Staying whole

For a hard-charging leader, finding peace and balance requires the same intent and planning as success at the office

To keep his fast-growing company competitive and focused on innovation, Stephen Hau must travel extensively, work long and unpredictable hours and fight off the constant menace of burnout.

For the 40-year-old CEO of Nashville-based healthcare software venture Shareable Ink, the daily demands come from all directions. Directors, investors, partners, employees and customers all have pressing needs and questions. Hau feels compelled to give his all to the job — ever met a successful entrepreneur who doesn’t? — and the company appears to be benefiting from his dedication: It doubled its headcount in 2012, experienced 300 percent growth and raised $5 million in a series B financing.

But if Hau and his hard-charging peers aren’t careful, something can get lost amid the growth and the success: peace of mind.

To guard against that, Hau has developed habits and interests to fight off overextension and fatigue. 

“The world is dissonant and chaotic,” Hau says. “You have to try to find a balance, a way to manage the highs and lows. Sometimes you have to take a good break. It doesn’t even have to be that long, but it’s an important thing to do to clear your mind.”

Thanks to frequent-flyer miles earned over the past decade, Hau has been able to travel to more than 50 countries. He’s gone to surfing school in Costa Rica, hopped on a plane to Tokyo for a long weekend in search of great sushi, celebrated Christmas in Germany with friends and explored exotic locales as India and Bali.

“I find it’s very helpful to experience other cultures,” Hau said. “It definitely recharges me and removes me from the tunnel vision of an everyday work routine.”

Long-distance running is another mental and physical equalizer for Hau. He has run five marathons and always packs his running shoes when his jetting around the country for business.

 “I’m not fast or elite, but I’m committed to it,” Hau said. “When you run, you have to take your mind off other concerns. You have to spend your time thinking about things like your pace and your breathing. It’s a great way to learn to focus on the present moment.”

Ty Osman, 49, also sings the praises of physical activity when it comes to balancing the typically stressful world of a C-suite executive. Osman, CEO of Solomon Builders, is a dedicated racquetball player.

“I like that it’s an indoor sport I can participate in at any time,” Osman said. “It’s physically demanding and competitive and it relieves stress. I look forward to it and miss it when it’s not there.”

Solomon Builders is a 20-year old general contractor responsible for dozens of high-profile local projects, including the Lofts at Werthan Mills, the Nossi College of Art and the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. Solomon says he and co-founder Gregg Turner have built the company to be a place where work, family and personal growth can exist harmoniously. They encourage employees to take time off and worry about them when they don’t.

“You are a whole person. You are a package deal,” Osman said. “You have to be very deliberate to keep from getting burned out. Just because you physically leave work at the end of the day doesn’t mean you’ve stopped working. It’s hard to turn it off, and it can take an emotional toll.”

Osman is deliberate about scheduling just about every block of time during a day, which usually begins at about 5 a.m. for him. One big focus is to set aside time for reflection before things really get going.

“I don’t like to jump off and take off into the day,” he said. “I might meditate or pray or listen to music. I get focused on what the day is going to be about. Different things can come at me during the day, but if I am in a place of peace and confidence, I’m going to have better reactions and make better decisions.”

Like Hau, Osman looks to travel — often centered on his love of the outdoors, especially the Western states — as a way to step away from the bustle. He has fished and hunted, often by himself and with a bow and arrow, in remote areas of Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and Alaska.

“I really do believe in taking time away on a regular basis,” Osman said. “I feel at home in the mountains. I get a real sense of connection and peace.”

Osman also has developed a habit of taking his children on trips so that he can create memories and relationships with them individually.

“Just the act of taking these trips is tremendously important to them,” he said, adding that having a good relationship with his kids is one of the most important benchmarks he uses to measure his success.

Andy Bailey, the lead entrepreneur coach at business coaching firm Petra, approves of Osman’s decision to spend some of this time away from work with his children. The daily demands of a leadership role oten mean less time at home, which Bailey says “makes it even more important to spend cognizant, purposeful time” with his kids.

“Instead of standing at the bottom of the stairs to say goodbye to your kids, go up the stairs and give them a big hug,” he says. “Instead of coming home and putting your feet up on the couch, turn off the TV and spend time with your family. Do something as simple as having dinner at the dining room table instead of the kitchen table.”

Bailey also says executives almost always need physical release and mental stimulation to balance out demanding work lives. He is an avid paddle boarder and reads more than a dozen books a year, typically motivational business books.

“I need to recharge my mind and be exposed to new ideas,” he said. “Everyone does.”

Bailey is also the current president of the Nashville chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, a global nonprofit support network for business owners. There, he has found another ingredient for life balance.

“EO gives me a forum for sharing, a place where I can have a real conversation with other people going through the same time,” Bailey said. “You need a place you can have a real conversation ... someplace where you don’t have to say everything is great all the time.”