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Work-Life Balance

A boss once told me a story about a friend of his. The friend had been offered a very coveted position, one that was highly sought, but for which few were chosen. That evening he went home to tell his family but before he could say much his teenage son requested his dad accompany him to the high school awards banquet the next week. His son would be graduating that year and really wanted his father to attend this final event. Realizing this was important, the father rearranged his schedule and attended the banquet. The next morning he went to the office, declined the promotion, and submitted his retirement. Why? At the banquet the night before he had watched his son receive award after award for things his father didn’t even know he was doing. He realized, perhaps too late, that he had sacrificed something precious and unrepeatable in favor of career success and that he had chosen the wrong course.

How many leaders see themselves in this story? It’s all too common to aggressively pursue success, and gain gratification in that success, at the expense of a personal life. The problem is, work success won’t last forever, but family and personal relationships should. Yes, career success often means a more comfortable standard of living, but as the father in this story discovered, there are still things worth more than money.

This is something for leaders to watch in their subordinates as well. Help prospective leaders, and those just getting started, develop a good work-life balance. That doesn’t mean you or they shouldn’t work hard or put in the long hours that are sometimes necessary. Those things are part of the job, but must be balanced with time away spent with family, friends, or just doing things they find relaxing. Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler between 1978 and 1993 was working hard to save a company that was in trouble, but he stuck to his policy of no work from Friday night to Sunday night. Only on Sunday evening would he take out his briefcase and review the schedule for the coming week. Over the weekend, his family had priority.

This concept of work-life balance is more common now than ever. That’s a little ironic given the explosion of technology that allows us to work 24 hours a day if we want. Don’t yield to that temptation. It’s critical to a leader’s mental and even physical health to balance work with their non-working lives. That means it’s also a leaders responsibility to make sure the people who report to them are doing the same.

Make sure you encourage a good balance for your teams. I once worked for a senior leader who directed that no one was to send or respond to work related email after 5:00 PM Friday. A few weeks after his decree, in a Monday morning meeting with his division leaders he confronted one of the leaders demanding to know why he hadn’t responded to a request for information that the boss had sent early Saturday morning.

“You said we were not to respond to email after 5:00 PM Friday.”

“I didn’t mean MY email.”

Just because you can reach out a touch a team member 24/7, doesn’t mean you should.

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