and choose to “catch up” later on when everyone in their family has gone to bed.

There is no right or wrong; some of it is generational, some of it is just personal desire. And, what I have noticed, in the years I have been coaching executives, is that regardless of preference, setting boundaries is something many people struggle with. And people with young children struggle the most. People with families often agree to boundaries rather than establish their own. They often forget to set aside time for themselves or conform to boundaries imposed upon them.

The topic of boundaries is not a new subject; it is talked about and written about a lot. What I don’t hear discussed as much is the consequences of setting boundaries. For the sake of our loved ones, our health, or emotional health, we all must set boundaries that meet our needs. And, what I have come to realize is with very few exceptions, these boundaries have consequences. Sometimes the work doesn’t get done, and sometimes our families are hurt or disappointed. Sometimes the cost is economic, the customer goes elsewhere, or we must leave our position and take one that allows us to live the boundaries we want, perhaps with lower compensation.

The question is, can we be intentional about choosing so that we knowingly pay a price we are willing to pay, rather than suffer a price that we were neither expecting nor prepared to pay?

Set Boundaries

As we come to realize that these “interesting times” are likely to be with us for some time, we are also beginning to accept that we must find ways to adapt.

While the form that adapt and accept takes will be different for each of us, one thing is true for all of us; we must focus on what we can control, be mindful of determining what that is, and set boundaries.

When I said this to a client recently, he asked me what I meant by boundaries, here is my reply.

For those who see ourselves as servant leaders, especially those who are people pleasers, setting boundaries begins with putting ourselves first. It is only by “putting our oxygen mask on first” and following three key steps that we can be in service to others.  

In today’s world, this begins first with setting aside “me” time. Me time can include exercise, meditation, watching TV, whatever works for us to relax and recharge.

Next, it’s making time for thinking and planning, “library time” as a client of mine liked to call it. Focused thinking time is essential for identifying the things we can control and staying focused.

Finally, it’s about calendar management. We can only accomplish the first two steps if we do this one. Our schedules must have boundaries. If we are fortunate to have an assistant, we can ask them to be the gatekeeper. And, calendar management apps (I use Calendly) can be equally useful. These apps have advanced settings that allow you to set buffers between meetings, a maximum number of meetings a day, etc. Set this for yourself so that you can be fully present and productive throughout the day.

If you are looking to grow or get unstuck and cut the time to action to six months or less, there is no better time than now to contact me.

Just For The Record

Just for the record, we introverts don’t like this any more than extroverts. 

You are probably asking yourself, where is this coming from? I had a conversation last week with an extroverted friend of mine, during which he said: “I know you introverts are secretly loving this.” 

People often have the belief that introverts aren’t social, want to be alone all the time, etc. etc. this isn’t so. While the more introverted folks amongst us, may prefer time alone to time with others, the primary difference between introverts and extroverts is where we draw our energy. Introverts go within; extroverts tend to “think out loud.” Another way to say this, introverts tend to need quiet time to recharge more often than extroverts do.

All humans are social animals. The mental health toll of this shelter in place isolation may be more significant for introverts because for many introverts in analytical jobs, working at home means working alone, no zoom, no contact. And these folks may be more reticent to arrange zoom cocktails and the like.  

What this means to me is we all need to be mindful to make time to be with people we care about, people that make us laugh, people that make us forget for a moment that we are in this situation. Today is Sunday, an excellent day to FaceTime a friend, or pick up your mobile device and use it as a phone. 

If you want to learn more about this important topic, a book I recommend to both introverts and extroverts is The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. She also has a Ted Talk by the same title.

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership and transition coaching as well as my peer advisory boards here.

Everybody Needs A Coach

“Everybody needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you are CEO, a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player, we all need feedback”  so says Bill Gates & Eric Schmidt in this 1.25min TED Talk.

Perhaps a bold statement.  And yet, doesn’t every professional athlete and every famous performer have one?  You may be surprised to learn, so does every successful CEO, whether leading a Fortune 500 company or a privately held company.

If you buy into what Bill and Eric are saying, and you are a:

  • Soon-to-Be, or Newly Appointed CEO or Business Owner
  • CEO or Business Owner Wanting to Up Your Leadership Game
  • CEO or Business Owner Considering an Exit
  • Executive Pivoting to Entrepreneurship
  • Former Executive Considering Re-Entry

Or perhaps, you are simply looking for clarity, to define where you are and where you want to be.

Wherever you are in your journey, if you want the feedback that Bill and Eric talk about, and the accountability to get to your goals, now is the time.

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership coaching and peer advisory boards here.

The Choice


The Choice

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse. 

William Butler Yeats, 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939

I came across this poem some time ago and was reminded of it in a recent discussion about “what matters”. We often talk about achieving balance; we perceive that it is the stress of modern times. Yet this poem was written in the early 20th century, a reminder that this quest is the human condition, a daily challenge of choice.  Here are the questions that come to mind:
  • Must we choose between success in life and work?
  • Or is it the search for perfection of one or the other that forces the choice? e.g., Albert Einstein was portrayed by his biographers as a poor husband and father. Was he, or was this the judgment of the biographers?
  • As we search for meaning in our lives, must we distinguish between what defines “life” and what defines “work” or is it possible to simply pursue what matters to us?
  • On this day devoted to mothers, what are you telling or demonstrating to your children about this question?

Elisa K Spain

Are You a CEO or President of a Privately Held Business? If you are also a lifetime learner and want to learn more about my Vistage Group, click here