News & Views

Balancing act

by Sarah O'Neill
1st June 2017
Balancing act, post image

People are always looking for a balance in their lives. If you look around, you see that desire and search everywhere – whether worker or leader, whether young or old. But to get there is a different journey for each of us.

In the past two decades I have been fortunate to have worked in more than 30 foreign cities.

Along the way I have engaged with countless different leaders, and been a leader myself to many hundreds of people. As you would imagine, working and leading in so many different cultures and contexts has been constantly rewarding, exciting – and a little bit addictive. Maybe it hasn’t always been entirely balanced, either.

But for three years now, since 2014, I’ve been working in London. It has been hugely rewarding to be part of this melting pot of humanity and opportunity, but from a more stable base than my previous, more peripatetic life. 

Curious students

One thing I’ve made time for, partly as a function of being more settled, has been to present to and speak with secondary school students who are in the throes of making important decisions related to their future working lives.

I love the curiosity and absolute passion for wanting to know as much as possible that I see in so many students. It’s inspiring to engage with young people trying to get a handle on their working future – and along the way that question of balance comes up again and again.

What I said recently at one session gets to the nub of what I think. It goes like this.

Searching for a work–life balance does not mean you are any less committed to excelling in your work. It is not sign of a lack of passion. Rather, it is the foundation that allows you to be an effective employee – and an effective leader.

Over the years, I have seen so many leaders fall victim to an unbalanced lifestyle. By that I mean a life with too much work and with little or no play or personal time. Ultimately these leaders they have given everything for their working life and for the business, but what do they have to show for that choice? I think they are the poorer for it. Being in the office all day, living and breathing the business alongside the same people, will not bring you fresh ideas and a rounded perspective. To be effective, you need new ideas and inspirations – and that means regularly getting some separation from the working bubble. 

The challenge of finding that delicate balance between work and personal life is tougher than ever, of course. The demands on the job and the round-the-clock accessibility that technology has brought us can sometimes be a curse.

What’s the best way to confront this?

One simple way – the best, in my experience – is to book in personal time in your diary like any other appointment.

We can add, too, that leading a balanced life also requires an openness to all that life has to offer and a willingness to go with the flow. It is important, whether as a leader or as an employee, to be open to a full breadth of experiences – those that open up new avenues for you to meet interesting people, and to shape your thinking about every part of your life. These days, as well as my booked-in time away from work, I get my life balance from activities like mentoring, doing community service, connecting with leading thinkers in a variety of fields, and through some selective networking with peers, competitors and customers.

What’s also clear to me is that my time spent helping students obtain a better understanding of the working world is one of the very best ways that I find that balance in my life. It is rewarding knowing that I am helping young people with their future choices, for sure. But it also helps me gain a different perspective on the world we live in – and those views really do help me to develop my thinking and my leadership style. It’s something I will always keep in my life, if I possibly can.

The ideas in this post are also explored in Andy Maher’s ebook, Leadership Lessons from a Corporate Adventurer. Find it on Amazon.

by Andy Maher

Partner at Waypoint Partners

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