One aspect of leadership I am asked about more frequently than almost any other – by both men and women – is work-life balance. That elusive, sometimes mythical concept that it’s possible to have a career, a family, and a life.
Can you really have it all?
As I point out in Leading Through the Turn, I believe you can have it all, just not all at the same time. But many of us still struggle with the idea of work-life balance. Why? Frankly, not much about life feels in balance:
- Our leadership experiences are often mentally and physically exhausting.
- We constantly give in to the temptation to focus on destinations with little to no regard for the journey of life.
- We tend to compartmentalize things like work, family, and hobbies, rather than seeing them as interrelated.
But there is a better way. It looks more like work-life blending, a true integration of both parts of life.
Jane Lin-Baden, my good friend and colleague, is one of those leaders who artfully weaves work and personal interests into her life. Jane is the Asia-Pacific CEO for Isobar, a digital agency that is part of Dentsu Aegis Network, our global parent company. She oversees 2,500 people in 13 countries throughout the region. She’s led eye-popping revenue growth, and she and her teams have won countless awards.
But she’s also a wife and mom who enjoys boxing and making custom cosmetics. When we visited recently about the challenges and joys of leadership, Jane shared four guiding beliefs that help her successfully integrate work, family, and personal passions. These are things any of us can incorporate, regardless of where we are in our leadership journey. Read on, and I promise you’ll also discover plenty of tips for becoming a happier, better leader.
One of Jane’s primary goals – “to be my best self and to help others do the same” – reflects a selfless approach to authenticity that helps everyone involved achieve greater balance.
Being your best, both personally and professionally, leads to a more holistic view of life and a healthier perspective on how to balance the different demands you face. It also makes it so much easier for others to really get to know, understand, and follow your leadership.
And “helping others do the same” allows you to more readily create an atmosphere of acceptance and appreciation for the differences in others. Learning to respect the various talents and life choices of teammates is particularly important as everyone strives to find some sense of balance between their work obligations and personal responsibilities.
“It’s important to remember that people can be in very different stages of growth and development,” Jane said. “Everyone has their own pace, and maintaining a healthy pace is crucial for a sustainable work-life experience. Leaders must help everyone be their best no matter where each person is in their personal and professional journey.”
2. Pursue your passions.
Find the time to invest in other parts of your life. This can come through hobbies, volunteer work, or other activities. We typically seek things that interest or challenge us. When we follow our hearts and pursue our passions, a boundless joy and deep sense of satisfaction complement the rewards we already receive from our work. I was inspired by how Jane integrates her many passions into her busy life. The breadth of her activities reminds us not to limit ourselves, and to look for the ways our hobbies help develop us as leaders.
- Jane trains volunteers who assist people dealing with tragedy in their lives. Her focus on helping the brokenhearted enables her to bring empathy to the workplace. Compassion is not something found on a P&L, yet it’s a quality of many great leaders.
- Boxing is a hobby Jane enjoys, not merely for the exercise but because it enhances her concentration skills and her ability to think on her feet. In the heat of the battle, you must keep your wits about you. You must be completely focused on what is happening and alert to the unexpected, a critical leadership skill especially in times of great change. Boxing also reinforces Jane’s belief in aiming high. When throwing a punch, you always look slightly above the point where you want to hit.
- Jane’s love of art lives through her interest in making custom cosmetics. She enjoys the creative aspects of this hobby, which was influenced by family members who have backgrounds in chemistry. She’s created her own formula and can customize the products for friends. Thinking creatively can significantly enhance your problem-solving capabilities and enable you to bring fresh, new ideas to your work.
3. Learn from lowly tasks.
Some of the most valuable experiences in your leadership journey come from unexpected challenges and unpleasant tasks. These character-shaping moments can pay big dividends by helping you become the leader – and the person – you want to be.
Jane shared a story about a valuable lesson she learned from a rather lowly assignment while working at Sotheby’s London in her first job after college.
“I loved art,” she told me. “And I always wanted to have my own auction gallery. My very first assignment was to clean up their archive room, where they stored almost 80 years of auctioning history files. Nobody wanted to go into that room. I remember telling my mom I was too educated to be doing something so mundane.”
So Jane turned it into a post-grad research assignment.
“I decided I would lock myself in that room for six months and go through every file to better understand the industry and figure out if this was the career path for me,” she said. “I wanted to do my best and make sure that when I left that room, I would know more about it than anyone else.”
That six-month journey taught Jane the importance of tenacity, humility, and optimism. Even the lowliest of jobs has value and should be done to the best of your ability. This particular experience helped her as her career blossomed, particularly when she faced challenging situations. But she also applied those lessons in her personal life, which contributed to greater balance.
“I believe we are given certain obstacles in life specifically to refine our character,” she said. “We all must face an archive room. You must make the most of a difficult situation and learn whatever you can from it. As a leader, you are also in a position to encourage and support others who are going through something similar whether at work or at home.”
4. Make good choices. Much of leadership is about making choices and finding the best path forward. This is especially important when striking a balance between your professional and personal life.
You can’t take on everything and always expect to be your best. You must be selective, delaying or turning down some worthy opportunities so you can focus on others. Being selective about what you take on at work allows you to reserve time and energy for family and personal pursuits. Likewise, being intentional about your personal obligations allows you to minimize unnecessary stress when time demands and schedules collide.
Jane makes choices at work easier for herself and her team by establishing a clear vision and goals. This enables everyone to keep their focus where it should be and to say “no” to things that only distract from reaching those goals.
At home, she involves her family when making major decisions about her career. For example, when Jane was offered the CEO role, she sat down with her family to weigh the pros and cons. “I needed them to know what the trade-offs would be, because we are a team and I knew we were going to go through them together.”
The lesson here is powerful: Life is short, and how we spend our time has a great impact on those around us. We are accountable to more than just ourselves. We are also accountable to our teams at work and to our families at home. Consider both when you make key decisions.
Download our leadership cheat sheet outlining these four guiding principles and 13 tips for becoming a happier, better leader here.