03 Oct

Balance and leadership

 “…being successful means having a balance of success stories across the many areas of your life. You can’t be considered truly successful in your business life if your home life is in shambles.” –  Zig Ziglar

When coaching new and experienced managers, we have noticed a trend towards ‘burn-out’ and ‘over-load’ being discussed as serious issues in the workplace. Many people being coached are  feeling ‘overloaded’, with some also expressing concern for their direct reports. It is concerning to hear these managers talk about the long hours they work, the weekends lost to emails and reports and the subsequent strain experienced by their families.

Sadly, there is no easy answer to this problem. Businesses are being pushed to reduce costs and raise productivity, and the resulting restructures, budget cuts and redundancies means that people often find themselves with more work and less resources. To cope, employees are working longer, and often experiencing feelings of resentment, frustration and even anger for doing so. Many find that they strive to do a good job, yet are left thinking that they are never quite doing anything well, rather doing lots of things poorly. For the high achievers, this can be a major issue!

So if there is no easy answer, where do we start?

We must remind businesses and employees of the benefits of balance. In his book ‘The four principles of values-based leadership”,  Harry Kraemer  talks about the importance of balance from several perspectives. One such perspective is ‘life balance’ and “…the importance of diverse activities and experiences that keep you fresh, engaged and motivated.” Remember, if we focus only on work, our brains are not stretched or refreshed. How can we expect to be innovative, productive and positive if our brains are not working properly? How can we expect to solve problems and overcome challenges if we are feeling burnt-out? How can we as managers engage positively to motivate our teams if we are feeling resentful of the work piling up?

As leaders, we must be disciplined to get the balance right. It’s no good for us to tell our people to prioritise or leave work on time if we are not practicing what we preach. We must lead by example. It will take self-awareness, discipline and courage, yet what is the alternative? Some people seem to think that if they complain about the workload long enough or if they talk about the hours they work loud enough, that someone will make it all OK. This will never happen and we so often see managers spiraling on this until they spin  out of control – they might yell at their staff, quit their job, or worse still suffer mental exhaustion and breakdown.

When we talk about balance, it’s not just about leaving work on time or turning off the laptop over the weekend. It’s about replacing these behaviours with balanced behaviours; it’s about exploring  opportunities and experiences outside of the workplace. This might include reconnecting with something you enjoyed when you were younger, experiencing a loved activity with your family, or even stepping outside of your comfort zone with a new course or hobby.

If you do regain some balance, there is no doubt you will start to see benefits – feeling refreshed, focusing better at work, maintaining and growing positive relationships – the list goes on. [An aside: To be honest, when many feel overloaded at work, it is commonly exacerbated by procrastination – such as talking about how busy they are, spending hours writing to do lists (don’t get us wrong, to do lists are critical, yet they can be overdone!) or worrying about what there is to do. This post is not about time management, yet learning about some time management disciplines will help many to get the balance back.)

We all know the saying “Life is short.” well, it is. Imagine yourself at 80 – go on, visualise it! Can you see the wrinkles, the grey hair…? Now imagine yourself looking back at your life. Think not just about work, think about your LIFE. Will you be happy at 80 if you can say “Yep, I worked myself raggard and had no time for anything else…”?

  • What do you want to be most proud of?
  • What do you want to have experienced?
  • What do you want to be able to reflect on at 80?

Now, once you’ve thought those things through with your 80-year old self, consider the following:

  • What are 3 – 5 things you can do to take back control now and get a better life balance?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable when you neglect or forget the above actions?
  • Who can help you achieve these actions?
  • When are you going to start?

When you are determining actions, consider those that you can apply at work and even more importantly at home. At work you might need to reprioritise your work, talk to your boss about deadlines or aim to finish on time 3 days of the week. On the personal side, you might want to commit to learning a new language, play football once a week, take up meditation or join a book club. Whatever the actions are that work for you – the key is to be disciplined, monitor your commitment and reassess in a month or so. Once you are able to gain better balance, consider how you might help your team members do the same. But until you start with yourself and lead by example, you and your team will be left spinning on the ‘work harder and longer’ merry-go-round.

Here’s to a balanced life!

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