Those who are balanced in their lives make better leaders

Despite training and education, many leaders' results are a product of their own belief systems. John McKee says this can be a career killer and explains how to correct limiting beliefs.

In our firm's regular surveying, we ask people to tell us how they'd rate themselves on the three key life elements, by which we mean:

1. Career/professional life -- what we do each day to earn a living

2. Personal/family life -- that part of us that's most focused on replenishment

3. Financial life -- what we do with our paychecks and other money issues

Consistently, most respondents say that they feel they're doing pretty well on one of the life elements. A lesser number feel they're doing OK in two of them. But only a small percentage feels they're doing well in all three (16%, in our last round of questions).

Do those numbers surprise you?

[To see how the readers of this blog compare with others, we've used the weekly poll to get a (very rough) survey at the bottom of this piece.]

I am convinced that the way leaders view the world can have a significant impact on their organizations. And leaders who are more "balanced" in their lives ( e.g., they have time for a personal life as well as doing well in their career life) often behave in their leadership roles differently than those who have a lack of balance.

  • The balanced leader is more likely to see her/his role encompassing developmental issues, and they seem to be focused, more closely, on things affecting their people and other arms of the organization.
  • Leaders who are more one dimensional seem more likely to spend time on the immediate needs or crises. They are less likely to be concerned with issues outside of their purview. Developmental issues (for both themselves and their subordinates) are rarely given priority.

One of my clients has difficulty communicating her messages clearly. Her style is more "masculine" in that she thinks through issues before having a conversation or attending a meeting. She comes in ready to state her position.

But a key problem with coming in to a meeting with one's mind made up is that you may miss the benefit of new information or insight that might change your opinion.

And that's what was happening to her:

  • She often found herself trying to defend her position. She's built a reputation as being defensive, closed-minded, guarded, and too hard core. Those aren't the kind of attributes that are going to help her career path, and, as importantly, it's not the kind of boss anyone would choose. Good people flee as soon as they can.
  • Her results are slumping. While some of that can be chalked up to the economy, she's starting to realize that her lack of balance is a big factor. She "sees" things in a fairly one-dimensional way.

On the other side:

  • Leaders who have more "balance" usually have a broader perspective as well -- this helps them work through issues with greater insight and openness.
  • People want to work for and with them also. And being surrounded with better talent improves results even more (a circle of success).

Summing this up

Although individuals who are entirely focused on their career may enjoy earlier success than others, that usually catches up with them. Ultimately it can result in failure in the only one of the three key life elements they'd focused on. At that point, if they crash, they have little support and few ideas about what to do next. They achieve greater success over the long haul.

Having a satisfying life with balance in two or three of the elements can provide greater satisfaction over the long haul, but it may not feel like it for a while.

Here's to your future.


By John McKee

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, 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...