Take Your Foot Off the Gas in August

Posted 08.04.2010

Offthegas The current issue of Fortune magazine offers a cautionary tale in its cover story. It’s about a former IBM senior executive named Robert Moffat whose long and successful career with the company ended when he was arrested by the FBI for conspiracy related to insider trading. The arrest was a complete surprise to Moffat and everyone who knew him. He had been a straight arrow, give everything to Big Blue kind of person since joining the company in 1978. He operated at the highest levels of IBM and was considered a candidate to be the next CEO. How he ended up being arrested is a long story that is detailed in the Fortune article, but suffice it to say he let his guard down in sharing information he shouldn’t have shared with people in relationships that he shouldn’t have been in.

The key idea for me is that he let his guard down. Moffat sounds like a lot of leaders I’ve known. Super dedicated, smart, hard working, leave it all on the field. That’s all good until it’s not. What doesn’t get factored in often enough is the need to take your foot off the gas every so often to create time to reflect on what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, why you’re doing it, what else is important, etc.  The last line of the Fortune article on Moffat is pretty telling:

“When his son asked him whether all the long hours at IBM had been worth it, Moffat couldn’t answer.”

So, what do you do to avoid a conversation like that? Fortunately, August is a great month to create a little space for yourself to ask those “foot off the gas” questions. Even if you’ve already taken vacation this summer, it’s likely that a lot of your colleagues are away this month. The pace usually slows down a little bit. Take advantage of it to grab some down time for yourself here and there. Go for a run. Go for a drive. Read a book that’s not about work. Go to the park and watch the people go by. Do some things this month that are going to allow you the space to recharge.

Let’s get real. For most of us, the new year starts in September, not January. If you have school age kids, you know how much the pace picks up at home after Labor Day. If you’re a leader in just about any organization, you’re going to be up to your neck in year-end initiatives between September and December.  The Fall and early Winter are always run flat out periods. Take some time in August for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.