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Promoting Well-being in Business Leadership

July 14, 2017 | By Michael Bakan

As a business student, being physically and mentally “strong” is seen as a competitive advantage. From being able to spend late nights at the office researching financial data, to surpassing your quarterly targets, to being able to withstand red-eye travel to face clients with fresh smiles, it is often emphasized that those who can withstand physical restraints will be able to push their competitors out of competition. But how does well-being fit into this equation?

While talking with Emeka Monome, the Deputy Executive Director of Federal City Council, he mentioned to me that great leaders have a sense of clarity. In the midst of the daily buzz of business, Emeka told me that taking moments for silence is the best thing a leader can do. Just a few days later, I found myself in a Trustee Meeting with some of the greatest movers and shakers in DC – everyone from the former Presidents of JP Morgan and PNC, to representatives from the DC Mayor’s Office, to real estate moguls of the city. During this meeting, while I followed along with the discussion of our latest projects, I also took time to merely watch and observe the characteristics of these well-established leaders. No one was using a computer – everything was on pen and paper. There was lots of coffee. Everyone had mastered the “leaned back chair look” with a pensive face. To my surprise, after the meeting, nearly everyone approached me with interest in the work that I would be performing for Federal City Council. Upon further discussion, a constant theme kept on recurring throughout these conversations: use this as an opportunity to find clarity.

As a rising junior, I feel that I often lack a sense of clarity. Where will I be in a year? Will I be able to support a family? How will my health progress? Echoing Emeka’s words, silence is where I often find the most sense of clarity. As a student at Georgetown, I have been amazed at how Ignatian spirituality embraces silence as a guide toward improving leadership. In moments of silence, St. Ignatius says that moments of brilliance can often be found. Rather than seeing these places as “a waste of time,” Ignatius teaches us that they are opportunities for growth. Moving forward from my first two weeks at Federal City Council, I see silence as a major part of well-being. Rather than filling my breaks with extra work, I hope I can fill them with an expansive imagination moving forward.

While my clarity may be lacking, Emeka’s words allow me to see the beauty in embracing the uncertainty to find growth. Rather than fixating on validation over a finite summer experience, this freedom allows me to seek growth that will expand my life narrative. From being surrounded by incredible leaders to immersing myself in the issues of Washington, DC, I hope to find well-being in my ability to celebrate joy in the work that I do, rather than just promote it. One of our office assistants, Marek, loves to share stories of his time growing up in New York and the 20 years he spent in the military, which has led him to pursue personal research on POWs in World War II. Despite having faced various challenges throughout life, Marek’s joy and jolly personality adds life into the office. I have found well-being in the ability to sit back and listen to Marek’s stories, soaking up every piece of knowledge that I can. Despite being tired some days from lack of sleep, people like Marek give me the joy to physically surpass any form of exhaustion. As I reflect on what it means to obtain “well-being,” this engaging energy always seems to be the spark that ignites my joy.

So, moving forward, while I still lack a concrete definition of “well-being,” I look forward to finding deeper experiences of joy and kinship. In the places that may seem to be a “waste of time” to some, I have found the most profound sense of connection – a joy that emanates energy and provides new lenses through which to see with a greater sense of clarity.

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