“Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out.”
By the time Addleshaw Sons & Latham and Booth & Co merged to form Addleshaw Booth & Co in February 1997, the two firms had been planning the merger for some two years. Paul Lee was the managing partner of Addleshaw Sons & Latham and I was the managing partner of Booth & Co. In the summer of 1996 Paul and I were invited to the Headingley Test Match for the day by a recruitment agency. We were invited as the managing partners of our respective firms. By that summer, we had largely agreed the framework for our merger. Even though we had been talking for nearly eighteen months, no hint of the discussions had leaked in the media. Our hosts certainly had no idea what we were planning. On the one hand, it would have looked odd if we didn’t speak to each other. On the other hand, we didn’t want to risk attracting attention by talking to each other too much. We therefore spent the day “pacing ourselves”.
During one of the periods that we were “together”, on the balcony of the hospitality box, Paul asked me a thought provoking question (a habit of his, as I was to come to learn!). “What” he asked “is the part of our jobs that you find hardest or most challenging but that your partners just aren’t aware of?”
I thought for a minute. “The sheer emotional wear and tear of managing partners and coping with their emotions day after day,” I replied “because it is rarely appropriate to let them know how you really feel about anything yourself.”
Why on earth not, you ask? Because everyone watches the managing partner. Everything you do, say, or transmit by body language is interpreted or – more likely – misinterpreted. You’ve had a bad night’s sleep because your daughter was ill? You can’t look tired because someone will think that you’re worried and that the firm has a problem. Your partners want to project their worries and concerns on to you? You can’t show them that you have any worries or concerns of your own, because you will magnify theirs tenfold. You think that something is blindingly obvious? You still have to smile sweetly as you explain it on an individual basis to dozens of your partners – twice or three times each. One of your core skills as the managing partner is akin to acting. Projecting confidence.
As Chekhov said, it wears you out. It is emotionally draining. And it’s inescapable. It goes with the job. So you have to find a way to mask it, to cope with it, and most importantly of all to recharge your emotional batteries on a regular basis.
In my case I have always had the great gift of being able to “switch off”. And I love photography. So I achieved renewal and emotional recharging by “escaping” for a long weekend on my own maybe three times a year. The only things that went with me were my cameras. The “office brain” was turned off and for three or four days I would saunter round on my own taking photographs during the day and sleeping well at night. My wife saw the benefit I derived from the time and was understanding and loving enough to encourage me to do it (she still is!). The results were at least as good as a fortnight’s “conventional” break and colleagues at the office would often comment upon how relaxed I looked when I got back from a photography long weekend.
My solution worked for me. I needed time out on my own doing something different. You need to find the solution that will work for you. I can’t tell you what it will be. But find your own “escape valve” and make sure that you use it regularly. Because otherwise the day to day performance of your leadership or management role will inescapably drain your emotional reserves and wear you out.