You balance a lot of things when you start a company — long-term and short-term sacrifices and wins, debt and equity, revenue and cost of revenue.
While entrepreneurs develop finely tuned antennae for these values, they often completely miss a far more important tradeoff. This is the time and passion they devote to the business and the attention they give to their spouses and family.
It’s easy to see how this happens. The daily demands of the startup are urgent. The family is important. The urgent has a way of trumping the important every time.
Entrepreneurs have the ability to focus very hard on the tasks at hand. There have been times when I’ve just plain forgotten to eat. But this ability, which is so valuable in a fast-paced, always-changing business environment, has a serious drawback. It doesn’t co-exist very well with home life.
A Very Serious Wake-Up Call
Some years ago, I arrived home on a Thursday evening with great news. Our firm had just been awarded a contract by a major airline to be the financial advisory firm for the company’s pilots. It was a hard-fought contest for months, and we won. It felt like winning the lottery.
I sat down with my wife, Elaine, to unveil the big deal. She said, “Congratulations…and you will be single. If it were just you and me, we could do this, and frankly, we could enjoy the travel together. But I won’t do this to our sons. Your sons need more of you than they are getting right now.”
That was my wake-up call.
These are the times we have to step back and ask: Why am I doing this in the first place? You can achieve a brilliant business objective and wake up the next day with the realization that you’ve trashed your personal life. In that case, the juice is not worth the squeeze.
Nobody on his deathbed ever wished to be surrounded by business deals.
Your Most Important Customer
What do you do differently for your most valuable customer? For one thing, you quickly learn to read what that customer is thinking, particularly if he isn’t happy.
Let’s use that as an analogy to understand your even more valuable “customer” — the person you serve at home. The two of you can see things quite differently.
Your spouse doesn’t share your excitement. Entrepreneurs can be fed emotionally by the adventure of business. But unless he or she is involved with the company, it’s unlikely your spouse derives the same satisfaction from your business.
Your spouse feels secondary to your business. You win a big account or close a big deal, and you go home to celebrate. You want your significant other to celebrate with you, but she isn’t feeling too significant at the moment. Instead, she may feel as though she is losing ground to a competitor for attention and affection.
Your spouse doesn’t see your business victory as a win at home. The new business deal means you’ll be working even longer hours, and you’re fine with that. But to your spouse, it means you’ll be spending less time with her and your children.
It may seem very basic, but once you understand how your spouse is feeling, you can improve your communication. Once you start talking, your spouse’s needs will become much clearer, and you can begin working toward becoming a better partner.
Dealing with Your (Business) Partner
As you adjust your work/home balance and begin considering your spouse, you’ll need to keep your business partners in mind as well. If they have different priorities and values, conflicts will arise within the business.
How often do you sit down with your partners and review your personal lives? People change, and sometimes, the fundamentals of the business must also change to keep it sustainable.
The moment of my big epiphany about work/home balance had a major effect on my partners.
When I walked into work the following Tuesday and declined to do the airline deal, my decision fractured the business. Instead of being one of three partners, I was back in solo practice. The airline rescinded its offer because I was an integral part of the deal.
It cost me millions, but it was worth every penny. What I celebrate today is 38 years of marriage and the close companionship of three sons.
You can’t put a price tag on that.
Guest author Steve Musick is the CEO of Destiny Capital, a financial advising firm he founded in 1977. In addition to wealth management, Steve is an author, speaker, and lecturer on the subject of entrepreneurial leadership. He recently launched www.Empowerium.com as an entrepreneurial platform to fuel business growth.