Margin, in our financial world, is that gap between our cost and the price. It’s the extra we need to pay our overhead and make a profit. More margin is better. Too little margin, and we’re out of business.
But what about your personal margin?
If I had to guess, I’d say you’re someone who rises early and hits the ground running with an endless to-do list, an overflowing calendar, a stream of activities that goes on far, far into the future. All these activities are the costs of your success, what you’re willing to pay for a career and happy family.
I don’t have to tell you that all that busyness takes its toll. There’s a difference between being busy and grinding away. When our days become too full of activities, we lose personal margin.
What is personal margin?
Leaders need time to think, to dream, to read, to listen and to plan. As a leader, your perspective on your organization is unique. You can see your organization in an informed way that no one else can. You owe it to your organization to think, dream and plan (and to your family and yourself). If you don’t, who will?
But thinking and dreaming require margin, time not impinged upon by immediate, urgent demands. A gap between all the “doing” and the results.
This is not about vacations (which you should certainly take). This is about building in daily, weekly and quarterly time where you set aside the doing and the demands and free yourself to explore what’s in your head and on your mind.
Doing this will likely require that something gets pushed. You may need to rob Peter to pay Paul. You may need to rob from something to buy your personal margin.
You could rob your family. Those kids are going to grow up with or without you and your spouse will understand, right? Maybe not. Cutting attention to your family is never going to work.
You could rob your health. You can always get to the gym later in life after the kids are grown. All you have to do is survive the first heart attack. Bad idea.
You could rob from your business. For many of you, this is personal. This is where you need personal margin the most. This is where your leadership insights matter.
How to take back personal margin
How do you rob from your business in a way that doesn’t torpedo the organization?
1. Delegate. Don’t look for one or two things that you could delegate to someone else. Look to delegate as much as possible. Delegation doesn’t mean abdication or dumping on others who are unprepared. Delegation takes time. Start now.
2. Put blinders on. There are thousands of things to attend to in your business. You’re not going to get to them all. You may need to internally “not see” some of the issues that are calling for attention but are less impactful on the organization. The perfectionist is groaning. You can’t tolerate mediocrity forever, but in the big game, what the water boy is up to is just not as important as what the players are doing. Learn to ignore the trivial and prioritize.
3. Run to the sound of gunfire. In battle, soldiers respond to the action. When problems erupt, set everything else aside and react. Most problems get worse, not better. The longer they go on, the worse they get. Act fast and follow through. Letting problems fester will erode your margin.
Gaining some personal margin is not a luxury of leadership, it’s a responsibility. Peter Anderton’s two rules of leadership tell us that, No. 1, the efforts of the people who work with you propel the organization forward. Leaders need personal margin to think about, listen to, appreciate and understand their people. And No. 2, your personal growth, insights, maturity and capability either propel the organization or constrain it.
You need a personal margin if you’re to be a gift and a benefit to the team, your family and yourself.