Work-Life Balance is an Outdated Concept, So What Now?

Beach chairs on the evening sea coast.

Work-life balance became a buzzword a couple of decades ago. Everywhere you turned there were presentations, articles and self-proclaimed “experts” all promising to help the overworked find a better balance.

The thing is, I’m not so sure work and life are really separate concepts anymore.

More and more, work and life are intertwined, especially when working remotely, or traveling for work. And to increase engagement, more companies are making workplaces feel like “home.” “Work-Life Integration” is probably a more accurate term today, and people work every day to try to do this well. It isn’t as much a balancing act as it is an act of acceptance that balance doesn’t exist. Something will always have to give; your time in the office, your kid’s soccer game, time with your partner, or travel abroad. If you want successful work-life integration, you will need to sacrifice something.

Sure, there are still the no-holds-barred leaders out there whose commitment to work eclipses everything else and there are those who think that’s the way it has to be if you want to be successful. Some of these people might even be happy with their life this way, who are we to judge? Many experts today still proclaim it is possible to have it all. However, what exactly does “all” mean?

As leaders, we need to become aware of what’s important to us and the individuals in our team, we need to set an example, be a role model, and help them create the right situation and strategy for themselves. In my opinion, work-life integration is about setting boundaries. If you clarify what you want, create a plan, set boundaries, and manage it well, fulfillment in one’s personal and professional lives can easily be a reality.

It’s all about boundaries.

To achieve life balance, you have to set these boundaries both in your personal life and your work life. You’ll want to make deliberate decisions about what’s going to be the priority. And it has to go both ways to work out. At work, we often have to respond instantly to crises and sudden situations. Then again, sometimes your personal life is more important—your preschooler is in a theater production, a parent is diagnosed with an illness, or your eldest is graduating from law school.

The fact is, when a situation with enough importance emerges (in business or life), we make time. And you know what? The world doesn’t end. This just shows that having boundaries and stepping away is possible. Planning is key and with proper boundaries in place, it becomes easier to give attention to all areas of your life. (Nigel Marsh has a wonderful TedTalk on boundaries.)

Here are five steps to creating excellent work-life integration for yourself and your team. Share these steps with those you manage and hold a conversation about their relevance:

Define “balance.” First, you have to know what you want out of life, then you can create a clear plan to achieve those goals. If working a lot right now is important for your career growth, then that’s ok. If spending more time with your partner is a priority for your relationship, then do that. Maybe your kids need more or less attention at this point in their lives.

Communicate proactively. In some ways, this goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Talk to your family and significant other about what’s coming up on the calendar at work and speak with your team about what types of personal situations may require your attention no matter what. This can help avoid partner, manager or team resentment when various life or work events arise.

Know your own resilience level. You may be the type who can sleep little and work a lot. Or you might require eight hours and need to let your brain rest in between productive spurts of work. Maybe you burn out without regular vacation time or maybe work gives you so much energy, you don’t need many holidays. Listen to what your body and mind need and honor that.

Walk the talk. Don’t preach work-life integration and then send emails in the middle of the night, regularly stay late at the office, and text your team members at off hours. Managers are often unaware how their own behavior unintentionally sets the standard for the team. People may feel they have to respond in the middle of the night, stay late until the boss leaves, etc.

Introduce your personal life into your work life. Back in the day, talking about your personal life at work was a big no-no, but now those walls are coming down. You see more and more amusing family anecdotes or personal stop-and-think moments being integrated into presentations and speeches. The more you make your workplace feel like home (as much as your company will allow), the more balanced you’ll feel at work.

Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage says, “When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.” The idea of work-life integration isn’t just corporate lip service anymore, but it isn’t really about having perfect balance either. It’s about creating an ideal situation for yourself – accepted at home and at work – so that you can thrive both personally and professionally.

For a workshop, webinar, or speaking engagement on How to Set Boundaries and Be Happier in Life and Work, contact Melissa.

A version of this post was first published here.

 

5 Traits That Make Women Better Global Leaders

More and more women are rising up the ranks to lead countries and global organizations worldwide. In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study, published in 2015 and updated in 2017, since 2005, the number of world leaders who are women has more than doubled. A fact that is not surprising since women possess certain traits that make them better global leaders.

Having said that, a lot of work still needs to be done. In the U.S., women hold less than 5 percent of the C-suite top spots. And, in regions like Latin America or Asia, women leading large organizations is pretty uncommon.

But, in my work helping women around the world develop advancement strategies, I’ve noticed traits, unique to women, that set them up to be influential leaders–particularly in a global environment.

Here are the top five traits women possess that make them strong global leaders:

1. Women empathize.

Being able to wear other people’s shoes is very important when leading in a global environment. Leaders need to try to understand different perspectives and empathize to be effective.

While I’m always the first to teach the premise that agility and empathy are not exclusive to either gender, it’s hard to ignore the research. An in-depth white paper by Caliper states:

Women leaders also were found to be more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts.

“These qualities combine to create a leadership style that is inclusive, open, consensus building, collaborative and collegial,” said Herb Greenberg, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of Caliper.

2. Women communicate.

Communication is key to effective leadership, particularly when it comes to communicating across cultures, write Deborah Blagg and Susan Young in an article for Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Working Knowledge. And, according to HBS professor Nitin Nohria, author of Beyond the Hype: Rediscovering the Essence of Management, communication is the real work of leadership. “Great leaders, he notes, “spend the bulk of their time communicating, and they know how to employ all three of Aristotle’s rhetorical elements.”

Multiple studies over the years have consistently indicated that women are better communicators than men. Some suggest that women use many more words than men (anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words a day to a man’s 5,000 to 10,000). One study, by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, attributes this to female brains possessing more of the “language protein.”

3. Women listen.

The female leaders I’ve worked with seem to have an innate skill for listening. When one woman is sharing a problem or challenge, the others seem to give their undivided attention instantly. They listen, ask some questions, and then share their thoughts.

Listening is a skill that’s necessary and appreciated across all cultures and particularly useful when leading teams of people from different backgrounds.

4. Women collaborate.

When managing cross-cultural teams, leaders need to understand that team members work, assess problems and come up with solutions differently.

Women seem to genuinely enjoy working with others. They enjoy learning new perspectives and coming up with solutions together. The women in my workshops always ensure each person in the room has a voice and is a part of the conversation. This means that everyone’s opinion and skills are included, allowing for stronger and more creative outcomes.

5. Women learn.

As I mentioned, women enjoy learning about other’s perspectives. They’re also very interested in discovering new ways to improve upon themselves and sharpen their skills. This focus on development makes women self-aware–crucial for both improving leadership skills as well as emotional intelligence.

McKinsey and Catalyst found that more gender balance at the top produces better financial results than those with the lowest representation of women board directors. However, there are still many challenges that keep women from leading global teams and companies. But as we continue to chip away at these barriers, both internally and externally, our organizations will only become stronger.

Do you need help creating gender balance on your team? Or, are you a woman who is hoping for a leadership position in your organization? I can help. Contact me.

 

A version of this post was first published on Inc.

Photo Credit: Elwynn/123RF

Traits of Global Leader Part 2: Be Mindful

In my recent post, Traits of Global Leader Part 1: Know Thyself, I introduced my theory that great global leaders have two essential sets of traits: awareness of self and awareness of others. That first post explored the awareness of self, including understanding your personal brand, sticking to what you believe, and how these two traits affect public perception of you as a leader.

Now we’re going to move on to awareness of others. This doesn’t mean that great leaders are universally liked. As a recent Inc. article on leadership explained, “Great leaders aren’t always the most likable people. In the long run, great leaders recognize that their job is to get people to do things they might not want to do, in order to achieve goals they want to achieve.”

In a nutshell, your goal as a global leader should be to earn respect by doing the right thing and making the hard decisions that benefit your organization. At the same time, you don’t want to alienate your employees — so be sure to demonstrate empathy and understanding, even while reaffirming your role as a strong leader.

Of course, many leaders assume they’re already aware of others in every way that matters, but there are two practices that can deepen every leader’s ability to connect with others.

Listen to People

Plenty of leaders like to talk, but the best leaders realize the value in listening. The problem is, a huge part of being a good listener is acknowledging you don’t know everything, recognizing when you don’t know something and allowing someone else to fill you in—a tall order for many in leadership roles.

Once you can get over the fact that you’re not always the most informed person on a particular subject, you might be surprised by how much you learn. There’s a less obvious reward too: the enhanced respect that comes from giving your employees an opportunity to shine.

This is especially important when critical or difficult decisions must be made. Sure, you could just make the decisions yourself, but by opening up the conversation to others on your team you can gain valuable insight and discover fresh angles. More importantly, you give your employees a chance to be a part of the decision-making process, which recognizes their value and allows them to become invested in the outcome.

As TV host Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”

Broaden Your Reach

When was the last time you talked to an entry-level employee or visited a far-flung office or division? Traveled around to store locations? Rolled up your sleeves to help with a small project? To many employees in your organization you may just be a name at the top of an organization chart, or the office where major decisions are made – and that needs to change.

Great leaders are more than just a name. They’re a symbol and a source of encouragement, stability and expertise for employees. So don’t hide — get out there and meet your people and get a taste of their daily lives at work.

Best Buy’s CEO, Hubert Joly, epitomizes this notion. When he took over as Best Buy’s CEO in 2012, he spent a week working as a floor employee at a Minnesota Best Buy store, helping customers, restocking shelves and going on Geek Squad calls.

I had a similar experience when I started my project with the global, Swedish-owned furniture giant, Ikea. They asked me to work for two days in a store to understand fully what an employee’s day was like. I worked the cashier, lugging furniture in the warehouse, in floor design, sales, and in the back offices. It was a phenomenal experience and taught me a lot about Ikea’s company culture.

I think Kasper Rorsted, head of global manufacturer Henkel, perfectly stated the importance of being available as a leader in a recent interview with McKinsey. He said: “I am convinced that a visible and accessible leadership style is most effective. My door is open; I encourage colleagues to call me directly. Our employees know who I am and what I’m doing. I eat with employees in our canteens whenever I am traveling or here at headquarters. You cannot run a global company from your desk. That’s why I spend around 170 days per year abroad, meeting employees—from top executives to young high-potential individuals—as well as customers and business partners.”

To close this two-parter, I’ll encourage you to remember that everything leaders do has a trickle-down effect. Be mindful of your actions and relationships, because your colleagues and your employees will emulate what you do. Successful organizations need inspiring leaders. Be the confident, self-aware and empathetic leader your employees want, and they will follow your example.