Leadership Isn’t Something You Leave at Work

Work Life Balance

One of the inspirations for our work was a book by Stewart Friedman. A professor at Wharton, Friedman wrote Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. While we loved his approach–that creating walls between work and home is a really bad idea–we weren’t at all sure how the 36 interviewees in our book,  Leadership Matters, would respond to questions about work/life balance. Yes, we’re a long way from Mad Men-style turmoil and drama at work that is supposed to magically evaporate (or not) on the commute home, but museum work, especially for those in leadership positions, can be all-consuming. Who knew whether today’s history museum leaders think about the need to be authentic at home and at work?

The answers were surprising. Everyone thought about it. And while responses varied depending on an interviewee’s age, whether they were in a committed relationship or parenting young children, the need to understand work’s ability to swallow a life is something all our interviewees struggle with. Some had to learn the hard way–having a relationship crumble–but many voiced a variety of solutions from turning off their cell phones, ceasing to talk about work at a certain point on the commute home, volunteering, and committing themselves to a variety of activities, hobbies, and worship.

By and large our interviewees are not lone rangers. Most have strong support networks comprised of family, mentors and friends on whom they depend. More than a few have standing dates with parents or other family members. Nathan Ritchie director of the Golden History Museum in Colorado commented wisely that “There is something to be said for making other things in life an obligation.” For the women we interviewed who are parents, work/life balance is more complex. For them, strong partnerships and support networks are paramount, but they are still frequently the primary care givers.

So, what are the take aways in the work/life balance? Being authentic matters–a lot: knowing who you are, understanding your own story and the integrity it breeds. Friedman suggests that leaders living solely for work shut off parts of who they are, leaving them less authentic and less creative, failing to meet challenges. Not all our interviewees balance work, community, family, and self perfectly, but what’s important is that no matter whether they lead from behind a big desk or from the middle of a department, they recognize the importance of the spheres in keeping their lives whole. We’ll leave the last comment to Colin Campbell, CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, who closed his interview by saying, “In the absence of a collaborative style, you’re going nowhere; going it alone is not an option.” Too true.

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