Work-Life Balance – an elusive ideal or a complete myth?

The current generation of leaders are fighting an onslaught of activity and urgent communication that like a screaming child demands their attention; is in danger of swamping their lives; and is preventing them engaging in a meaningful way, either at work, or at home. In this short article we will explore 5 areas that can help leaders make informed choices to help optimise their work-life balance.
Research by Professor Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams at Harvard Business School, published in the March 2014 edition of the HBR, has produced some interesting insights into how successful leaders reconcile their professional and personal lives. It is notable that the research was conducted amongst a pretty elite group of executives, better positioned than most to make deliberate choices in how they control most aspects of their lives, yet they still considered it an impossible task to get their work-life blend ‘right’. Worrying isn’t it! Read on….
Define Success The starting point is to define what ‘right’ looks like and feels like for you. Your views on this will evolve, what is a ‘right’ work – life blend at the age of 21 is very different when you are 31, 41, 51 etc. Take Work Life Balance - an elusive ideal or a complete myth 1stock on a regular basis and start now. Consider all aspects of your life that are important to you; your wealth; your mental and physical health; your friendships; your family; your sense of wonder; your degree of stretch and development; your career prospects; etc. For each aspect try and define what ‘ideal’ would be and then score your current reality against this personal benchmark.

If you plot this on a ‘Wheel of Life’ you can get a sense of balance. If the wheel is round your journey through life will be smooth, if it is uneven then your journey will be bumpy. To shift a score in a particular aspect of your life will require you to take action and make a trade off with another aspect of your life. We do this all the time, but writing it down and making the decisions visible and the actions deliberate will help you gain some control and break the cycle of simply reacting to ‘emergencies’.

Managing Technology Our smart phones enable us to be ‘always-on’ but are they enablers or invaders in our lives? They can be a great servant but they are a very bad master. Having the personal discipline and confidence to switch ‘off’ the technology and be ‘present’ both in body and mind is a habit that all leaders must learn if they are to get their work-life blend in balance. With so much communication and ‘noise’ it is really important to find the time to be at peace. Switching off the smart phone can be a very liberating experience. My first ever line manager was an ex-army officer and I remember he once told me ‘if you ever think you are irreplaceable then simply put your clenched fist into a bucket of water, pull it out and measure the hole that is left behind’ a nice metaphor. I use it now to remind the leaders I work with that if they switch ‘off’ for a while the world has a real knack of just carrying on without them….

Work Life Balance - an elusive ideal or a complete myth 3Build Support Networks Compared to our parents we are all cash rich and time poor. All successful leaders need an extended network of friends and family to help them succeed. Some leaders like to keep their personal and professional lives quite separate, as they value the diversity and counterbalance their private lives give them. In contrast, others are quite happy to mix their private and professional lives as it enables practical support and emotional support to be ‘on-hand’ when needed. What is for sure is that we need support more now than we ever have in the past. It is too exhausting to wear the professional work ‘mask’ all of the time, we need to give the other masks we wear an airing as well. The churn of change at work can cause some to seek peace and calm in their private lives, for others it is the other way around. Either way we all need the practical and emotional support of a strong network of behind-the-scenes partners, supporters and friends if we are to live full and enriched lives.

Tempus Fugit Our lives pass by in a blink of an eye and whilst I cannot predict much about the future I am certain about this; on our last day on this earth we will have emails in our inbox. A sobering thought. It is vital that we begin to appreciate the importance of time management and that we learn to master time and not succumb to what my good friend and psychologist Robert Holden calls ‘The Hurriedness Disease’. Much has been written about time management in the last 20 years but judging by the habits of many of us not much wisdom has been acquired. So many people live their lives at such a fast pace they do not appreciate what is right in front of them. My only advice is to get hold of your schedule and give yourself a proper break. What you have now is valuable – that is why it is called ‘the present’.

Collaborate With Your Partner. Getting the balance ‘right’ is very hard so it is really important that you and your close partner have a common and shared vision of success for everyone at home. This requires you toWork Life Balance - an elusive ideal or a complete myth 2 have a ‘DMC’ with your partner at least once a year. A DMC is a deep, meaningful conversation, one that is future centric and gets to the very heart of what makes you happy. Too many separations and divorces are caused as couples drift apart in a sea of activity without ever addressing the fact that they share different views of the future and of what makes them happy. It is important that you really appreciate the support your partner brings to you and you to them. Having someone who believes in you, can act as a non-judgemental sounding board and an honest critic whose opinion you respect is invaluable. In the HBR research it was interesting to note male executives tended to praise their partners for making positive contributions to their careers, whereas women praised their partners for not interfering in theirs!

In all of this debate there are 3 simple truths:
 Life happens – unexpected and unplanned events will occur and you need to be robust enough to respond;
 There are many ways to succeed – whilst the ingredients may be common the recipe for you will be unique; and
 No one can do it alone – do not neglect your important relationships they need you and you need them.

Malcolm Follos, March 2014

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