Leadership

There's no such thing as balance for leaders

Many leaders say that balance is a novel idea, but it's no longer attainable. Executive leadership coach John M. McKee says that without it you are doomed to fail.

The last two and a half years have called into question a lot of the thinking that was once taken for granted.  It's very clear that we in the United States are in the midst of many changes, the combined magnitude of which this country hasn't seen in over 50 years.

And most people don't get it.

Recently I was in San Diego to appear on a television show discussing my new book. I think the level of interest in the book is an indicator that individuals across the spectrum are feeling the pressure of this changing environment. Most don't realize it however. And, for leaders, this is important.

  • "There's no such thing as balance for leaders." The speaker, head of IT and Ops for a national organization, was absolutely certain of this. He went on to say that "In today's demanding era, anyone in leadership who's trying to achieve life balance (whatever that means) is inviting failure. Nowadays, there's simply too much to be done every day, and there are too few hands in most companies. It takes every minute of every day just to keep up with the demands."

I understand his feelings. But even if he's right -- he's wrong. Here are the two most important reasons why:

1. If your goal is simply making it through the day, you're going to burn out. Although sheer energy can carry strong people for a long time, at some stage they lose their creativity and they get stagnant. Their value to the organization decreases. They become "replaceable." Over my 30+ years in business, I've seen many great leaders flame out because of that. And there are always others happy to fill your position.

2. If your entire focus is on career success, I can tell you that it's likely you WILL achieve it. Initially this will feel great. The success, and the rush that comes with it, will probably cause you to become even more focused at the job. Because this takes a lot of energy, after hours you'll start viewing a great evening as one where you can decompress, rest up, and clear your head.

But that doesn't exactly make you an exciting and fun person to be around. So, one day, you'll notice that you don't have many close friends calling any more. Worse, you may not have any real love in your life (except for maybe your parents).

As a result, you lose your "value."

Regardless of your past successes, the organization doesn't want someone who is out of energy or has no fresh ideas.

On the personal front, there aren't many people left in your life who care enough to help you move forward. You're circling the drain. When you hear someone say what the guy above told me, don't buy into it. If you are in an organization that believes this and acts like this, I have one suggestion for you: GET OUT!

It may take time to escape, especially in today's job market. But the time to start taking the actions to move to a healthier place is immediately. Otherwise you may have someone else telling you that there's no longer a position for you. Then you're both screwed and friendless.

Here's to Your future,

John

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

17 comments
catcoder
catcoder

Work life balance is one of those made up phrases like strategic thinker, paradigm, and synergy. You work your ass off and if you are one of the lucky ones to retire congrats. Friends will always come and go, but this is life itself. If the person you got married with cant appreciate someone that works hard, they need to look in the mirror. I am beyond tired of hearing people complaining about their job. If you didnt want to do multiple roles or give the time demanded, then move over, and let someone willing to work 80+ hrs handle it. There are less stressful jobs, like janitorial, that would provide the best "work life balance." Sorry if I seem like a hard ass but people complain way too much.

sissy sue
sissy sue

...that no one has ever heard someone on their death bed say that they regret that they didn't spend more time at work. I think that most people in their 30s (and I was one of these) are willing to sacrifice more time to their careers (I once heard a 30-something say that employers EXPECT more than 40 hours a week). However, when you get to 60, as I am, you begin to realize that you might only have another 20 years of life left. You start to think about your mortality, and you realize that you don't want to spend the rest of your life working. Neither of my parents reached 80, so it is likely that I won't either. I want more out of the rest of my life than participating in the Monday through Friday rat-race. PLEASE, young people! Don't forget to enjoy your precious youth, your friends, family, and the things that make life happy and fulfilling.

sboverie
sboverie

Balance is important. Most people define themselves as what they do; this is a very old attitude as seen by names like Smith, Miller, Cartwright and other similar names. Defining yourself by your work in modern times tends to lead to an identity crisis when you lose your job and have to learn a different career. A true balance would give an individual the ability to not be limited by a career choice and to adapt to changes. It used to be normal to start working for a company and staying there until retirement; the normal is a series of jobs and an occasional career change. Employers expect loyalty but do not reward the employee for being loyal in return; the bottom line has more value than loyalty. Knowing that you are more than your job title and that you are trading chunks of your life for a somewhat stable income contributes to being able to balance between work and life. Heinlein said it best when he said that a man should be able to do a lot of different things because specialization is for insects.

leszek.kobiernicki
leszek.kobiernicki

Without it, one will become a driven person - every-which-way, controlled by the furious wind-blown forces raging through the corporate Arctic-thin atmospheric upper air .. The best balance, is to put people first, always - and that includes oneself, when pressures become intolerable, and need resisting, in order to keep one's sanity. This is balance ! It is this, that people respect, and will, in time, come to value, as style.

bigmat
bigmat

Just yesterday my GM asked me how we get things done, I answered make sure people are less busy so that they have the time to develop new and improved ways of doing things. His arguement was that the overheads are already too high we can't afford to employ more people. I said to him it comes back to planning, if you don't have a clear goal then you will never achieve it either, set the goal and the process will take care of itself with the motivated people you have. And if some get left behind they should not have been there in the first place...And you will still achieve your balance. But it takes the boss to demonstrate this to make it a success...

TGGIII
TGGIII

When I came up though the ranks, the "Built to Last," model of excellence was in force. Over the course of the reengineering revolution and internet boom, a change was made to "First to Market" and many of those built to last companies could not compete. Now many execs from that era are coming to the fore and demanding that everything be run as a fire drill ensuring upset employees, poor product and ultimately lost customers. The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. I subscribe to the notion that management must know What to change, To what to change, and How to cause the change. (Goldratt) Only when these are known can the workforce focus their efforts on the vital few that will win markets and customers and demonstrate where to apply effort.

fhrivers
fhrivers

The old Biblical universal truth remains: "You cannot be a slave to two masters". Relationships (family and/or friends) and your career are both "Masters" that each demand as close to 100% as possible. For most families and careers 50/50 is good enough. For other careers such as actors, executive management, musicians and pro atheletes much more than 50% of your time and effort is required to be successful. LeBron James didn't become one of the best players in the world by devoting only 50% of his time and effort to basketball. But I'm sure he lacks in other areas as well. Balance is possible, you just have to be ready to accept the consequences. Career success tends to be transiatory. No one on their death bed ever wished that they had worked more hours.

rauel
rauel

It seems to me that the application of moral right and wrong to this issue, misses the point to some extent. The fact is that either choice will result in consequences which both the individual and the larger "community" around him or her will have to bear and for which they both take varying degrees of responsibility. The individual does have to choose between career and relationships as to which will take priority. Success and financial gain are attractive lures but they carry with them loses that harm both the individual and potentially those closest to him or her. Choosing to put "family first" will likely result in fewer opportunities for advancement and can place the family under the pressure of rising costs without rising financial gain if the individual focuses SO heavily on family and friends that he or she is considered to "not put in what it takes to get the job done." On the other hand, the community (corporation, family, and friends) also have responsibility for what they foster and tolerate. A company that allows (or obliquely condones) employees working too many hours for the company's benefit shouldn't be surprised when some of its employees burn out and become office zombies. Sadly though, most of them don't care. Families and friends must also realize that if they "give up" on a career driven person then they shouldn't be surprised when people give up on them (what goes around, comes around) in similar or other need based situations. After all we ALL need somebody to lean on at some point or another. People that really care, continue to make the effort to connect whether that effort is reciprocated immediately or not. Bottom line, to me, is that this is just one more facet of humankind's age old problem of "to be or NOT to be". Be a friend, be a savvy businessperson, be a free spirit, be a nurturing soul. Everyway of being has consequences that need to be evaluated. What's intolerable is whining or failing to take responsibility for yours.

aeiyor
aeiyor

Good Day All. John McKee, Good and interesting article. This article reminded me of a presentation that was extremely good and touching. It was a palindrome in a manner of speaking but not completely. It said one thing when you read it one way but the exact opposite when you read it backwards. I don't want to dominate this post with it so let me suggest to google "Palindrome - Lost Generation" and you will get to the presentation - there's a video as well as what was actually written. I believe balance does exist as long as you remember your reasons for doing things and what your ultimate goals are. IF your goals become your work then you've lost your way. If financial wealth, success and status guide you then you'll trade your relationship, health and life. Often most people aren't in tune with their lives until something tragic takes place and recalibrates their perspective and an understanding as to what matters most. And to keep the balance. Good Journey, Satori.

Shankarl
Shankarl

Our attitude towards work defines our destination. Here I am clear; it is not the hard work always. With right attitude to work I can decide where to invest more time at this point of time. Once I get clarity I never regret and I can convince my family, near & dear. As they know soon they get quality time from me. The moment I am decided I get determination and enthusiasm to current work. In turn I can give more "Value". The value addition I do regularly only will give me success. In any case I see this balancing in window of 3-9 months time. I am sure no one should try to balance on daily basis or weekly basis.

love1997
love1997

There is no right or wrong. Its just up to the individual to make his choice. Life is always a balancing act.

love1997
love1997

I do wish there are truth in the meaning of balance but there is only 24hrs in a day and about 5-8 hrs is spent on sleeping. Work Life balance to individuals can have different proportion and definition, thus being very subjective. There will be times when sacrifice is the necessary evil for success to follow or happiness in family life. As i have mention, there is only 24hrs in a day and some situation happen only once and will not come again, be it in career or family. How much effort and time we put in for each area in life, determines what we reap. In most religion and in life, you reap what you sow applies. Most of the successful people i know made some sort of sacrifices, be it friendship or relationships of any type. Their regrets, very often is something, success cannot buy. We know what it is and the idea scenerio, but we can only try to balance it as much as we can. So what is Work life balance to you?

fhrivers
fhrivers

It's a cop-out created by those who need to massage their consciences into believing that the small amount of time they spend with their family or children is enough. A family needs both quality and quantity time in order to acheive long term happiness. If you disagree with this, then just apply your "quality time" logic to your career. Do you believe it so much that you're ready to apply it to your work ethic? Tomorrow?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Really? So you'd have no problem with somebody walking up to you and punching you for no apparent reason? Or breaking into your home and stealing your property? You would? Then there must be right and wrong, after all...

love1997
love1997

What you mentioned, does have a right and wrong. BUT in these case, there is no right or wrong as its a choice. Choice to spend more time in career or family or "balance". People who are extremely successful but loses his time with family and lost the experience of fatherhood, is this right or wrong? Ain't nothing related to being punched and be quiet about it. You missed the point.

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