by Ahmadxon Hasanov
Senior executives in today's workforce will tell you that work-life balance is, at best, an unattainable ideal and, at worst, a total illusion. But rather than only responding to emergencies, leaders can and do effectively interact with work, family, and society by choosing which chances they'll take and which they'll pass up. They've learned that maintaining a successful career at the top requires juggling work and family obligations with care to protect their loved ones, themselves, and their path to success. The most successful people at this include their family in work-related decisions and activities. Additionally, they carefully manage their human capital, trying to balance their time between work and family over years rather than weeks or days.
According to the 21st-century business executives we interviewed, this is how they balance their personal and work lives. In this article, we rely on 82 CEOs who participated in an HBS leadership course as well as five years' worth of interviews with almost 4,000 executives throughout the globe that Harvard Business School students performed.
Defining Success for Yourself
When you are in charge of a significant project, you decide early on what a win should entail. Leading an intentional life follows the same rule: You must decide what success means to you, while acknowledging that your definition may change over time.
(See the exhibit "How Leaders Define Work/Life "Wins"") Executives' conceptions of professional and personal success range widely from the practical to the conceptual. It entails spending at least four evenings each week at home for one leader. For another, it entails being aware of what is happening in family members' life. Emotional vitality at work and home is important to a third of people. Our poll results revealed some surprising gender discrepancies, including: Women value individual accomplishment, love for their job, obtaining respect, and making a difference more than men do when defining professional success, but less so when it comes to organizational success and continual learning and development. Comparatively fewer women than males identify financial success as a factor in their personal or professional success. Rewarding relationships are by far the most prevalent component of personal success for both sexes, however whereas women explain what a happy family life looks like to them, males only cite having a family as a sign of success. Women are also more likely to emphasize the value of friends, neighbors, and community in addition to family.
Short words and lists were used in the survey replies, but in the interviews, CEOs frequently described an ideal self or point in time or told a story to characterize personal accomplishment. Such stories and self-perceptions work as motivating markers, assisting individuals in setting priorities and making sense of contradictions and inconsistencies.
Men may claim the societal narrative of the excellent provider when job and family obligations conflict, for instance. Male CEOs who acknowledged to not spending enough time with their families believe that missing out on family time is a fair trade-off for giving their kids chances that they themselves never had. One of these individuals, who had a difficult upbringing, claimed that his financial success both safeguards his family and gives his parents' difficulties some meaning. Even another person found a way to look at the dissolution of his family in a positive light: "Looking back, I would have still made a similar choice to focus on work, since I was able to care for my family and become a leader in my industry, and these things were essential to me. Now, I put more of an emphasis on my children's education and spend more time with them on the weekends.
Even men who take satisfaction in finding some degree of harmony in their personal and professional life compare themselves to the stereotype of the ideal man. One participant remarked, "The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work." It's hard to envision a woman celebrating the fact that she spends 10 minutes a day with her kids, but a male would find that conduct admirable.
In actuality, unlike males, women rarely see themselves as providing for their families. Men still view their family obligations in terms of providing for their families, whilst women frequently view theirs as serving as role models for their children. Women stress this point (much more than males do) about how vital it is for their daughters, in particular, to perceive them as capable adults. "I think that work is such a big part of who I am," one person stated. I wish for my children to comprehend what I do. I am a whole person.
Many women cited overcoming societal norms regarding mothering as the most challenging component of juggling work and family. One woman said that she had given up working from home when her child started calling the Bloomberg network "Mommy's channel." Another person said, "You can get all the [practical] help you need when you are paid properly. The genuine emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children, though, is what is the most challenging and what I see my female friends leaving their work for. the regret of being absent.
Almost all of the respondents highlighted how crucial it is to organize their voicemails, emails, texts, and other communications. It may be difficult to decide when, where, and how to be available for business, especially for executives who have families. Many of them emphasized the need to pay full attention and advised against utilizing communications technology to be in two places at once. One of them said, "When I'm at home, I'm really at home." I make it a point not to answer phones, check email, etc. I want to devote all of my time to my children. However, it also works the other way around, since I really want to concentrate on my work when I'm at work. I think that too much blending of these realms causes confusion and errors. The third point—always being plugged in can degrade performance—is a typical worry. According to one manager, "Certain cognitive processes happen when you step away from the frenetic response to e-mails." (After all, the history of science is distinguished by epiphanies that took place not in the laboratory but rather when the scientist was performing a routine task—or even dozing off.) A second CEO noted that having employees available around the clock might also discourage effort in the workplace: "If you have weak workers who must constantly seek your counsel, you feel important. However, being essential is different from just refusing to allow anybody around you to accomplish anything without you. Surprisingly, some of the most influential people are beginning to utilize communications technology less frequently when they are at work. Many used the adage "You can't raise a kid by phone" and pointed out that it's also not the ideal method for leading a team. Whenever feasible and logistically possible, in-person communication is preferable. What signs would indicate that to you? A key contrast between disseminating information and discussing and evaluating ideas was stated by one interviewee: "Speaking [on the phone] is simple, but deliberate, thoughtful listening becomes really tough. I observe a clear tendency toward face-to-face communication for the most crucial discussions. Building a bridge with the public is necessary when assessing acquisitions worth many billions of dollars.
Deciding when, where, and how to be accessible for work is an ongoing challenge, particularly for executives with families. More than one-third of the CEOs polled perceive technology as an intrusion while only around a quarter see it as a liberator when it comes to the house. (The others are ambivalent or neutral.) Some of them object about how the smartphone interferes with family time: One ruefully observed, "It's hard to keep your eyes on that soccer field when your phone buzzes." Others are thankful for the freedom that technology gives them. "I will probably leave here around 4 PM to wrangle my kids," one participant remarked. "But I will be back and locked into my network and e-mails by 8 PM." Another participant said, "Sometimes my kids give me a hard time about being on my BlackBerry at the dinner table, but I tell them that my BlackBerry is what enables me to be home with them."
Building Support Networks Senior executives across the board emphasized the need for a strong network of behind-the-scenes allies in order to successfully juggle family and career. They regard hired support or assistance from extended family as essential if there isn't a primary caregiver who stays at home. In our sample, the women are definite about this. A person said, "We hire people to do the more tactical things—groceries, cooking, helping the kids dress—so that we can be there for the most important things." Even those who were interviewed without children admitted that caring for elderly parents or dealing with personal health issues made them dependent on help at home. Equally crucial is emotional support. The safest audience for executives to vent to when they are faced with bizarre or annoying situations at work is their friends and family, rather than their coworkers. Because members of their teams don't always have the distance to be impartial, some leaders will also look to their personal networks for a new perspective on an issue or a decision. Also important is support at work. As sounding boards, trusted coworkers are invaluable. And a lot of executives said that if it weren't for sympathetic managers and coworkers, health crises—their own or family members'—might have ended their careers. Even a career that has been well planned can be derailed by the unexpected. One of the people who participated in the interview remarked, "You believe you can control everything when you're young, but you can't. Executives shared tales of cancer, heart attacks, and sick parents. One person mentioned a drug-induced psychosis. Mentors and team members assisted leaders in those circumstances to get through challenging times and finally resume normal operations. In light of the fact that CEOs must use both personal and professional networks, what about combining them? We can debate that. We found that the women are fairly evenly split, but the males seem to prefer distinct networks. The interviewees who support integration claimed it is a comfort to always be "the same person" and that making friends at work, where they spend the majority of their time, is natural. Many factors contribute to people keeping their personal and professional lives separate. Others look for variety and a break from work. One observer said, "You tend to experience an ever-decreasing circle of influence and ideas if all of your socializing centers around your work life." Others are concerned with shielding their interpersonal connections from the stress of the workplace. As a precaution against damaging their reputations, many women maintain distinct networks. For fear of coming across as unprofessional, some people never bring up their family at work. In discussions with people outside of work, a few female CEOs will avoid talking about their occupations or even mentioning that they have jobs. Again, though, not all women spoke of such tension between their personal and professional "selves," and some said that things are beginning to change. One person made the observation that she talked about her kids more as more women entered the workforce.