I’ve recently been doing a lot of work with the leadership teams using the . They are all successful execs, working in high-performing and growing businesses. None of them are at risk of losing their jobs and their employers are genuinely interested in the staff’s wellbeing. Although these people come from a broad range of industry sectors, it’s clear that many have a lot in common. Conservatively 70%+ are struggling to establish balance in their world.
This is not balance in the conventional ‘work/life balance’ sense. It’s more about how we prepare our minds and bodies to perform at their best in all aspects of our lives. It refers to a series of actions and attitudes that help us to keep our brains performing at their best. Based on this sample, we’ve got a lot of work to do in what is a foundational part of our world.
As American author Paul Boese put it:
“We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance.”
THE 3 ELEMENTS OF Balance
Balance refers to a series of actions and attitudes that may help a person keep the brain performing at its best.
Eating well, exercising and allocating time for relaxation and play are fundamental steps towards good health and also productivity. Physical activity can also enhance resilience by boosting endorphins and neurotransmitters (such as dopamine) that reduce the risk of depression. In addition, exercise reduces the release of the stress-related hormone, cortisol.
We still place too little importance on this aspect of leadership. Indeed, most organisations, even with the best will in the world, tack on ‘wellness’ programmes at the fringes. They need to be foundational. When leaders lack good physical health or are in a continuous state of tension, they can create toxic environments and model undesirable behaviours.
We know this, yet find it all-too-easy to put this stuff in the too-busy basket. Certainly that’s what the leaders I work with find. In reality very few businesses will call their people on this, but most will support the intention. Change then must start from within. The 360˚ report is often a fantastic way of creating the awareness necessary to start to shift behaviours.
What we do in our down time really matters to brain function. Time spent ‘doing nothing’ or simply being present in the moment and getting the correct amount of sleep (8 hours), are two brain activities that many of us neglect. This affects our capacity to concentrate, our mood, our decision-making and our creativity.
For leaders, it’s easy to press on. To complete one more task. It feels counter-intuitive that we can get more done by doing less. We need to understand that not all time is equally valuable.
If our brain is exhausted, we stop being able to operate from our executive brain (the pre-frontal cortex). We become more distracted, more emotional, more stressed and less attuned. Complex situations defeat us. That’s why we often get less done in the afternoons, when our PFC is depleted.
When we have regular breaks and better rest, our memory and clarity of thinking improves. Unsurprisingly we get more and better work done in less - not more - time.
Our brain is hard-wired to be social. When we feel rejected or isolated, it gets affected in the same way as when we feel physical pain. Keeping the brain circuits active by socialising with others is crucial for human beings.
In her seminal TED Talk on vulnerability, psychologist and researcher, Dr. Brene Brown makes the profound points that:
“Connection is why we are here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”
In our increasingly busy workplaces, it’s it so easy to allow our social connections to dwindle, or even to feel they are an inefficient indulgence! As leaders, we must counter this with a new awareness.
Connecting with and to our teams is essential to engage and get the best from them. For a team to be more than a collection of isolated individuals, there must be connection and socialisation.
Hopefully, we’ve all been part of teams where such connection exists. Where we get a genuine sense of collaboration, achievement, purpose and belonging. You can’t bottle that stuff! It has to be created.
We simply need to take the time and effort as leaders to invest in empathising and socialising with our people. It shows us as energy, as customer service, as going above-and-beyond. In an age of same-same offerings, this simple act can be the difference between success and failure.