For Steven Linkous, 2017 was a very busy year.
A 50-year-old married father of two grown sons, Linkous faced plenty of demands in his role as the longtime president and CEO of Harford Mutual. On top of that, he was also serving a one-year term as chairman of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies.
In the midst of all the meetings and travel that both jobs required, he focused, successfully, on doing yoga seven days a week, 30-40 minutes per day, shortly after rising each morning at 5 a.m. So far in 2018, he continues to pursue yoga twice a week, with other days filled with cardio and resistance exercise in a small gym at home. Yoga, in particular, gives him benefits that go well beyond the stretching and core-strengthening poses, Linkous said.
“The real power from yoga comes from the mindfulness aspect, from meditation and focus on what you are doing, which is very beneficial to me,” he said. “So I include it in my workout routine each week.”
Exercise, the Ocean and Construction
Linkous said an active life outside of the office helps him be more successful in his job, which can run 60-70 hours per work, including weekends.
Beyond yoga and exercise, he focuses on taking time to enjoy the family, embarking on vacations and taking jaunts to the beach at the family residence in Ocean City, Md. There is also a 40-acre farm to maintain, and the house and yard occupy three acres of that.
Twenty-seven years ago, Linkous built the house he lives in today, working with his father and brother, initially constructing 3,500 square feet. It’s a bit over 5,000 square feet today, thanks to an addition. Linkous said he has become too busy to do as much construction work as he used to, but he crafted much of what is inside the home’s addition, including a home theater. Today, he largely focuses on smaller home construction projects.
“I’m constantly doing all kinds of woodwork, trim and moldings, those types of things, because it is creating something,” Linkous explained. He does this work on weekends and evenings, after his day job.
To Linkous, home projects balance out his work as a chief executive in a crucial way. “I tell people, as CEO…to accomplish something, it [often] takes months or years before you see the finished products. So I enjoy tasks, projects at home, where I can finish them in a day or two. I work, and at the end of the day I see the efforts of my labor, and I am creating something at the same time,” he said.
Audiobooks, Travel and Church
Another way Linkous finds balance is books on audio, via an online subscription service. He said being able to “read” and escape into a well-told tale while he’s traveling for work gives him a nice break from what can be otherwise stressful days.
“Because of all that travel, being in the car, on a plane, when I am not needing to get work done, I can listen to a book on tape and get that done,” Linkous explained. His favorites include spy novels, World War II histories, detective mysteries and biographies.
Linkous’ job, particularly during his NAMIC chairmanship in 2017, involves plenty of travel. To lessen the stress that these trips often entail, his wife Sandi, a partner in a day spa near their home in Bel Air, Md., often comes with him to conferences. “It helps us stay connected as a couple and reduces stress on the marriage that would be there if it was only me [traveling], he said.
As chairman of NAMIC, Linkous had 16 additional trips during 2017 on top of his regular schedule, and his wife joined him on those journeys, which turned something stressful into a positive experience seeing the country together. “The fact [is] that she could go with me and see parts of the country we wouldn’t” otherwise see, he said.
Beyond exercise, yoga and travel, Linkous said he also gains enormously from going to church at a nondenominational Christian church for service every Saturday night. He and his wife attend the service and then turn the event into a date night, with just the two of them.
“It is a dedicated date night with my wife now that the kids are grown. We go to church and then we go out to dinner,” Linkous said. “It’s kind of a nice way to end the week…My most important things in life are God and family, in that order, and it always reconnects me to what is important and how I should live my life.”
Activities Help, Lessons Learned
To Linkous, the travel, the construction projects, the yoga and exercise, family trips, audio books—all of them—keep him centered, which helps him perform his CEO job better.
“When you push the scale too far in one direction, something suffers. It could be mindfulness or health, family or friends—something is going to suffer,” he observed. “Now, I really try to be mindful of that and make sure I am achieving balance the best I can.”
What that means is Linkous making the effort to realize when he spends too much time on any one thing, and in turn, paying attention to when some of his vital, quality-of-life activities fall short. Exercise in the morning helps set the tone for all of these other activities, he said.
“If I don’t take time to exercise, my health and aches and pains are going to take over,” Linkous said. “I like to work out at the beginning of the day. It leaves my evenings open…It prepares me for the day [and] I feel energized, I feel like I accomplished something even before I stepped into work. I am already at a high level, and that prepares me better for the day.”
Linkous said that the yoga in particular keeps him mindful throughout the day, influencing how he sits, how he talks to people and how he interacts with others. “I am keeping myself calm, dealing with stressful information,” he added.
To Linkous’ peer executives, he recommends focusing more on physical and mental wellness to be a better executive.
“Get started on taking care of yourself, in mind, body and spirit. You don’t have to go crazy on any one thing, but you should at least start and find balance in all of them,” he said. “To remain at the top of your game and set an example for those around you, you have to be fit, healthy and focused.”