Dan is a high-flying partner at one of the world’s largest management consulting companies. There, he cultivates new clients in the financial services sector and runs several engagement teams on three continents. His demanding work schedule includes daily 7am conference calls, back-to-back meetings with colleagues, mentoring junior associates, dinners with clients, and final work calls at 8pm.

Though based in New York, much of Dan’s time is spent in airplanes visiting clients. He also runs his firm’s recruiting function, hiring consultants from top schools. He even serves on two non-profit Boards. Dan is fully engaged and loves his lifestyle, deriving much satisfaction from always being available to help his clients and his colleagues.

On the other hand, Dan constantly feels frazzled, fragmented, and tired. He feels guilty that he doesn’t spend enough time with his wife and two young children. Despite being approachable, colleagues and even clients complain that they have to ‘get in line’ to see him. He is often late for appointments and rarely takes time to exercise or unwind.

As Dan’s leadership coach, I was working with him to create more balance between his work life and personal life. But my coaching hadn’t helped much: Dan never stopped doing things he didn’t like, because everything he did, he liked!

Crisis Becomes Opportunity
Then the evil disruptor COVID-19 came and changed everything. Overnight, everyone was on edge, hunkering down. Yet even with an increase in work volume, Dan told me that the rhythm of his day-to-day life drastically improved. What happened?

First, since most of his co-workers and clients were sheltering-at-home and responsible for children or parents, Dan’s workday began at 8am rather than 7am, providing more time for him to sleep, which he didn’t get much of before.

Second, because engagement team meetings became virtual, and were recorded, he didn’t feel the need to attend each one. Dan said that this not only gave him more time; it also empowered his team leaders to make decisions and develop their own teams without his intervention.

Third, because the firm decided to pull back on recruiting new consultants this year, his responsibility for visiting colleges disappeared.

Finally, he recognized that he was actually gaining more productivity by not traveling to clients or Board meetings. Everyone called in from their homes, usually in the presence of kids and cats. Dan ended up with a 20% discretionary time dividend. He still was working hard but realized that his frenetic pace was not required for total success.

Belief Systems Can Change
In other words, COVID-19 overturned the applecart of Dan’s assumptions of how he needed to ‘show up’ at work. Dan always believed that to be successful, he had to be indispensable to everyone, all the time. When we dug deeper, he found that underneath this compulsion was a fear of being perceived as irrelevant if he didn’t keep up his breakneck pace.

These insights helped Dan reduce some commitments. He handed over his recruitment responsibility to a younger partner. He told a few of his more senior team leaders that he would attend engagement team meetings only when they asked. And he committed to his wife that he was going to step down from one of the Boards he served on.

When we recently spoke, I asked him what he would do with the 20% more discretionary time he had carved out. Dan talked about his family and his health. But he was anxious, knowing the real test will come when he, and most of us, return to the office.

Dan isn’t the only leader who has shifted how they think and act during the pandemic. If you or someone you know has experienced significant personal development as a leader through the crisis, please contact me at rgoldberg@orginsight.com I’d love to share the story.