Margin vs. Misery

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May 2019

Margin vs. Misery

Very early in my Executive Coaching career I came upon a concept in my certification process centering on the concept of “reserves”. That is, the notion of building reserves in your world, of the things of high value. Resources such as time and money are a couple of obvious ones. The notion that executives are advantaging themselves, those they lead and their organizations by establishing the habit of building and maintaining more than “just enough” is a powerful and advanced skill. Since that early time, the discussion of margin has arisen as a topic for both executive and organizational application. Establishing margin, as appropriate, is considered a wise pursuit.

During a recent Strategic Alignment & Planning event with a highly talented senior leadership Team, the phrase “margin vs. misery” surfaced. Interestingly, we did not camp on or develop this thought as we were in brain storming mode considering many alternatives. But as often is the case, the notion stayed with me as an item that did not “wear off” after the session ended. Something about “margin vs. misery” seems true. The phrase to me portends that an adult rules choice sometimes needs to be made. Either build some reserve in a few crucial areas now or suffer when an uncooperative reality or emergency hits. When failure truly isn’t an option margin is needed.

Was having a recent conversation with an executive about this topic in general when she mentioned that recently a few in her organization intentionally engaged in a conversation about work-life-balance. Differing viewpoints were offered about how balance and margin are actually achieved. Perhaps we all possess our own view and approach to margin in our lives. How much buffer or free space should we try to maintain (or strive for) at any given point or stretch of time? The executive with whom I was talking shared that one person seemed to have a more instinctive approach to margin and not have a conscious strategy. Another she mentioned endeavors to cordon off time by setting a free-time boundary at the end of each business day.

Then the executive with whom I was talking offered her own approach to maintaining balance or margin. She does it a few minutes here and a few minutes there as the day is unfolding and the priorities swirl about. Moments present themselves throughout the day that offer her the opportunity to redirect her attention to other items or to momentarily mentally escape the numerous and often weighty demands. She was describing margin by the minute and this works
quite well for her.

The message is today’s effective executive keeps from misery by establishing unique ways of establishing margin, wisely leading themselves and others forward.ding themselves and others forward.


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