Hello, everybody, welcome to a new series of blogs and videos called 'The Coaching Conversation' presented by me, Graham Whiley. I've been coaching business leaders for the last two decades and in this series, we're going to explore some of the things I've seen and learnt in that two decades, that will hopefully help you see how you can become more focused, more effective, and happier in your life.
So, it's now time to sit back, relax and enjoy The Coaching Conversation.
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My subject for today is the thorny issue of work-life balance. It’s become something of a current topic, given the return to work for following the COVID pandemic and various lockdowns. But just what is work-life balance?
In simple terms, it's getting both ends of the equation right - the work is being done, and you have a life outside of work that you're happy with. And the truth is, that it’s different for everybody.
It's also going to change over time - As people's personal circumstances change, so will the need for work-life balance. One of the obvious examples is having a family. As a single person, or as a married couple with no children, suddenly finding yourself with a family creates time pressures that weren't there before. And, as you also move on through your life - perhaps as you move towards the end of your career - you may find that you're looking to develop more outdoor or outside interests so that you can move towards retirement with things to do, that you're going to enjoy, that you're involved in, rather than just come to a crashing halt at the end of your career. And you can imagine in-between those two examples, how people's desires and need for a different work-life balance would evolve over time.
Therefore, it's not possible to say work-life balance looks like ‘this’ because it's what you want it to be at that at that moment in time. Work-life balance is unbalanced. If either of those aspects aren't working for you - so if your career is unrewarding, and you're unable to stay on top of the work - that's not right. If you're overworking and unable to get other things of interest into your life, That's not right. And so, it's a matter of setting parameters for yourself and deciding what it is, you would like to see by way of the blend between home and work.
Now, if we just focus on the not working at work bit; the overworked ‘it's not working, I can't cope’. That is usually a symptom, particularly in senior people, of other problems. It's usually a symptom of ineffective delegation. It’s usually symptom of ineffective time management. It could well be that you haven't got the quality of team beneath you that you need. And it could be that you've not learned to manage your boss effectively and to use the word no, sometimes.
Equally, within the work life balance spectrum, the kinds of influences that arise, that drive in imbalance can themselves be very temporary. It could just be a peak workload for a seasonality issue, or a particular project, that have just come and overwhelmed you for a short period of time or a limited period of time. And so, getting to understand where the imbalance is, and what's driving it will in turn give clues as to what you can do to restore some balance.
Now, it's not uncommon for very senior people to delude themselves - that it'll be alright eventually. This is just a peek. This is just a one off. It'll be okay in a month's time, two months' time, whatever. And then you get two months down the road and there's another peak and another peak and another peak. So, you've also got to be really honest with yourself about whether or not this is a peak.
If you identify what the problem is - let's call it delegation - working through delegation can be very, very, very effective provided you are a good delegator; provided the people that you're delegating to are capable. If the issue is about time management is usually about self-discipline. That is usually about prioritising the work that you are going to do, and when you're going to do it. And not everything is important, and not everything is urgent. And understanding which of those are true, or where you should put your immediate focus and time.
If you're also struggling with team members, it may just be you’ve got to face into the fact that they need to be changed. Now, that change could be training them. That change could be hire some more. That change could be hire ones with skills that actually can do what you need to get done.
The problem with out-of-balance work-life-balance is it can be addictive as well. You can get into these ruts you can get into ‘this is how I do things’, ‘Now I've got on, I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't worked like this’. And that's a lie. That's a delusion. But it's easily adopted as a delusion - you can believe it; I can show you.
The other thing about work-life balance (in terms of correcting it) is other people need to buy into what you're doing as well. I don't mean you need to tell them that you've got a work-life balance problem; I mean as you start to work through the issues, and you start to change your working profile, the way you do things other people have to adjust to. So, if you are going to be ‘not the first person in the office’, someone else is going to have to be the first person in the office. And likewise, the last person. If you're not going to be the person everybody comes to for every answer for every decision, someone else has got to pick that responsibility up. And so, it's a team game as much as anything else. Albeit, they might not realise that what you're doing.
Work-life balance is also something that I think most people would say they've not got right. And therefore, it is usually something that you can work on to improve. And it depends on how serious the imbalance is, as to how much you need to do. Work-life balance, therefore, is something that you need to understand and you need to explore. It's not that life is out of balance, it's that you're not doing things correctly to keep them in balance.
One of the most successful managers of all time; one of the most successful managers of a work-life balance I've ever met, is a chap I coached for about four years. He was a business leader; he ran an organisation (and still does) and he was absolutely the boss. He was absolutely the person with whom the buck stopped. However, he was extremely self-disciplined about not being in the office before nine o'clock, and not being in the office after six o'clock. He was extremely self-disciplined about having other things that he did -and these were usually sport related; he was a badminton player, he was a squash player, a cycle rider. And he was absolutely resolute, absolutely determined that those rules didn't get broken. And what happened, as you would expect, is that the people around him worked out ‘that's how stuff gets done around here’. If you want to speak to him, if you want to converse with him about anything, if you need access to him, the hours that he's available are very clear to you and he's not available outside of those hours.
Now, there are other people who would say ‘that's not realistic for me, my operation goes on 24/7 and I need to be available’. ‘I've got an organisation that's global, there are time differences I have to be available when other people are getting up and I'm supposed to be going to bed’ - all those thoughts can go on. But there are limits you can put on that. There are restrictions you can put on that. It doesn't have to be every day; It can only be under certain circumstances - it can be as a last resort. For example, work can be by prior arrangement.
So, in the end, work-life balance is what you choose it to be, and be prepared to be determined to make it happen. If it is that you are with an imbalance in your work-life balance, it's for you to change that. And that's where the clue lies - change - change what you do, change the delegation, change the team, change the expectation, change the rules. If you leave them the same, hey presto, you're going to get the same result. Work life balance therefore, is in your hands.
So, there you have it, the first edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at theexecutivemindset.co.uk
If you want to reach out you can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org you can book a free 30-minute coaching session at theexecutivemindset.co.uk which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.
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