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Expert Interview: Adam and Kerry Anderson

February 18 2020 / by Mari Ryan

In this Expert Interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan and Adam and Kerry Anderson discuss the impact of an imbalanced life on our families. Adam and Kerry Anderson

Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan. I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It is my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guests today are Adam and Kerry Anderson.

Adam is a serial entrepreneur. Having saved the world from Y2K, he has founded companies in the cyber security field. He has also authored four books and given a TED talk on that topic. Along the way he discovered that business success without success in the family was a hollow thing.

Kerry was along for the ride with Adam’s entrepreneurial journey, and found that it was taking a toll on her and her family. This journey inspired her to write the Amazon number one best-selling book In Bed with the Business, a guidepost, sharing their unique perspectives on how to have a strong, flourishing relationship.

In 2018, Adam and Kerry founded Whole Life Entrepreneurship, a company focused on working with entrepreneurs and their spouses and partners to find the path to success by bringing their best self to their business, to their relationships, and their lives.

Adam and Kerry, welcome. I’m so delighted to have you here today.

Kerry Anderson: Thank you so much for having us, Mari. We are so excited to be here.

Mari Ryan: We’ve all heard the stories about individuals who are so committed to the work, to their work, that they miss out on family events, vacations, and other important life events. As I was preparing for our time together today, I was actually thinking that I am probably guilty of that as well. So, whether you are an entrepreneur, executive, a manager, we can easily get caught up in the demands and stress of work, and that can have an impact on the most important people in our lives – and that’s our families.

In today’s discussion, what we’re going to do is explore the topic of what happens when work interferes with our most important connections. I’d love to start with your story; how did you come to this work of supporting entrepreneurs in creating healthy relationships?

Adam Anderson: We started by destroying our own and having to go through that. I tell people, be careful with the blind following the blind, and we have absolutely lived this life where we were in the middle of having a very successful business, top of the game, winning from the outside, but on the inside, everything was falling apart. Everything was toxic and we were right on the edge of collapse in all aspects of our lives.

Mari Ryan: Kerry, anything you want to add to that from your perspective?

Kerry Anderson: Ah, yes. So, so many years of prolonged imbalance and never really understanding how to come together and share hardships with each other so that we could help each other get through the issues that were happening at work, or in our individual lives, just really did a number on our relationship. It wasn’t just our relationship, but it was the relationship that Adam had with our children as well. He was very, very dedicated to creating this cybersecurity business that was pretty successful and to do that, he really had to put in a lot of hours, a lot of time, and a lot of Delta miles.

We jokingly say that he – but it’s really not a joke, and not even a funny one – that he did a lot of Facetime parenting, and that really was what happened. When your two-year-old is calling you “Adam” instead of “dad,” there’s something fundamentally off that baby had heard me talking to him more than he had actually spoken to his dad. I think that was a wake-up call for you as well, for you to say, oh wow, this has taken over in an unhealthy way and I may be hyper-focused and losing a grip on other areas of my life.

Adam Anderson: I remember pulling my senior management aside while we were in a conference in Vegas and saying, “That’s it”. I said I am now the owner, and said you're the president, you’re the CEO, you guys figure it out. Come to me by the end of the week with your plan. It was fantastic.

So, we went through a lot of pain and suffering, but on the other side of it was so good. By that time, I had done some volunteer work as Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the Clemson University MBA program. The number one question I was getting from these “baby-preneurs” was “hey, how do I convince my wife to let me do this business?” I’m like, ooh, son. Uhm, uhm. Let’s sit down with my wife and just watching Kerry love on and nurture these young families. I feel like that’s what really gave us the inspiration to do what we’re doing now.

Kerry Anderson: After that, I mean, I never really considered myself to be much of an entrepreneur, but Adam, who is very much minded that way, I said to him one day, jokingly, I should write a book about this. I’m talking to so many couples now that I should just write a book. I should do a workbook or something. He was like, no, really, you should.

So, I did. I wrote the book, In Bed with the Business, and was like, all right, well, check. You completed a bucket list item. It got a little bit of attention because it was much more needed than even we realized at the time. That’s how Whole Life Entrepreneurship was born, just out of that great need for it. We saw such a gap in support of people just having any kind of awareness that there should be a balance at all. I mean, we talk about work-life balance and it is sort of cliché, but even so, it’s not something that people are … we’re just conditioned to work hard, to work hard and go after the goal. In doing that we have completely misaligned exactly what the metrics are for success and a whole life. I see that across workplaces as well.

Mari Ryan: I think even though your work is with entrepreneurs, I see this all the time with executives, senior executives especially, and managers. It’s so easy – and to a certain extent I see it with young people in certain industries where they are measured by billable hours, it’s all about being on the right track for promotions, and yet, you have to ask is this the right thing? In the workplace wellbeing strategy world we use a model that includes connection as one of the dimensions. We think about the connection from the workplace perspective, connection with our colleagues and peers, but we forget about connection with our family.

I’m curious, what is the cost when there is so much emphasis on work that relationships suffer?

Adam Anderson: Well, dream with me for a little bit, if you wouldn’t mind. Picture this; I have an employee and that employee has a list of tasks and they simply don’t do them, or they do them so poorly that they impact the rest of the organization because they are depending on them. That employee is absentee, doesn’t show up for work, and actually doesn’t understand the role in the company. That is the same thing happening inside of your family when you are so focused on work that you don’t even realize that you are being disruptive to your family.

The lack of connection causes a toxic ripple effect through your entire family. It is devastating to the people who you are not even paying attention to.

Kerry Anderson: Even when I was actively working as a nurse, I would put so much into my day that I would come home and I would say, don’t even talk to me. I spent all of my patience on my patients. There was literally nothing left to give. Everybody else gets the short end of the stick.

Adam Anderson: To be fair, that was in a psych ward. [laughter] You really used all your patience for your patients.

Mari Ryan: But, think about that. There are so many people who come home from work every day completely depleted because they have given everything that they have. They are not in life and healthcare situations, or caring for people in emergency rooms, they are still working in corporate America. They come home completely depleted at the end of the day, and have no reserves and no energy to give to their families.

Kerry Anderson: How many times have you come home at the end of the day and said, I’ve got to go turn off my brain. That means that literally everything was spent. There was nothing left for us or the kids. There’s not even that final push to get past those last few hours in the day where you could sit and have a meal together, or you could sit and have a connection, or you could actually inquire after what happened in your partner’s day, because all that somebody can do is literally shut down.

Adam Anderson: Burn-out is a real thing, and it only gets worse over time if it’s left unaddressed. You bring that home, and here’s the horrible part of this … you get burned out at work, you come home, and then you’re not available for your family like Kerry just described. Do you think a fight might be coming your way? Because I know, I know that it probably is.

Mari Ryan: Been there, done that, right?

Adam Anderson: You’re going to have a conversation, how come you don’t ask me about my day? How come you’re not present? Why aren’t you … and the poor, burned-out individual is thinking that’s just one more thing. One more responsibility. If they are compliant rather than connected, then they resent the people who they are having to show up for. It’s not a loving, nurturing thing. Again, it’s just so toxic, this unaddressed burn-out.

Kerry Anderson: Also, I think there is something about your family. Your family, especially your significant other, your closest partner, your person, they actually get to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. If they are really, really bought in, they’re going to put up with it all. Many times while you have to wear the face at work, you come home, and really, it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back. It could be the very last thing that just pushed you over the edge and you snap at them because you know they’re not going to go anywhere. They’re not going to fire you – most likely.

Adam Anderson: It’s open.

Kerry Anderson: But again, prolonged exposure to that can really wear on the connection between two people.

Mari Ryan: It sounds like you had a breaking point and sometimes it’s the children in our lives that make that most evident to us. I’m curious, from your experience in this and the work that you’re now doing with entrepreneurs and executives on this, how do we create a healthy balance between the demands of work, and the demands of home that works both for the lives we need to lead as professionals and the lives we need to lead as participants in these important relationships?

Adam Anderson: The first thing to do is a bit of a self-assessment, and you need to start reflecting on your values. Here’s the thing, when I say “values,” half of your listeners might have just checked out. They’re like, ugh, values again! But I don’t want you to do that. What I want you to do is I want you to do an audit on your calendar and your bank account. I want you to tell yourself, honestly, where am I spending my time and where am I spending my money? Because those are your values. You might say I value family, and I value adventure, and you took that one Disney cruise, and it was fantastic …

Kerry Anderson: … back in 2011, we haven’t done anything since.

Adam Anderson: It was great. but, if you’re looking at your calendar and you’re spending 80 percent of your time engaged in work activities and thinking about work when you’re not there, that might be too much. So no judgment there. Look, you’ve got to forgive yourself immediately when you do this because you are who you are where you’re at right now. You probably have an image of yourself as a human being that isn’t showing up in the world the way you want it to. So, that’s the first step, become aware of what reality really is and what’s actually going on.

Kerry Anderson: I think that the next step has this sort of acknowledging where you are and taking responsibility for where you are right there. That’s how you start setting the boundaries. That’s how you start setting the boundaries and saying, okay, well maybe I did allow too much to encourage all my personal life. How do I reset the game, change the board a little bit, and then you can start working on how you’re going to show up on the game next time.

That’s the other big piece is that you can’t necessarily change your job, you can’t necessarily change your partner, or your circumstances. The only thing you can do is work on yourself. It really does take that first level of self-awareness before you can even begin to start any kind of long-term change.

Mari Ryan: Those are great suggestions and I think, totally appropriate because we’ve got to start with some self-reflection to be able to do that. Boundaries are important, but sometimes they are really hard to do.

Adam Anderson: Especially if you are not in control. It is hard to set boundaries at work when you might have certain responsibilities and you might have certain schedules and demands. My suggestion to that and what we teach people is you can be a servant-leader. You have power as somebody who cares about the organization. You can start framing your health as a critical part of the business, and if people aren’t listening to you when you’re saying it, it doesn’t mean you should stop saying it.

I hesitate to give any more advice past that because everyone’s work is different but it is completely okay to put your own health and wellness as part of the overall mission of the organization you care about and you work about.

Mari Ryan: That’s great advice. I’m curious about how do employers – so, if we look at this from the employer perspective, are there some things that employers can do to create awareness about the issue and bring some attention to this idea of the ways in which work is impacting family relationships?

Adam Anderson: So, can I be a little vulnerable and admit something? I was the really bad business owner who did not take that serious. I created unhealthy … because we were a professional service, and you said it, the number of hours billed, sales people hitting quota, and I was so focused on the machine of the business that these amazing people who worked for me became numbers on a spreadsheet, not actual human beings.

Unfortunately, business owners are not going to move from that because they are going to be put in a sense of scarcity and fear and until they can get out of there, they’re not really open to it. My suggestion in the workplace and these business owners, and for the people who are managers and trying to hit deadlines, is that you have to get out of this fear, you have to get out of the fear mindset, you have to be able to have a bigger picture, and this comes from organizational awareness. What is the organization trying to accomplish, where do you fit in on it, where’s all the moving parts? Because if you just do what you are told, you are probably causing something bad to happen in the organization. Does that make sense?

Mari Ryan: It does make sense.

Kerry Anderson: Culture matters. You end up turning into the environment that you are most in. I think that certainly, culture absolutely matters.

Mari Ryan: Culture does matter, and if we think about where culture comes from, it’s based on those values. So just as you’ve suggested that we have to look at our own values about where we’re spending time, the organization needs to look at what do they reward, what do they encourage, what are the values that they espouse, and is burning out people and their families, is that something that they’re aspiring to do? I think, too often, they don’t look at that the impact is actually happening.

Adam Anderson: Yeah, and it costs them real money, too, doesn’t it? Even if you look at the total cost for replacing a high-value employee, oh my gosh, it is so expensive. Loss of productivity, loss of … but also from a … do you really want to run a company? Do you really want to manage human beings at the end of the day, knowing that your leadership style and the culture you are fostering is draining human beings? That’s not a way to live.

Mari Ryan: No. It’s not a way to live, no. I think the important thing is, as you’ve suggested, is we can create some awareness about this and hopefully have employers start to think about what are the kinds of things they can do, where does this fit with the big picture of why they’re here and what their values and culture are espousing to be, then they can start to think about how to create those workplaces that look after the people, look after the families that are tied to those people, and when they do that, both profit and wellbeing will be the outcomes.

Adam Anderson: Do you want to hear something wild? It also improves your resistance to cybercrime.

Mari Ryan: Okay, how does that work?

Adam Anderson: There’s a concept called “psychological security” and the amount of communication and trust inside an organization is directly related to their ability to resist social manipulation from hackers. If you have a toxic culture, you’re basically raising your hand saying, it would be great if you would hack me. This is serious, serious stuff.

Mari Ryan: Wow, I would never have thought of that connection. Thank you, as the expert for making that connection for us. So, there’s a huge cost associated with that.

Adam Anderson: Oh yeah. If you look at how you respond in a crisis, and if there’s a breakdown in communication and connection inside an organization, and that is exacerbated by the fact that you’ve also from that organization caused connection to deteriorate inside of a family, and you have a person who is absolutely burned out at work and at home because they go back and forth, and now a crisis happens and that person is unwilling or unable to trust their fellow employees or their bosses, are they going to report that phishing attack? Are they going to report that ransomware, or are they going to close their laptop and walk away and pretend that nothing happened?

This is real stuff that happens. You have got to take care of your people and if you don’t support those people in how they interact with their home and how they get charged up at home … I cannot overstate the cost of not paying attention to the family.

Mari Ryan: I think it comes down to, as you say, there is so much around that trust element that has to be part of the culture and the workplace in order for any of this to work.

Adam Anderson: Yeah, that brings to mind the reason I was really bad at delegating is because I had lack of trust in my employees. Guess why? So, I did not believe they knew what the purpose of our company was and what we were trying to do, and I didn’t have faith that they could do things left unattended. It turns out that’s not an employee problem, that’s a leadership problem. That’s me not setting a clear vision of where we’re trying to go and what success looked like, and it’s me not providing training and mentorship to get them to the skill level they need to be, or if they can’t get there, help them move on to greener pastures. Man, that’s hard to say out loud. [laughter]

Kerry Anderson: I know. [crosstalk - 0:25:21.5] So many times where somebody just didn’t fit and it was poisonous to the culture for a very, very long time. We’ve just been more proactive and certainly there were behavior plans that were set in place. Those things weren’t met and our entire team suffered because we didn’t want to make that hard decision as leaders.

Mari Ryan: Well, I think you’ve shared a lot here about your own leadership lessons and life lessons, and I think you’ve made a strong case for why employers really have to pay attention to these types of topics.

Adam Anderson: Well, we hope so, because they do. [laughter]

Mari Ryan: Yeah, they really do. At all levels at an organization. We see this all the time. Burnout is such a big topic today, particularly in so many industries. If our audience wants to learn more about you and the work that you are doing, where can they find you?

Kerry Anderson: They can go to wlemission.com. We made it really nice and sweet and easy so you don’t have to spell the word “entrepreneurship.”

Adam Anderson: That’s right, and we made a special landing page just for you guys, so add a /wellbeing to the end of that and we’ve got a little self-assessment to see how you are doing with reducing the risk of burnout at home.

Mari Ryan: Good, that’s a very helpful tool. I’m glad you made that available to our audience. Well, thank you both for being here today. I really appreciate your sharing and being vulnerable about the aspects of what you’ve been through, and now the great work you are doing and helping others to learn from your own experiences. Thanks again for being here.

Adam Anderson: Thank you so much.

Kerry Anderson: Thank you, Mari, it was a pleasure.

 

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Topics: Worksite Wellness, Wellbeing, worksite wellbeing, workplace wellbeing, wellness, employee wellness, worksite well-being, hr, employee engagement, work stress, stress management, chronic stress, employee well-being, corporate culture, family health, work life balalnce

Mari Ryan

Written by Mari Ryan

Mari Ryan is the CEO/founder of AdvancingWellness and is a recognized expert in the field of workplace well-being strategy.