Sunday, March 20, 2011

Work/Life Balance

I was visiting with a young leader the other day when they commented to me that they proactively scanned eight different news sources on a regular basis over the course of a day to keep up with what was going on. I paused and wondered how many I scanned to stay on top of what was happening. With a bit of reflection, I realized that I monitor seven to nine different news sources depending on what is going on at any given time period.

As some of you know, I am a lark rather than an owl. I was born at dawn and have been a morning person ever since. Yet, I have worked with people who wake up between 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm and really get pumped by 10:00 pm. These are not just night nurses and third shift people. They are folks who are wired to kick in at a different level and at a different time than me. They become engaged when I am thinking of going to bed.

But what makes this world of leadership so interesting and complex right now is not the constant internet scanning or the constant working around the clock as much as how many people in leadership positions are in constant motion and constantly drained. Recently, I have had more executives take me aside in seminars or ask in private executive coaching sessions how to create more work/life balance. Many report to me that they feel like adrenaline junkies, addicted to fixing everything at work and at home, and never having the time or the energy to care for themselves.

With this issue in mind, I think we all need to pause, take a deep breath and reread the following article: “The Uncompromising Leader” by Russell A. Eisenstat, Michael Beer, Nathaniel Foote, Tobias Freberg, and Flemming Norrgren in the July-August 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. I wrote a review of this article back on September 9, 2008, As the authors explain, their in-depth research into high-commitment, high-performance (HCHP) CEOs reveals they several shared traits: “These CEOs earn the trust of their organizations through their openness to the unvarnished truth. They are deeply engaged with their people, and their exchanges are direct and personal. They mobilize employees around a focused agenda, concentrating on only one or two initiatives. And they work to build collective leadership capabilities.” As they continue, “These leaders also forge an emotionally resonant shared purpose across their companies. That consists of a three-part promise: The company will help employees build a better world and deliver performance they can be proud of, and will provide an environment in which they can grow.”

One element within this article that I did not share in the review was a wonderful section on how HCHP CEO’s keep their work in perspective. As the above authors note, “First, while many [CEOs] reported great camaraderie with the members of their senior leadership teams, they were also careful to maintain enough personal distance to avoid favoritism.” They explained that this was very important to CEOs promoted from within an organization because as a senior leader they would need to make “tough personnel decisions for the good of the institution concerning colleagues with whom they shared decades of experience.”

Next, based on the research by the above authors, they write that “despite long hours on the job, HCHP leaders devoted considerable energy to maintaining full lives outside work. Many of the CEOs were deeply involved with their families and their communities and credited these activities with giving them perspective on their work.” I, too, have noticed this element with leaders who maintain a healthy work/life balance. I particularly notice the best executives have 1-2 things or causes that they are involved in which they are passionate about over time. I believe this gives them something to look forward to when work is not going so well.

Finally, the above authors write that “it helps to have a sense of humor. HCHP leaders tended not to take themselves or their positions too seriously.” The best I have seen are just ordinary people in extra-ordinary positions.

In short, the article explains that HCHP leaders can manage people, performance and shareholder expectations by doing something that looks simple but is not easy. As they explain, “In the end, the answer lies not just in what these leaders do but in how they go about their work.” This week and this spring, I encourage you to reflect on how you go about your work. It will help as you seek more work/life balance.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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