So you climbed that mythical corporate ladder and now you have the promotion you’ve always wanted. You’ve got a team and plenty of responsibility. You also have a certain sense of achievement and accomplishment.
But you’re realizing that what you don’t have is a life.
Of course, work and life aren’t actually separate; work, and our role at work, is part of our life.
But it’s very easy to get sucked into the addictive nature of our work and put all of our energy in that direction. There is an entire body of research on workaholism that suggests that work can become our “drug” of choice.
Allow me to elaborate on this idea of the addictive nature of work:
For some leaders, work is the one place where they feel a sense of control and power. This can be very enticing because it feels good and because we all want to feel autonomous.
I’ve had more than one executive tell me that when they are at work almost everyone listens to them, but at home they can’t even get their kids to clean their rooms. Also, most leaders I know see their work and the money they earn from it as the main source of security. Thus, they feel the need to protect it with everything they’ve got. They start to believe that if they turn away from it for one second, everything will be at risk. Without that current title and the paycheck that comes with it, they may lead a life on the streets with no food or water.
Lastly, work is the main place that many leaders find their sense of approval in the world. The pats on the back for a job well done and the accolades that come with each promotion and achievement become the proof that they matter in the world.
So, work becomes the main source of control, security, and approval.
Therefore, the outsourcing of these three very human needs to solely the definable role of work causes many leaders to suddenly feel as though they have no life at all. And when this occurs, we often describe it is as feeling “out of balance.”
The other key to understanding how this happens is to keep in mind that it occurs unconsciously for almost everyone in a leadership role at work. We don’t pause long enough (or at all) to reflect on how we are living our lives until we are forced to do so because we are losing important relationships, we became ill, or we are finally beginning to fail in our work in some way.
The good news is that once leaders wake up to the reality of a lack of vitality and balance in their life, shifting things becomes much more doable. Also, most leaders discover that they don’t have to give up their work but rather to do it in a more effective way.
One leader I worked with would spend no less than 80 hours a week working. Once she shifted her attention and got clear about what she really wanted to experience in her life, it also allowed her team to step up and to grow in ways she hadn’t seen as possible before. This isn’t always easy and it requires a great amount of courage, but the same energy that leaders put into their work can be brought into the full scope of their life.
We have a previously aired episode for you this week! For the rest of July, we are taking a look back at some of the most powerful episodes here on The Super Fantastic Leadership Show Podcast!
We’re going all the way back to episode 1: Dr. Daphne Scott and Dr. Katie Hendricks explored the concept of context and why it is more important that content. In our leadership roles, we become very focused on content and what we’re supposed to say and do, however, we very rarely consider the context in which our work is being done.
For example, are we feeling closed and defensive, or experiencing more of an interest in looking good in front of our peers? We explore this entire concept to support leaders in becoming more present to the real driver of success with their teams: context.
As a leadership coach, I encounter a lot of the same struggles across organizations, and I recently heard these sort of struggles referred to as “evergreen challenges.” One of the biggest evergreen challenges that busy executives speak to me about is work-life balance.
Before we dive in, let me reveal that I’m not a huge fan of that phrase. First, it’s a false dichotomy which implies that I am either living or at work, but not both at the same time (which just really makes no sense). Moreover, the idea of being balanced implies some sort of static nature. Yet, we are far from that; we are dynamic organisms and so are our businesses, despite most leaders’ efforts to make them seem static and unwavering.
But all of that aside, what is it that people are really pointing to by using this phrase work-life balance? What is it that we really want?
In the simplest terms, we want to have the experience of our mind and our body being in the same place at the same time; we want a certain quality to our attention.
When I’m at home, I want my attention to be at home with my family, children, and significant other. When I’m at work, I want my attention to be at work, focusing on the key actions that will allow me to be effective in my role.
Thus, our deepest joy comes from the quality of our attention and our innate desire to be fully present to our experience.
This experience of absorption in what we are doing has been examined from a lot of different angles, but the description that most resonated with me comes from the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
In it, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi describes the experience that we have when we are so absorbed in what we are doing that time drifts away. We have a moment of forgetting about ourselves and letting go of our own self-consciousness, and the mind forgoes its natural tendency to drift into the past and the future. What is likely true in those moments is that our attention is directed in a certain way that allows us to be absorbed in the moment-by-moment experience. We are relaxed, alert, and free.
Focusing on just one thing at a time can seem like an insurmountable challenge when the alerts are firing from your email, the kids are yelling in the background and you’re on a conference call, and you have to keep reminding yourself to not forget to reply to an email in the morning. Alas, it seems that our body is frequently in one place while our mind is elsewhere.
And we give ourselves all types of excuses and reasons to continue in this disjointed state. The sheer panic I see when I suggest to a leader that he or she turn off all of their phone alerts is expression enough of our fear of being fully present to our lives. Ironically, most people are unaware of the mind’s tendency to drift away from the moment and compulsively check their phone anyway; research has shown that the average person checks their phone between 35-74 times per day.
And yet, no one has ever complained to me that they missed a life-altering text message because their phone wasn’t dinging on a regular, chaotic basis.
To be clear, it isn’t that alerts or phones that are the issue – they aren’t. However, these dings and vibrations add to the number of things that are competing for our attention.
But all is not lost. It’s possible to take responsibility for the quality of our attention so that we can be present and effective in all of our roles in life.
A good place to start is by implementing a trusted system to capture all of your tasks, and to set aside time to update it daily and weekly. My favorite approach to this mindfulness practice comes from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.
Having all of our tasks organized is not only a practical and actionable approach to managing the stuff of our lives; it also allows us to relax so that our mind and our body are in the same place at the same time.
And that is where we find our greatest joy – no work-life balance required.
This week, we are talking about flexible work schedules and why we have to STOP calling it that! Is it really a flexible work schedule? Do I really get to work whenever, however? If I don’t feel like working on Monday, is that cool? Wait! My hours are cut?!? I’m not going to make enough money this week!
We will discuss all of our reasons behind today’s topic, as well as the impact that this has on our businesses, employees, and even customers! It’s wise to clearly define what the work schedules truly mean in your workplace as work still needs to get done. Also, we do need to have empathy and compassion in our workforce, so we will discuss best practices for you!
Have you ever experienced and/or been a part of the infamous “us versus them” in a work environment? Oh, you’re from corporate? Well, those people in that department aren’t like us. Fill in the blank for your specific situation. The problem with this is that now we are creating division and a “plague” of separation that can destroy entire teams and organizations.
The “us versus them” attitude and culture NEVER works. So, this week, we are discussing all things “us versus them” and how you can put a stop to this, avoid it in the future, and create an atmosphere of connection and teamwork.
Complaining about our problems has always been a popular pastime, especially in the workplace. And it’s been estimated that the average person spends approximately 10 hours a week complaining or listening to others complain while at work. Not only is this not productive, it also creates a lot of toxicity.
When we think of complaining, we often think of the outright moaning and groaning. But there is another, more subtle form of complaining that pervades our work lives, too. Here is a story to illustrate:
I was observing an executive team as they discussed an issue with their email server and a new migration that was taking place. What I noticed as this team discussed the issue, was that the first 15 minutes of the conversation was spent listening to each person recount his or her horrible experience with the migration.
What happened after the first 15 minutes though was even more interesting. One person (who we will call Bob) spoke up, “I think the solution might be to see if we can have just certain parts of the data moved at a time and stop the current process, which obviously isn’t working.” The room immediately fell silent.
What Bob had done was show up with a solution, and voiced it. It may not have been the right solution, or even the best one (that remained to be seen), but it was certainly better than continuing to complain about the issue. The conversation from that point on centered on how they could bring the issue under control to get back on track, and then they were onto the next agenda item.
It’s easy to get caught up in a complaint-session-cloaked-as-an-agenda-topic, because it really feels like we’re doing something about it by spending time complaining about it. After all, the agenda says that we should be discussing the issue. Doesn’t that count as discussing the issue?
What we unconsciously get duped into is spending an unnecessary amount of time recycling the issue rather than solving it.
Studies have shown that being solution-focused is better than being problem-focused. In other words, staring at a flat tire and wondering about the many ways it could have become flat while you’re stranded on the side of the highway does nothing to support you in getting on your way. Once the problem has been identified, there is nothing left to do but create all of the possible solutions.
It can be tempting to waste time and energy venting about the problem, but it’s much better to be Bob.
These three, very important, characteristics are essential to helping the best leaders to see things that others may not. Humility allows us to think of ourselves less. Curiosity allows us to learn and grow, and in the case of our teams, listen to (and HEAR) all of the perspectives. Mindfulness allows us to develop the skills of awareness and then “be with” what is occurring.
Granted, we will all see different things and miss things that others do see, but today, we will share, with you, how you can begin the mastery process of these three characteristics so that you can begin to see what others may not. AND, maybe even consider yourself in the “best leaders” category!
This week, we are discussing how to address situations that can feel awkward and sensitive at work. For example, things like gender and race, harassment, and even the way someone is dressed. Ignoring these issues doesn’t help. Neither does addressing them unwisely.
Almost every leader has had to navigate a conversation that can feel sensitive and awkward and we want to ensure that we handle this correctly. First of all, we need to start with knowing and understanding our own motivations. Then we also have to acknowledge our own vulnerability in having these conversations. But how do we do this?
We will give you tips, examples, and healthy ways to successfully navigate these conversations in a way that is mutually beneficial and respectful!
Leaders must be able to manage conflict on their teams. In other words, they must support people in disagreeing (which they inevitably will), and then support them in reaching a decision that will allow the team to move forward, together.
The most important part of doing this well is the skillful navigation of feelings and emotions, which is a part of conflict management that we rarely consider.
A good place to start when supporting an individual in working with their emotions is to source empathy. Empathy isn’t just our ability to imagine what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes. It also includes compassion, or the desire to support another person.
This doesn’t mean “fixing” anything for them, but rather providing a safe environment where the person can be who they are in that moment. They may be angry, frustrated, scared, nervous, agitated, or any myriad of feelings that they may be experiencing at the time.
What we often forget when someone is experiencing a strong emotion is that we don’t need to make it go away for them; emotions move along of their own accord when we let them be.
And actually when we fight against them and don’t allow them room to breathe, we become more identified with them and try to resist that discomfort, which only makes it worse.
Next, breathe. Support this person to take several deep breaths before speaking about their experience. This not only slows down the experience, but also creates a literal shift in physiology. With strong emotional reactions, our breathing becomes shorter and we begin to go into a fight-or-flight response, which means we don’t have access to our best reasoning or brainpower.
Finally, ask open-ended questions. This will allow them to gain perspective of their emotional experience, so that they can see that things are not as black and white as they seem. Open-ended questions like, “What happened?” and “What were you trying to accomplish or do at that moment?” and “Is there anything you would do differently now?” are all helpful in gaining perspective.
This week we are discussing managing our energy! This is typically and mistakenly referred to as managing our time, however, our energy is the key here! Unfortunately, a common theme for many leaders is one of overwhelm and having too much on our plates. BUT!! We have some solutions!
We’ll share examples, tools you can use, and overall tips. We want you, after this episode, to be able to feel well, jive with what you are doing, and have enough time to do the things you WANT to do! So practice, pause, collect, and decide what you need to do, get it in a trusted system, and enjoy the moment!