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Leading By Example

Work-life balance has been rising in importance in the last decade, particularly as new, younger employees enter the workforce in increasing numbers. For learning leaders, the old axiom “lead by example” holds true here; leaders who approach their personal lives with the same developmental discipline that they do in their professional lives will see their company culture follow suit. The result is employees with sustainable levels of energy and high engagement.

Money Isn’t Everything

Researchers at the Gallup World Poll surveyed thousands of respondents in 155 countries between 2005 and 2009 in order to measure well-being. Although the study reported that there is a positive correlation between life satisfaction and income, it concluded that positive feelings also depend strongly on other factors, such as feeling respected and connected to others.

According to authors of The Plan, John M. McKee and Helen Latimer, there is a misconception that being financially successful will lead to being satisfied. Satisfaction, according to them, lies in true contentment in all facets of life – personal life, career growth and financial management.

“Leaders have to take the same approach to their own life as they do with their organization that they’re overseeing,” McKee said. “They need long-term life objectives. Leaders are good at personal development projections for the next few weeks or months, but aren’t so good at projecting five, 10 years from now. They forget to use the same training they’re applying and teaching on business issues to personal issues.”

McKee believes that the majority of leaders focus singularly on one aspect of their life, most often not detaching from the job. Those without jobs in these prolonged turbulent economic times continue to focus solely on obtaining employment and not on the sacrifices poor employment choices will make on the balance in their life.

“People are so desperate to get employed that they’ll take any job,” McKee said. “I encourage those people to take this time that they’re out of work to make a plan for where they want to be in 10 to 15 years. They should create action steps that will help them get there, that will help them make the right choice when seeking and hopefully obtaining employment.”

Joseph Grzywacz, an associate professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said people who look at employment and unemployment tend to think all jobs are created equal. But according to researchers at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, participants in a study who transitioned from being unemployed to being employed in a poor-quality job showed a worsening of their mental health.

Striking A Balance

It is up to learning leaders and others who directly influence employee development to share the importance of obtaining a personal and professional balance with the workforce.

“As executives running a firm, there are things that you can do [to promote work-life balance] as formal as the other business policies you place and trainings you administer,” Latimer said. “You can stress [work-life balance’s] importance through employee evaluations, mentoring and other development programs. It can be done in multiple levels in formal and informal ways as long as the objective is to make a plan for employees to achieve success in all aspects of life.”

According to Gregg Thompson, president of Bluepoint Leadership Development, leaders too often attempt to be universally admired heroes – a vain pursuit.

“Most leaders try to correct work-life balance by using three things they have been using all their careers: delegate more, organize better, prioritize work,” Thompson said. “Both work and non-work are insatiable draws on your life. A balance is about being committed to bring the best to both. It may sound over simplistic, but by doing so, when you’re at work you’re living it up that way as well. You’re continuing to pursue your passions [and] interests and serving your family as well because you continuously have the life aspect of the equation in your mind. While at play, you’re enjoying recreational activities; this aspect also contributes to leadership development. Leaders forget that it’s OK to play.”

In a time when many employees continue to be satisfied by simply being employed, it’s important to remind both leaders and their subordinates that satisfaction comes from more than the hours, projects and decisions made at work. Without stability in all aspects of life, leaders risk becoming depleted – less focused, less energetic, less decisive.

Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@clomedia.com.