Reviewing progress and celebrating victories

We’ve reached that point in the year when even the busiest of us endeavour to carve out some time for reflection. To consider the year that’s finishing and how the New Year might be different. Reflection is generally a good thing and when we choose to carve out our path as a Balanced Leader it becomes essential. We’re slowly creating a new paradigm of 21st Century leadership and recognising that work-life balance is personal and dynamic. As we close 2016 I offer you five questions. Reflecting on your experiences will enable you to find better balance in 2017.

  1. When during this year did you feel your life was in balance? Please think hard and try to identify even the briefest moments. What made you notice that things were balanced? What else did you notice? What were you doing at the time? How could you do more of it in the coming year to make balance a more regular feeling? What were people around you doing to support you? How might you influence them to support you more regularly?
  2. How did your life roles change this year? Did your children grow another year older and less dependent on you? Or did your parents grow another year older and more dependent? How did your work circumstances change? Did you feel compelled to work longer hours? Were you able to find more flexibility – perhaps by working remotely? Did these changes highlight areas where your skills need to be enhanced?
  3. How did technology impact your quest for balance? If you’re a separator to what extent did other people’s expectations and behaviours add to your feelings of imbalance? If you’re an integrator did you spot areas where you need to set better boundaries?
  4. What role models did you come across this year? Who inspired you or opened your eyes to alternative working possibilities? Who encouraged you to strive for better balance? And where were you able to be a role model for others?
  5. When did you show courage? Perhaps in managing your boundaries or renegotiating expectations. When did you experience moments of mindfulness that led you to realise boundaries need to be more clearly defined?

So, as the old year closes we celebrate the small steps that led us in the direction of our vision, acknowledge the journey continues and ask ourselves: what’s the next small step for 2017?

Going deeper with our self-care

The received wisdom is that women tend to be poor at self-care – putting the needs of others ahead of their own. And much of the advice about rectifying this centres around suggestions such as finding some “me time”, having a regular massage or pamper treatment and making time for fun activities and friends.

These are all laudable pursuits but if we’re going to rise to the challenges of Balanced Leadership we need to go much deeper with our self-care. Specifically we need to cultivate self-compassion, healthy breathing (yes, you read that right) and control of our boundaries.

According to world leading self-compassion expert Dr Kristin Neff:

With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.

Many of us are very bad at doing that. A wealth of research suggests working women have a tendency to be perfectionists. And we’re very quick to beat ourselves up when we think we’ve screwed up. The truth is: sometimes you will screw up –  we all do. And if you’re a working mother people will lay the blame on the fact that you’re not focused enough on your career. Should you be working a flexible arrangement they’ll be keen to point out it’s clearly unworkable.

The point of my Balanced Leader coaching and training is to support working mothers to feel confident they’ll screw up less. To develop skills and to be prepared for contingencies. But we’re all human and it’s an uncertain and imperfect world. To regain our composure and focus on being Balanced Leaders in those moments we need to practice self-compassion.

Many of us also need to develop better breathing habits. We spend our days hunched over devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops which compresses our lungs and leads to shallow breathing. When the going gets tough and we’re concentrating hard we may even have a habit of holding our breath. It’s no wonder we end up feeling tired much of the time.

According to Max Strom – one of my favourite yoga teachers – in Chinese medicine the lungs contain, store and express grief and inspiration. How can we fully open ourselves up to these emotions if we don’t fully open our lungs? Those of us who are parents know how joyfully babies breathe. And how quickly that joy can become suppressed with hours and hours spent sitting at a school desk.

Developing the regular habit of checking our breathing and of having moments of self-compassion will ensure we remain more mindful as we go through our busy days. Those moments of mindfulness will make us more aware of where we’re losing control of our boundaries and more likely to make adjustments. In this way we become focused on deeper self-care, nurturing ourselves on the Balanced Leader journey.

The two key skills you must cultivate


Businesspeople Quarreling In Front Of Businessman Meditating

To succeed on the Balanced Leader journey there are two key skills you must cultivate: mindfulness and self-responsibility.

Despite the current preponderance of books on the topic, interest in mindfulness is not a new phenomenon. As an Eastern concept and practice it’s been around for centuries. One of the earliest pioneers to bring it to the West was Jon Kabat Zinn who defines mindfulness as:

“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”

Many people consider mindfulness a spiritual or religious practice but Kabat Zinn’s definition implies this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, I came to mindfulness many years ago while taking lessons in the Alexander Technique. The point was to notice what I was doing with my body moment by moment. To catch myself when I tensed my neck and shoulders leading to stress headaches; and when I was slumping in my chair restricting my breathing leading to feelings of tiredness.

I first chose to apply mindfulness to my work while interviewing others. I realised that in many cases my interviewee’s future was directly in my hands. I would make a decision about whether to take the process further based on our discussions; and I must be present to the other person in order to make the right decision. Being present in the moment – moment by moment as Kabat Zinn says – was a challenge then and is an even bigger one now that we’re surrounded by so many technologically based distractions.

So mindfulness is something we make the commitment to cultivate and it’s like anything else. The more we practice the better we get. I’m not an avid reader of mindfulness books but one I have come across recently that I rather liked is ‘This is Happening’ by Rohan Gunatillake who also developed the buddhify app.

Mindfulness is an essential tool in our armoury since without it we can easily lose sight of our boundaries and our vision of how we want our balanced life to work.

Self-responsibility on the other hand is the attitude we adopt when we choose to be one hundred per cent responsible for everything that happens to us. Yes, of course there are other players and outside circumstances going on. And we always have a choice of coming from a place of being the victim of these or one of self-empowerment.

Let’s say – for instance – that your workplace culture doesn’t currently support flexible working at managerial levels. You have a choice. You can either tell yourself “it’s not going to be possible here – I may as well leave” or you take a deep breath and ask “how could I change this situation?” You prepare a short TED talk style presentation summarising the way your new arrangement would work and the benefits to everyone.

Or let’s say one of your clients is a little miffed because he couldn’t reach you yesterday – even though you made it clear from the outset that you work flexibly. Rather than being annoyed he’s forgotten you look at how you can improve your client management skills so there’s no repeat of the situation.

Accepting radical self-responsibility requires us to constantly step up to the leadership role in any situation. To be clear on the balance we want in our lives. To identify where our power lies to change things; and which of our skills we need to enhance to achieve the results we’re looking for.

A commitment to cultivating mindfulness and self-responsibility is the essential foundation we need to support us on the Balanced Leader journey.