Every leader is going to run into the struggle of work-life balance. Search that term and you’ll have everyone telling you how to effectively separate them, but I don’t think that’s possible. We are wired to thrive on relationships, and those very relationships play into how we experience life in the workplace, at home, and in social settings.
This topic is fresh on my mind after a conversation with a young leader recently about his weekend. Married with kids means an action-packed schedule almost every night and weekend, but he’s also in a very demanding job that’s nowhere near 9-5. He doesn’t seem to have time for it all. If this is your life, or if this will be your life one day, here’s some simple advice on how to keep your sanity and honor those around you:
- Recognize Priority: Work is important, but recognize that it’s not at the top of the list. If it’s at the top of your list once your married and have kids, you won’t be worth staying married to and you won’t know your kids when they grow up. That’s hard to hear but it’s just so cliche. Look at how many empty-nesters are getting divorced because they got this wrong in the early years. Family comes first, followed by everything else. Any other way and you’ll pay the price. Here is some good advice I got early in my career from a mentor – “View your job as a fundraiser for the things you’re passionate about”. When you put work into that context it motivates you to work hard and achieve success, but for the right reasons.
- Make Relationship Deposits: My wife is the most important thing in the world to me, followed by my two kids. Everything else in life will come and go, but they deserve my best. I give them my best by making relationship deposits. Think of it like your own personal bank account. If you keep spending and never add more money to your account, the bank will eventually close your account and file a judgment on you for your overdrawn balance. I know to provide for my family I have to work hard, and I have to sleep somewhere in there too. So that means I have two choices with the rest of the time I have available. I can give my family the leftovers or I can be intentional and present with them every chance I get. With Missy, I do this by planning a weekend getaway at least 4 times a year. We also have a lunch date every week. With the kids, I plan dates with them and take them to do things they love. Sometimes it’s a day trip to hike and fish, and sometimes it’s a Saturday lunch and bowling trip.
- Give Them 100%: Proximity doesn’t mean you’re spending time together. Whatever it is I do with Missy or the kids, I try to make sure they get all of me, so that means I leave the distractions of work behind. Think about it. Would our weekly lunch have nearly the same impact if I spent the entire time on my phone? Nope. But this is so crucial and you may completely miss it, so I am going to say it again. Put the phone down, don’t check emails, be present with them. Give them 100% of you when you are with them. The rest of that stuff will be there later. After all, when you’re at work, that’s what is expected of you right? If you spent a lot of your work day talking to your friends or spouse, you wouldn’t last long. So shouldn’t your family, your top priority, get the same benefit your office does?
Easier said than done? Of course, but if everything was easy, we wouldn’t need you. Why is all this so important? Because there are going to be days where you have to stay late to hit a deadline, or are hard to reach because of your busy schedule, or have to work a weekend event, or travel for the company, or take a client’s call during dinner, or…sound familiar? Without making deposits ahead of time (putting the hard work into the relationship), you won’t have the funds to cash all those checks and your family’s support will eventually fade away. I’ve seen it so many times I can’t even count anymore.
Now, you may be sitting there questioning how you can do all this and still climb the ladder, make more money, and truly make your mark as a leader. If you prioritize those in the right order, it can happen. The thoughts above are easy to make priority and if you do them long enough they become something you plan around. Look around. Some of the most successful leaders in the country are also great family men and women. And if we asked each of them how they did it, I bet somewhere in their answer would be “I had my priorities right”. On the other hand, if climbing the ladder and making more money come ahead of family, then you need to stay single and not have kids please. They deserve better, and the world has enough problems without you adding to the cliche.