In this article, we delve into the key tactics to maintain balance as a leader - an often overlooked aspect of improvement initiatives.
That elusive work-life balance is something that feels tantalisingly close but we never quite get there. More often than not we find ourselves at the other end of the spectrum. We end up out of sync with one or more areas in life. The sacrifices we have made in those areas are generally nowhere near worth the benefit of the thing (usually work) we dedicated our time to.
As Leaders in work, in our home, and in the community, it is critical we are able to present the best version of ourselves consistently. In order to achieve this we must attain a sense of balance and harmony within ourselves and external worlds. Continuous improvement relies heavily on a leader’s ability to lead from a place of respect, service, empathy and integrity. Lean thinking requires leaders to communicate clearly, openly, and consistently work to serve the team in order reach their process and improvement objectives. All of this occurs while elevating others. Not to mention developing the emerging and current leadership capability in their sphere of influence.
4 Elements to Maintain Balance as a Leader
Giving ourselves a structure and framework from which to view balance is the critical first step. Everyone will have their own perspective on this however, I believe there are four key elements to maintaining balance successfully as a leader and as a human being.
Protect the asset – our health is our wealth. Leadership is demanding in every sense, particularly on our bodies. Leaders require everlasting energy to propel them through the day, the month, the year, the next project.
Leaders need to ensure they are physically able, that they have a clear mind and can achieve focus consistently every day. As our bodies age and our lives become fuller this challenge grows. If your health and physical wellbeing are in poor shape then everything else suffers – you might be overweight, fatigued, at risk of chronic illness - your immune system will be compromised. How often do we see people on the path to burnout and illness because they burn the candle at both ends until something gives. Unfortunately, some people never recover from this.
The remedy is simple – eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly and monitor the key indicators such as your healthy weight range and have regular check-ups for a person of your age. Find positive ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
Leaders must continuously work to improve themselves, their knowledge and learning capability. Intellectual balance comes with maintaining a beginners or growth mindset. We must maintain curiosity and non-judgement. We must genuinely want to be challenged and learn. This often means getting out of the comfort zone and putting aside our inherent biases; being prepared to take on new or different perspectives.
Intellectual stimulation comes from seeking knowledge through reading, further professional or personal development. That includes being prepared to ask questions, challenge our beliefs, speak less and listen more. It’s important to practice humility and acknowledge how much we don’t know. We should build on our knowledge base and be confident in the knowledge we have gained through our experience and education.
Continued growth and intellectual stimulation contributes to our mental acuity – or mental sharpness. As a leader it is critical to maintain excellent levels of mental acuity to help us optimise and improve:
- Processing speed and comprehension
- Working memory (making decisions and problem solving)
- Episodic memory (recalling events, people and places)
- Focus and pay attention to the right things
- Situational awareness / judgement
Other things that can help us optimise our mental state are things like sleep, diet, exercise, mindfulness or meditation, and brain training. A fully functioning brain with improved cognitive health allows leaders to operate at the highest capacity. It enables us to reach optimal performance to become sharp, accurate, confident, present, and attentive - a source of wisdom and energy.
Cognitive health is not fixed. It can improve or decline, like physical health. Regardless of genetic and environmental factors good habits can be acquired to improve and maintain cognition.
Maintaining an emotional balance is critical for successful leadership. Our job as leaders first and foremost is to keep our people safe and in order to do that we must behave in a calm and consistent manner. Leaders going up and down on the emotional rollercoaster cause significant damage to themselves, their teams and their individual relationships. The emotional highs and lows take their toll as people don’t know what or when to expect volatile behaviour. Sometimes this can only be a look, but it is enough to create instability and disfunction as people shutdown to protect themselves.
A leader's journey must start with self-awareness and more importantly self-control. That self-control and discipline ensures that leaders words, action and behaviours stay consistent and build trust and integrity in the environment. The inner world is always reflected in what is going on externally.
Emotional stability and balance comes with an understanding that emotions are normal and will pass through the body and mind. The challenge is not to react to the stimulus and for leaders to maintain a calm and positive mindset regardless of the situation. Whether things are going to crap, or whether they are going swimmingly, a leader must provide stability and certainty in their behaviour. Leaders must strive to be mindful and present through continued practice. One should learn to use techniques such as breathwork, mindfulness and meditation to control the ebbs and flows of emotion and to stay in control at all times.
Emotional instability can cause a great deal of harm to the individual as they crash between anger through to elation. Being so emotionally tied to expectations and outcomes causes a great deal of stress to mind and body. Over time this takes a toll on people’s mental health and well-being. Both the individuals experiencing the emotions and those around them deal with the manifestations of them.
Balance from a social aspect is about keeping and maintaining the key relationships in your life. All too often the work itself or work relationships and acquaintances can take precedence over those closest to us. We must never take for granted the people who should matter most – our immediate loved ones and families.
It means that we must establish and maintain boundaries that protect those relationships. Our time and attention has to be prioritised to ensure those relationships are nurtured appropriately. Far too often, significant events in our families lives are missed due to work commitments or perceived work pressures. The moment will pass with the work yet the shared moment with those close to us would be cherished and remembered for a lifetime. It can also be a case of not being present when we are there with our families – being distracted by phone calls, emails or lost in our thoughts.
It is also about surrounding yourself with the right people and seeking guidance from role models, mentors and people who inspire you. The question is: what sort of person / leader do you want to be? Are you prepared to continuously pursue the very best version of yourself through discipline and perseverance?
Balance is found when we can compartmentalise these competing demands. It is found when we ensure we are not short changing or sacrificing our responsibilities as spouses, parents and children at the expense of work.
It Takes Discipline To Maintain Balance as a Leader
Ultimately if we find ourselves lacking or unbalanced in any of these areas then everything else will inevitably suffer or break. As leaders we must endeavour to create sustainable structures in life that have a holistic approach to the facets listed above. It’s not a case of keeping everything perfectly in balance at all times but understanding where the checks and balances are and being aware when things start to slip or drift keeps us in a position to right the ship.