Leadership Insight: The Balanced Leader
Workaholics need not
Throughout the late seventies, the Charlie Sheen Wall Street eighties, and even through a good part of the nineties, work ethic was defined as living at work, living work and committing every waking moment to work. To be a boss, you had to commit your life to the organization and outwork your peers and potential competitors for promotion.
The repercussions of this approach have been seen and felt in the decades after this phenomenon. Leaders that are workaholics are very difficult to work for and with. Leaders that are workaholics are more likely to snap at team members, lash out harshly and say things to team members that they should not say. Leaders that are workaholics adjudge others unfairly based on their working hours and commitment; and thus perpetuate the cycle of workaholics within an organization. Leaders that are workaholics will have less satisfied team members, greater turnover within their team and burn out those around them; including themselves.
Successful organizations are now looking much deeper into the lives and interests of leadership position candidates to insure that they are hiring and promoting whole people. People with outside interests and support mechanisms that are not and will not become workaholics. The widespread use of social media such as FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn has made this query much easier for companies interested in the life balance of leaders. People now provide regular digital updates and pictures of their interests, hobbies and families for the entire world to see.
Traditionally, work life balance was described as a triangular model with a day carved into sleeping, working and personal time blocks of eight hours each. This very simplistic approach was easy to visualize on a daily basis and one could even set an alarm clock for the three life elements. Unfortunately, this model is too simple for a modern leader and does not account for complexities within a leadership role or even the complexity of life in the year 2011.
The first dynamic of an effective work life balance is to acknowledge that every day in the life of a leader is different and every day has unique challenges to effort and time commitment. No leader can automatically stand up after eight hours of work and excuse himself or herself and leave for the sake of perfect balance. It just doesn’t work that way. Some days need ten focused hours. Some weeks need you to come in and work on Saturday. Some days need you to take your laptop home. It isn’t just a neat and clean eight hours.
To account for this, leaders must look at a typical week and not a typical day. Taking a weeklong look will provide more opportunities to achieve balance as compare to the rigid alarm clock mode of carving up a day. This approach also takes into consideration the changing dynamics of time for a typical leader. Mondays may be twelve hour days at work while Tuesdays and Thursdays are very quiet. Saturdays may have some catch up time once a month but typically are free within an average week. Whatever your dynamic, a weekly approach will allow you to achieve greater degrees of balance.
The other difference with this look at balance will be what you need to balance. It is not just about sleep and play, although those become sub-sections of greater balance elements. The effective leader needs to achieve balance between intellectual, emotional and physical life elements. Leaders use all three of those elements at work in almost equal measure. Although a leader may not leave their office more than a few times a day, there is a physical toll from the lack of physical movement within work. Other leaders are constantly on the move and on their feet, this too has a physical impact that needs to be recharged.
To achieve balance, leaders should embrace these strategies for recharging each of the three critical life elements:
1. Read. Even fiction or “fun” books will stimulate your brain and help you recover spent intellectual energy.
2. Learn. On a weekly basis, challenge yourself to learn something new. For some leaders, the best way to do this is to commit to a class or college program that forces the scheduling.
3. Stimulate Thinking. Some activities to stimulate your brain functions include crossword puzzles, Sudoku, word searches and challenging hobbies (i.e. history, assembling complex models) are good for the brain.
The emotional side of any person is harder to recharge than other elements and it is rare that a leader recognizes the need to give their emotions a boost. The emotional side is also very closely connected to the physical side of any person and there is cause and effect between emotional and physical elements.
1. Help Others. Nothing can provide the boost of emotional energy like helping others. Become a regular volunteer in your community, a key organization (not a professional organization), local youth sports or your church. Participate fully, roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Go on a bi-annual trip to build homes. Stop writing checks and help other people.
2. Network Professionally. Join and participate in professional groups that will include your peer levels and competitors. This networking is a great source of empathy and you will learn quickly that your concerns and challenges are more broadly shared than you ever thought. This professional empathy is an important emotional charger.
3. Friends, Relatives and Pets. Have them. Keep them and utilize the emotional power of laughing with family members, friends (from outside your working environment) and scratching the belly of your mutt. Leadership should be a lonely proposition at work but not outside of work. Most highly successful leaders maintain a robust group of friends that have nothing to do with their business dealings.
4. Catch Up. Use some time on Saturdays and Sundays to pay bills, run errands, stock up on groceries and get your hair cut. Trying to pile that stuff in on weekdays rarely works well and causes more stress than relief.
5. Skin Thickness. Work on your resilience and stop taking every little slight or perceived slight so personally. Chances are it isn’t about you anyway but about a work product or something else in which you participated. Grow your skin.
The easiest part of a balanced leader to manage is also the most often neglected. You and the container that you live within is so critical to your leadership success. Maintaining the energy to operate and the energy to execute your ideas is managing your physical balance.
1. Nap. Like we all learned in kindergarten, naps have great value. Use some time on the weekend to take a good long nap or two. Trying to sleep in generally does not work (we are creatures of habit) but squeezing in a couple of naps can achieve rest balance not found during the work week.
2. Play. Recreation is different from the rigidity of exercise but yet often has exercise elements. Play golf, baseball, tennis, hike or whatever. Just play something. Good for the body and your emotional composition.
3. Exercise. Regularly scheduled exercise is an important dynamic of recharging your physical being. It does not have to be one hour in the gym everyday to be effective. It can be as simple as walking three nights a week. Just get moving and make it an unyielding part of your week.
4. Intake. Like any other engine, your body will perform only as well as what you put into the fuel tank. Your diet is important. Overuse of caffeinated beverages (see sales volume for energy drinks and Starbucks over the past decade) have adverse effects. You don’t have to abandon animal flesh and eat clover but you do have to pay attention to what you shovel in and at what volume. Don’t eat at your desk and don’t skip meals. Eat well and recharge.