Leadership: Is Work/Life Balance Possible?
Meanwhile, young American workers insist on balance, to a point that threatens to catapult American business into a full-blown leadership crisis. This past January, at Renaissance Weekend, I sat in on some panels with American 20- and 30-somethings. I didn't hear a word from our best and brightest about legacy building, maintaining the competitive edge, or fighting to be number one in innovation. Instead, I heard how nice it is to work a 30-hour week and take a hike to clear the mind when a bit of stress comes up.
My own attitude was best summed up by Jack Welch in his new book, Winning: "There's lip service about work-life balance, and then there's reality....Your boss's top priority is competitiveness. Of course he wants you to be happy, but only inasmuch as it helps the company win. In fact, if he is doing his job right, he is making your job so exciting that your personal life becomes a less compelling draw."
A New Paradigm SON My father is making a classic either/or split between the ability to lead a company to greatness and the ability to have a life outside of work. This model sells us short and asks American workers to make unreasonable compromises.
My father's argument is framed by a particular bottom line—global competitiveness. This has been the bottom line for most of this nation's history, and it has worked to keep us on top economically and politically. But there have been other costs. The Boomer generation is the largest and arguably the most economically productive in this nation's history, but it also created weekend dads, latchkey kids, and TV dinners.
This generation was very much a product of Welch's "making your job so exciting that your personal life becomes a less compelling draw." Let's consider this: Welch is asking you to decide which is more compelling: negotiating a billion-dollar merger or reading your child a book at night. The comparison is absurd. These activities are on entirely different scales. Work without adequate time for intimate connection with loved ones and a bit of personal time has long-term degenerating effects that may not show up on a company profit/loss analysis, but do show up in a society with considerably more at stake than economic hegemony.
I believe we can live in a new both/and paradigm rather than the either/or one we've inherited. The question for my generation: How do we do both/and equally well?
The key, I think, is focus. If our lives outside work are unbelievably important to us, we must redouble our efforts to make time at work important. Technology must be optimized to assist us in getting to the important tasks and weeding out the minutiae. Every hour of work must have a goal, so we can come home to the unmarked time our bodies and minds naturally crave. Too often today, the reverse is true—workdays are spent unproductively and home life is a scheduled race to get dinner on the table and the kids to bed. Such a state of affairs cannot be tolerated when time is so precious.
The emerging leaders of my generation will be the ones who know that time—not money—is the commodity of choice. The creative optimization of time will produce exceptional work, while sustaining people with full lives at home.
Sander A. Flaum is managing partner of Flaum Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathon Flaum is president of WriteMind Communications. He can be reached at email@example.com
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