Work/Life Imbalance

I listened to an interview with Simon Sinek the other day about his new book Leaders Eat Last. Sinek is a motivational speaker and writer whose focus is on leadership and management.  He also advises the military on innovation and planning. In this capacity, he’d been invited by the United States military to see their people in action in Afghanistan.

While there, he experienced first-hand, what it was like to live in the middle of a combat zone. He discovered that his responses to the constant dangers were different in these circumstances: the emotions were still there, for instance, but delayed. He also discovered, to his surprise and dismay, that he began to act and think in ways that weren’t normal for him, and that he really didn’t like what he seemed to be becoming. That got him thinking and observing his own behavior, which eventually led to an appreciation on a deeper level of what makes some people great leaders.

His experience in Afghanistan was incredible and exciting – and one he never wanted to repeat: even though it was exciting, it was stressful; even though it was fulfilling in some ways, it was devoid of joy.

Many of us confuse excitement with joy; happiness with fulfilment. Our jobs can be exciting – every day something new.  But that doesn’t mean we are fulfilled or feel joy from it. If we don’t feel safe in our jobs, the simple fact is that we won’t feel joy either.

We are social animals, after all and respond best in environments that we feel are safe among our fellows. Leaders are responsible for creating that safe environment, but if workers fear the leader, they will take steps to protect themselves from that leader.  One notorious example that most of us are familiar with are the standard CYA notes, emails and letters that typically accompany any activity in a business.

The point is: work/life imbalance isn’t about how much work-outs we do, or yoga, or even meditation.  These help, but will never make the workplace safe.  Work/life imbalance really means that we feel safe at home but not at work. Work/life imbalance is therefore, a leadership problem. Studies show that when people feel safe at work (i.e., where they are treated fairly, they are recognized, etc.) 2 things will happen:

  1. These people will work hard to see their leader’s vision is advanced, and
  2. They will take care of their leader.

If you’re a leader, and you don’t feel safe with your people, that’s a strong indicator that you probably haven’t created a safe environment.

Sinek sites Bob Chapman, CEO of a large manufacturing company and author ofEverybody Matters as a leader.  In 2008, because of the downturn in the US economy, his Board of Directors had to cut back; they directed Chapman to lay off some of his workforce.

Chapman refused, and instead devised a plan where everyone in the company would have to take 4 weeks of unpaid vacation.  In explaining this to his employees, he told them he felt it was better for everyone to suffer a little than for a few to suffer a lot.

The result was incredible: instead of morale going down, it went up; and behaviors showed up that no one had predicted.  For instance, people who could afford more, traded days with those who could afford less.

Sinek believes leaders need to shift their focus: instead of being responsible for the results, they need to be responsible for those people who are responsible for the work that gets the results. If you as a leader focus on creating a safe environment, then the results will happen.

This message isn’t only for managers and business owners. It’s for anyone who wants a better work/life balance.  To the extent that we can influence our environment, we can create a safe and mutually respectful space with our fellow workers and customers, ultimately contributing to our own happiness and well-being.

Simon Sinek – Start with Why

Quote of the Week
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly


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