BEING A GREAT LEADER & HAVING A GREAT LIFE
Written by Sonia MacDonald, founder of LeadershipHQ.
My daughter wakes me up at midnight last night saying she can’t sleep. I know she has a lot on her mind and she is worried about COVID as she has just started university in Melbourne and has come home to me to study from here. I slowly wake up and give her a hug and tell her all will be okay as we are lucky we are at home together and will get through this. She replies “Mum, as worried as I am, I feel so lucky to have you being at home a lot more supporting me and also taking care of yourself for a change.”
Then it hit me, yes we are. In turn, will we all see and discover that despite all the challenges and believe me, I have had plenty, that we will come to realise what is truly important?
It’s illustrated constantly in media and everyday life: the worker who gets ahead and rises to the top is the one who eats, breathes and lives their work. Do you think this might change after COVID? They don’t take holidays (which is rather challenging at present!), like Mark Cuban, the billionaire who didn’t go on a vacation for seven years. They’re on their phones, checking and responding to emails at all hours, like Tim Cook from Apple. Some barely sleep or see their children, like Tesla’s Elon Musk. All are what managers would call the ‘ideal worker’ – as has been shown in countless surveys, many executives prefer workers who don’t have any personal life or children to look after. It’s a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, according to plenty of leaders who admit they aren’t great role models and that their job is 24/7.
So why is a “work-life balance “ (not a fan of this phrase as I love just ‘balance”) so elusive, or even completely unattainable if you wish to be successful? The answer is that it doesn’t have to be this way! It was an important lesson I learned in the past few years and even more so today since my teenage daughter has suffered from severe mental health issues that I had to revisit my work and business and my own mental health to support her. I had to put the oxygen mask on myself firs, be kind to myself and start balancing my priorities.
Jessica DeGroot, the owner of the ThirdPath Institute, is determined to find an answer to that question, helping people make time for family, work, and life in general. She partnered with a group of senior managers from a range of businesses from law firms to Fortune 500 companies because they all had the common goal of proving that work-life balance is achievable for leaders. Believe me, it is, and it will make you a much better leader.
For almost 20 years, DeGroot and her group have been helping one another come up with strategies for successfully balancing life and work. They share their triumphs, failures, their families and their lives, so that they have plenty of backgrounds when discussing things like overwork and boundaries, and the handling of work-life balance when faced with emergencies in work or life, or both. One leader is so grateful for modelling and communicating the importance of work-life (ARGH!) balance at his workplace, as it’s enabled him to alter his workload while he cares for his sick child.
Some of the leaders in this group, DeGroot noted, were excellent at making time for holidays, and the tips and strategies they shared enabled her to develop the ‘Vacation Checklist’, which is passed to others at the ThirdPath Institute.
Strategies that are incredibly effective include:
- Making a list of ‘what can wait’, one week before you travel
- Two weeks before you go, delegate and review teamwork that will be essential while you’re away
- Not scheduling calls or meetings the day before or the day after your holiday
She also recommends putting strategies in place to allow you to have quiet time at work so that you can focus on your priorities and better handle your time without getting overwhelmed. Demonstrating how much you value work-life balance as a leader is incredibly important according to DeGroot. When leaders send a message and challenge the status quo, balance becomes a priority for others, and you’ll see the culture of the organisation start to shift to be more accommodating. DeGroot says, “When you get leaders to behave differently, it sends a signal to the rest of the organisation that they can behave differently, too.”
When leaders pioneer this new way of thinking, ThirdPath discovered that there were three relationships that needed skills developed in order to bring about the necessary change. Leaders need to learn how to make plans with their families to put them and their home first, to change how they work with their teams at work, and how to change their mindset of work-life balance being a mere pipe-dream; instead, believing that the change is possible and that they should try and achieve it, and speak out about it whenever possible.
Changing how you work with your team
Having faith in your team is important, as you’ll be putting more responsibility onto them as you change the culture in your workplace. Demonstrating yourself that family comes first and that everyone needs a life, will spread throughout your team and help make introducing strategies for work-life balance much easier. Things like allowing staff to work remotely like we do now and/or with flexible hours have been shown to reduce staff turnover, which in turn reduces your recruiting costs while increasing productivity and morale. Small things like allowing staff to start earlier to finish earlier, or to work from home a day or two a week, will see your organisation reaping the benefits of increased results.
Having the courage to speak up about your plan
Being the first to try and introduce flexibility and strategies for improved work-life balance in your workplace can be daunting, but you need to have faith in yourself and voice your opinions if you want any hope of things changing. Remind yourself that you’re more than likely not the only person in your workplace wanting a better work-life balance and that you’ll be making things better for everyone.
In turn, I ask myself these questions on a regular basis as self-reflection is the key to leadership and balance.
Family comes first
While a lot of parents work hard (and believe that working hard means working a lot) because they believe they’re doing what’s best for their families, the opposite is true. It’s a common story; husbands and wives growing apart while focusing on their careers, or one climbing the ranks and working constantly while the other stays home and shoulders most (or all) of the familial responsibilities. This causes resentment and means the working parent/s miss out on quality time with their families that they’ll never be able to get back.
Finally my last piece of advice…as I have one to keep me accountable.
Get a coach!!!
It’s one thing to want to have more balance, it’s another thing to actually make the adjustment. This is where a coach comes in to help guide, mentor, help break those unhealthy patterns, and offer suggestions.
It’s not as hard as it sounds to start making adjustments and improving your work-life balance, it can be as simple as finishing early once or twice a week so that you can pick up your children from school, and coordinating your family schedules to make time for each other.
It’s time to change the culture of overworking that we see in our leaders, and therefore emulate ourselves. It’s our role models that greatly influence us, and at the moment there are not many role models that demonstrate an effective work-life balance. How many articles do you see about CEOs and their insane schedules that disregard family, health, and life outside of work – leaving a majority of burnt out and no longer producing great results, as this style of work is unsustainable? Unfortunately, there aren’t many role models at present to show that the opposite is not only possible but easier to achieve than first thought. There are a few that are challenging this way of thinking, and we need to hear more about them.
Look at David Solomon, the Goldman Sachs CEO. He goes to yoga classes with his daughter, calls his workmates to tell them to stop working so much, and reduced the crazy work hours expected of him and his staff. Or Susan Wojcicki from YouTube, who makes sure she’s home for dinner with her kids every night, even while running a company worth $100 billion. Leaders like these aren’t the norm, but they should be.
It’s far more important to be effective and use your time wisely than to work constantly – you won’t burn out, and your work will be of a much higher quality. You’ll also benefit from improved relationships with your friends and family, and having time for yourself to partake in your hobbies and unwind from the working week. Unlike what most people think, you CAN be a great leader and still have a fulfilling personal life as well – so it’s time to start making it happen. When you start to show gratitude for your life and family and focus on the abundance and love you have and you can give, your leadership and life will transform.
Remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and stay kind.
She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organisations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others. Also she and her team have worked and partnered with a number of businesses and companies for over a decade build great leadership teams and cultures.
For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of Human Resources, Leadership and People and Culture. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader.
Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognised as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.
She is an award-winning published author of Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow, advocating for women in business as well as building leaders in small business.