With all the talk about work-life conflict, you would have thought that having a personal life detracts from your professional life. My experience, especially over a 20 year career in the corporate world of international finance, has been exactly the opposite.
Thanks to the family and staying active in sports (running, health club, cycling and tennis), I was saved from burn-out. Having interests outside of work is what keeps you grounded and gives you perspective, as well as patience. Have you ever noticed that it's when you've completely worn yourself out at work that you're prone to "blowing a fuse"? It's the personal life that gives you the motivation, encouragement, and the balance you need to excel in business.
My first exposure to women's networks was in 2009 when I was asked to give a talk at the launch of the women's network at the bank I was working for, sharing a platform with the CEO. "Why me, I asked? I do not even know what a women's network is." The reply: "We want to know how you did it."
Before that moment, I honestly never thought about it. Preparing for that speech cave me a wonderful opportunity to reflect. What I realized I had been doing all those years, almost subconsciously, was leveraging the skills I was learning in my personal life at work as well as vice versa – leveraging the skills I was learning at home in my professional life.
Communication and Values & Integrity
It was at home that I learned to be really clear as a "team leader." I needed to choose the right words to motivate the childcare provider, the kids, my husband, etc.
At home you can not get away with political correctness or vague terms, especially with children. They take each word literally. And worse yet, they watch you like a hawk! What you do is equally as important as what you say . Did you do something that contradicts what you said? Your kids will be the first ones to call you out on it and they're looking for an opportunity to do just that. Unlike colleges, they're not afraid to tell you when you're wrong. " This was a priceless lesson!
To be a leader in business, your words have to mean something. You have to follow through with what you say. When you do not, you lose all credibility. A leader is a leader whether that's at home or at work. The exact same skill set is required.
Team Work and Delegation
As I progressed in my career, I had to learn to let go of the detail. It was hard. I'm a perfectionist, and I like things done to an incredibly high standard. After many appraisals with the same "area for improvement" highlighted, I knew that unless I learned how to delegate and manage others, I'd be stuck doing the same thing, in the same role for years.
Delegation of course does not mean that the task or challenge magically disappears. You're still responsible for coaching and stimulating someone else to resolve the issue. After a few successes I found the power of helping others learn new skills exhilarating, especially the older I became. Yes, of course I could take on that project, but would not it be fantastic to offer the opportunity to a less experienced member of my team?
Balancing career and family requires, first and foremost, teamwork. The answer to the question "How did you do it?" is " I did not do it – the team did, my other half, the variety of childcare providers, and the kids themselves did it." Doing it all yourself not only makes you a high risk for a nervous break, but it's also no fun! Just like at work delegating, managing and stimulating is not easy. You've got to make a concert effort and work at it day by day.
Managing Your Energy, Rather than Your Time
What scared me the most about getting stuck in the same role or being sidelined was losing my energy. I loved my career – the adrenaline, the constant development of new products and ideas, the humor – and without I kept progressing I knew I'd get bored. Boredom is another danger to achieving work-life balance. It's when we're enjoying what we're doing that we feel energized. We can then bring that energy back into our personal lives.
It's because of my career, not in spite of it, that I was able to create and maintain positive, healthy relationships at home. I felt fulfilled and happy in my career, which enabled me to support the ambition of my other half and brave me the energy to be a good parent.
So while any career or business takes dedication, it's important to remember that it's because of your personal life that you can more easily manage the challenges of work and are better equipped with a broader set of skills.