Set your own agenda – or someone else will

A group of my academic colleagues have set up the Switched On Consulting Research Group. Their aim is to further the understanding of how technology and being constantly “switched on” impacts our lives.

Technology that ensures we’re always accessible to colleagues is undoubtedly changing the way we work. For many of us this fast pace results in burnout, poor sleep – essential for recovery – and ever diminishing attention spans. We find ourselves operating in responsive mode – always firefighting.

That’s not how leaders behave. Leadership is about providing clarity and strategic direction. For that we need time to think and time to access the deeper wisdom required to navigate our VUCA world. According to Professor Herminia Ibarra – as I pointed out in this earlier post – we must Act Like Leaders and create that space in our working lives. Nobody else is going to do that for us.

Setting an intention to live in balance should not become another chore. It’s the foundation that enables us to perform at our best in our many roles. Here are three small steps we can take immediately to regain our balance:

  • Re-write outdated scripts and eliminate unnecessary tasks. What in your work and personal life needs to go to provide space for better balance? As parents and workers we’re so often squeezed by other people’s timetables and demands. Aspiring leaders must be strategic thinkers rather than operational doers.
  • Clear the mental pressures by separating – even if just for an hour each day. Switch off the devices and aim for single focus and mental clarity.
  • Get enough rest to refresh and recharge. An emerging trend in recent months has been the greater focus on doing less and being less busy but more productive. Indeed Arianna Huffington is so convinced of the importance of sleep that she’s written a book on the topic.

Listening to a motivational speaker today I was reminded:

“if you don’t have goals of your own you become part of somebody else’s goals.”

Focus on your goal of becoming a Balanced Leader. Pick one small step from the three above and give it a try for the coming month. See whether you become more balanced and more productive. Then get in touch and let me know!

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?

Who’s writing your scripts?

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts”

 

Four centuries after Shakespeare wrote these words the American psychologist Donald Super proposed “A Life-Span, Life-Space approach to Career Development”. He identified nine roles played by human beings as they progress through life; explaining a role as: A set of expectations – defined both by the individual and the wider society – of a person occupying a position. So, for example, the roles of parent and worker each come with a set of expectations – a script.

Super proposed four main theatres where roles were played: the home; the community; the school (including college and university); and the workplace. At the time he developed his theory it was likely that a specific role would be played out primarily in one theatre. Over the years – however – the goalposts have moved; so that – for example – the role of parent is initially played primarily in the home but may also be played in the school and the workplace as the need arises. Similarly the role of worker is increasingly also being played in theatre of the home or the community Third Space.

Where do these role scripts come from? Consider – for example – how you play your roles as parent and worker and answer the following questions:

  • Where did you learn the “script” for the role? Who is judging how successful you are in the role?
  • Is the script for the role still current – or have the goalposts moved? How could you change the script to better serve you? (Perhaps just by making some small adjustments?)
  • Are there other ways you could play the role which would enable better balance in your life? If so, what are the likely implications for the people around you?

Role Conflict or Role Enrichment?

Most of us play several roles simultaneously which means they impinge on each other. According to work life balance theory we can choose to see this negatively and as depleting our energy – the result of juggling conflicting demands. Or we can view each role as enriching the totality of our life experience. In this earlier post I explained how Separators tend to feel more conflict while Integrators experience more enrichment.

Viewing the two roles as complementing each other can bring about a more positive outlook. But as both roles make demands on our time and our emotions we may need to make adjustments in order to achieve that more positive outlook.

Back to those parent and worker roles then:

  • How much of your physical time does each take up? And how much mental or emotional energy?
  • Could you change the impact of these roles on your overall work life balance by reducing – even slightly – the amount of time or emotional energy you’re investing in them?

Super said decision points occur before and at the time of taking on a new role, of giving up an old role, and of making significant changes in the nature of an existing role. And that these decisions are often influenced by the other roles we’re playing.

Make this moment your decision point. Take control and choose how you’ll play your roles going forward. Since you first learned the scripts it’s likely the goal posts have moved. And – given the pace of modern life – will continue to move. To be a Balanced Leader you’ll need to shift your scripts accordingly.

Integrator or Separator – what’s your style?

work life balance
rendering of a compass with a work life balance icon

How do you prefer to manage the interface between work and other aspects of your life? Psychologists place us all on a continuum with Separation at one end – which means a preference for keeping work and non-work separate – and Integration at the other.

Separators prefer not to socialise with work colleagues in their own time. They neither discuss work matters at home nor personal issues at work. Clear physical, psychological and temporal boundaries are maintained between work and home activities. This is the traditional “male” model embedded in workplace cultures during the early part of the last century and still seen as the epitome of professional behaviour in some organisations.

The upside of being a Separator is less pressure on mental resources. When at work you’re focused on work and when at home focused on home rather than constantly switching between the two – which requires considerable mental effort. We’re increasingly recognising that multi-tasking is an ineffective approach to life!  On the downside, these people are more likely to experience conflict between their work and non-work roles – particularly if they are caring for others. For example, it can be hard to focus on work when a loved one is unwell.

Integrators on the other hand prefer to blur the boundaries between work and non-work. Many working mothers will fall into this category and it does have a big upside in that they see the two roles enriching each other. Thus we’re often reminded the same self-organisation skills developed as a parent can be useful at work; while high quality negotiation skills are almost essential for navigating toddler tantrums. On the downside Integrators incur mental costs in switching and have less of a buffer if something goes wrong in one role. They can find it harder to “switch off”.

As technology becomes increasingly more intrusive we too are increasingly expected to behave as Integrators. If that’s your natural style you’ll be fine with this. And it’s undeniable that the advent of mobile phones in particular made it much easier for many mothers to combine work and home roles in ways they could control. On the downside commentators are increasingly saying technology is getting out of control. We’re developing an “always on” culture that poses challenges to our wellbeing. I’m planning on writing more about this in a future post.

For now let me ask: Are you an Integrator or a Separator? Are you happier combining the work and non-work parts of your life? Or do you prefer to keep them separate? And how do your preferences resonate with the people around you?

Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek is a leading work life balance expert whose book ‘CEO of Me considers these preferences and their impact on wellbeing. She has identified a number of “flexstyles”; concedes that compromise is often part of the equation and concludes the important thing is to feel happy and in control rather than unhappy and out of control.

So: does your working style suit you or are you feeling you make too many compromises? If you’re looking for better flexible working strategies you’ll find lots in Ellen’s book.