Sustainable Balance in Work and Life

Save the World and Still Be Home for Dinner

Will Marré. 2009. Capital Books, Dulles, Virginia. 256 pages. 

Save the World and Still Be Home for Dinner isn’t just a catchy title for a book. As author Will Marré very skillfully points out, it describes a way of life that we commit to when we redefine our worldview about the sustainability of the earth’s resources while also considering the sustainability of the relationships that we have with those around us. It is about life balance. 

Marré should know about the struggle to maintain life balance. He has counseled and trained countless Fortune 500 executives over the years as the cofounder and former president of the Covey Leadership Center. His purpose is to help bring clarity to cutting-edge leadership strategies, social responsibility and brand innovation. 

Marré insists that this clarity requires identifying what it is that we want to achieve in our lives and analyzing the essence of what we are trying to accomplish. He refers to this process as making a “Promise” and divides it into two levels. The first level involves committing ourselves to those with whom we already have relationships. If we don’t make and fulfill this level of commitment, helping to make the future better for those in our workplace, our friends in the community, and our family, we become irrelevant and people will not follow us nor will they care about or share our purpose. 

The second level of commitment, or Promise, involves the one that we make to ourselves. This should include having sustainable relationships and healthy passions, but Marré insists that without an overarching goal, we do not truly live, we simply exist. He states, “a Promise is a sacred commitment. It is far more than wishes, hopes or even dreams. A Promise with a capital ‘P’ is a clear-eyed vision of a future we can count on.” 

Saving the world means standing for something that matters. It means making our unique contribution to the sustainability of the future and making the lives of others better. Being home for dinner implies saving the world “our way”—in other words, without sacrificing the important relationships in our lives. It requires pursuing our overarching goal in a way that brings us closer to our family and friends and puts the right emphasis on relationships as well as in the workplace. 

What drives Marré to these conclusions? One factor is a condition he observes which he calls simultaneous complexity. “The horsepower of industrial capitalism and the magic of modern technology are accelerating our consumption of natural resources so quickly that we are running out of everything we need to sustain ourselves,” he says. “Today it’s oil: tomorrow it’s water.” In addition, he notes that the global population explosion as well as crises in such areas as healthcare, the economy, environmental destruction and education are too overwhelming for any of us to solve. 

Undoubtedly he has a point. Whether it is an oil spill that is ravaging the southern coastline of the United States, the obvious greed that provoked worldwide economic collapse, or the heightened tensions of rogue tyrants gaining nuclear capabilities, can we convince ourselves that the earth and its denizens are on the path to healing and reconciliation? Will more regulation on the oil industry solve the energy crisis or save the environment? Will more regulation or stiffer penalties for the banking industry restore lost homes or retirement funds? Will violence remove the threat of intercontinental mayhem at the hands of a tyrant? 

In the light of current events, it does not seem outrageous that Marré relates current world conditions to a ticking time bomb. But if this is an accurate description, how can any single one of us truly make a difference? Marré contends that it is possible: when we change our own world or make changes in our personal lives, then the world changes as well. It happens on a person-by-person, habit-by-habit basis. When one person changes, the example encourages change in others. This is, in fact, how great leaders lead, and Marré concludes that we are all leaders. 

Unfortunately, the main focus of leadership for many years has been on turning resources into money, and most have done a good job of this. Such a good job, in fact, that this generation threatens to leave nothing behind for its grandchildren. Clearly, it will require a significant change in the collective goals of leadership in order to garner sustainable results. 

With this in mind, Marré coins the acronym REALeadership to describe the change that is needed: real leaders, he says must be responsible and ethical, they must create abundance, and produce a legacy. Being a REALeader, in his view, implies being a person of action. 

In reality, of course, many of us are quite comfortable with mediocrity and the status quo, and therefore uncomfortable with change. But Marré sees REALeadership as a drive that catapults us out of complacency, forcing us off the couch of life and motivating us to fulfill our promise to those within our sphere of influence. It takes courage to be proactive and fight against the fear of failure, but Marré is convinced that the key to success in changing the world and still being home for dinner lies in setting others up for success so that everyone wins. He calls this state sustainable abundance. But in order to achieve this sustained abundance, Marré insists we must meet a triple bottom line in relationships, lifestyle and career. 

While many of us do set goals for each of these areas, often they are independently considered. Goals that are set for one area in our triple bottom line may overshadow and alienate the two other areas. Perhaps work takes us out of our goal to have a rich family experience. However, Marré insists that goals must be set with all of these aspects in mind, and with the right approach. For instance, he observes, most people use what he calls the “gain, grow, good” model for goal setting. Their approach is to work to gain as much money as possible so they will grow in power and wealth, and when they finally have enough excess they will then do good for others. Examples such as Ted Turner or Bill Gates have provided validation for this model. 

But Marré contends that when we use this sequential method we often miss the important moments that are available only at specific times. For instance, our children are at home for a relatively short period—if we put off meeting our bottom line in our parenting responsibilities, it quickly becomes too late. Likewise, while we are young and full of strength, says Marré, we should take advantage of opportunities that will be more difficult to pursue as we age. 

In order to accomplish this, Marré suggests that a better model for achieving sustained abundance is to flip these priorities around into “good, grow, gain.” As Marré explains, “it simply means that we think first of what we have to give, knowing that the more sustainable value we offer the world, the more we will responsibly grow our enterprises and gain the resources for everything we truly need.” 

Marré gives the example of an owner of a security company to illustrate this point. This particular business owner’s focus was not on how much he could gain from his employees or how much his employees could produce for him. His focus was on how much good he could do for them, encouraging employees to educate themselves in whatever they wished. This could include something as simple as learning to balance a checkbook or taking martial arts classes. In such a model, a leader provides educational opportunities to his employees without expecting something in return and encourages his employees to use their current job as a steppingstone to better opportunities. His intent is to build professionalism, teamwork, responsibility and management skills in his employees. He rejoices when his employees achieve positions with more upward mobility. This caliber of business owner isn’t just running a business, points out Marré. He is running a university of life for the many employees that need the help.

These are revolutionary ideas Marré proposes. Could they work? Marré thinks so. He insists that by putting good first, “we gain more than we ever thought possible.” In doing this, he proposes, we are showing love to our neighbors, and he believes that love is a much more creative motive than fear. Love, he says, “is the motive of sustainable abundance.” 

Certainly love does motivate us to do things for others that we normally would not consider doing. Love helps us to mend relationships and to change our habits and the way we think. Love, as Marré defines it, is an action word that begs the question “What can I do to help those within my sphere of influence?” 

At its heart, saving the world and still making it home for dinner requires asking some important questions about our life goals and about what motivates us. Is our primary motivation one of creating good within our sphere of influence, or are we only interested in gaining as much as possible for ourselves? The answers to these questions might well determine whether we live in a world characterized by short-lived abundance for a few or sustainable abundance for all.