Showing up is 80 percent of life. Woody Allan

I have yet to meet a highly successful executive or entrepreneur who doesn’t have an enormous capacity for getting things done. Some are highly productive. Some put in extremely long hours. Either way, when I want something done I often give the job to the busy guy.

I used to be that guy: organized, focused, goal-oriented and productive. I loved checking things off my “To-Do” list. Having this talent and drive helped get me promotions, launch a series of successful start-ups, take companies public, enjoy many hobbies, and have financial success. Driving through life in the “get ’er done” gear works . . . just not all the time.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

My doing got me to a good place but was keeping me from getting to a great place. As I say in my book, The Business of Wanting More, I had reached the age of forty and was ready to move from success to fulfillment and didn’t know how. My doing was a cover for my dissatisfaction and my need to drive and control my life. I had trouble letting go and would get stressed when problems were either too big or too complex to solve by working harder or longer. My will and skill allowed me to achieve my most coveted professional goals. Yet my deeper wisdom told me that more activity, experiences and milestones were not going to lead to more satisfaction.

Had I not listened to what my life’s failures and unmet hungers were telling me, I’d be middle-aged, busy and bored. I’d still be trying to prove something by building a stronger balance sheet and resume. I’d be logging “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences in search of passion.


About fifteen years ago, mid-way through an eight-day silent retreat at the Sonoma Zen Center, it became clear that I was burning up a lot of energy trying to be someone and prove something and reach some elusive destination. I had confused my biography with my identity. I don’t have to do anything. I have infinite inherent value regardless of what I accomplish.

When I uncoupled who I was from what I did, I became free. What was I trying to prove? What was I afraid of losing? I was most effective when I acted out of a sense of purpose or when my doing was governed by my values. As my motivation for achievement changed, my doing was effortless. The doing was happening through me, not by me. I was evolving to another level of leadership. I spent less time jockeying and pushing and more time being present, alive and in the flow of my life. I was doing less and being more.

Finding the Middle Way

Being means being in the flow of what’s happening instead of fighting it. Being is pausing, breathing, and fully experiencing what’s happening right here, right now instead of reacting, controlling, judging or manipulating. When you’re simply being you’re keenly aware of your surroundings and sourcing power, solutions, clarity, and freedom from within.

When the Buddha taught about living according to the “Middle Way” he was telling people to avoid extremes. He was suggesting that inner peace requires a balance of doing and being. Living according to the Middle Way means we balance the influence of our ego with the influence of a power much bigger than ourselves.

The Middle Way sounds like a great path to increase leadership presence. Paradoxically, you will tap more power with a less is more philosophy. Call me un-American but there are times (maybe most of the time?) that our country’s values of more quick thinking, stronger will and greater effort are not the right answers.

If you want more ease, presence and effectiveness in your leadership and in your relationships, balance being and doing by:

  1. Stop the Doing: Accomplishments are important to build a healthy ego; it’s what you did as a teen and into your thirties. After thirty I’m not sure success has much more to teach or feed you. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is this for my legacy, to relieve my anxiety, to prove that I matter, or to distract me from my life?” When you delegate, outsource, or say “no” to requests, you open up your schedule as well as your mind.
  2. Start Flowing: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of the book Flow, accumulated a mound of research to support the idea that when we are fully present and engaged and using our core strengths we experience “flow.” The outcome is fabulous results with less effort and more happiness. What needs to change so you can be in flow more often?
  3. Trust Your Intuition: Cultivate your capacity to listen and be present. This capability will allow you to tune in to what you truly need to do and what simply needs your presence. When you calm your inner chatter and restlessness you’ll know when to let go. Start your brain’s retraining with a daily practice of 5 – 10 minutes of stillness.

The path to peace starts with leading from your being, presence and heart. There’s nothing wrong with getting stuff done. However, if you’re over forty and doing is still your primary gear, it may be time to add to your set of tools. Relax your grip on your great wins and flubs, certainly the people who matter most to you have already done so. Instead, define yourself by your presence: who you are in this moment, right here, right now. Who doesn’t want to be led and loved by those who value their being more than their doing?