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Simple Living By Mark L. Vincent

Simple Living Executive Director – CEO Style

Simple living can be a significant challenge for a leader. Whether you are a Chief Executive Officer, Executive Director or even interim CEO, you are responsible for the whole of the organization. Nobody else shares the responsibility for the complexity of the whole at the level you do, Even if you are fortunate enough to have a team member who demonstrates potential to perceive the complexity of the whole, they are not responsible for it. Their job does not depend on it. Organizational performance does not ultimately point to them with the intensity that it points to you.

You cannot afford to be distracted.

You must not let circumstances dim your perception or your access to resources.

You should not give yourself to minutiae.

Your life needs to be simple enough, unobstructed enough, clear enough to keep your focus.

Paring down to this level of focus may well be the most complicated task you will face. It means saying no to many good opportunities in order to stay focused on the essentials, even those offered by colleagues, neighbors, friends and family. It means interests you might pursue, and hobbies you might indulge are not pursued or indulged, in order to go more deeply and more expertly into the focused life demanded of you. Such is the call of executive leadership.

Coupled with this is the need for margin in your life. Adequate time for rest, reflection and the pursuit of a hobby or interests that enrich your life and add to the focus are a must. Are you getting a feel for how unrelenting and disciplined one’s focus needs to be?

I write this blog post as the former CEO of Design Group International and as one leading a peer advising team of CEOs, company owners and nonprofit Executive Directors.  As the company grew and the responsibilities became weightier, the discipline of pruning back to remain focused and ultimately bear more fruit became even more important. If I did not do this my focus would have been only on what was expedient, only on what protected me, and only on trying to maintain my span of control. Long-term development of people and processes would give way to the short-term of reducing my never-ending to-do list and getting stuff out the door.

During most of these years I was the spouse of a long-time cancer survivor. 19 occurrences in 16 years by the time it ended. Somehow, long ago, we had benefitted from simplifying so that there was enough margin in our lives to absorb whatever might come in that horrible health battle, maintaining fruitful and meaningful lives as we went. We learned to give up, set down, hand off and un-structure, not because we were forced to, but in anticipation of needing to be free enough to say yes to what truly mattered.

The formula I’ve drawn on across the years has been to:

  1. Limit myself to one area of volunteering so that I can be an effective and reliable volunteer.
  2. Maintain a rhythm of work, learning, play, rest and worship of God, strengthening all facets of my person.
  3. Hand off opportunity to colleagues, sometimes even before they (or I) think they are ready.

With that simple living formula long at work I have found increased capacity, and the clarity to face life rather than be surprised and troubled by it.

Writing this column, I am aware that this is as much a pledge of what I must continue to do far more than it is any offering of perspective to others.

Continuing on, then…


Mark L. Vincent Ph.D, CCNL is the former CEO of Design Group International, an organizational development company he co-founded in 2001 to help organizations and their leaders transform for a vibrant future.


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