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Optimizing Work-Life Balance: Leaders Who Rest

It may seem like working from home in sweatpants is a welcome and relaxing change from the days of suits-ties-and-traffic-jams, yet many of my clients and colleagues still experienced major burnout this year. It seems there was a sense of responsibility to keep furiously paddling the boat … instead of leveraging the wind in the sails (shoutout to Groundsweller for this beautiful analogy).

A couple months ago I wrote this article about the ways team leaders can write themselves customized “permission slips” to rest in an authentic way. If you can’t enjoy a tropical vacation right now, can you at least do little restful things like:

  • Establish one new habit that will help you feel healthier and re-energized.
  • Stop and take deep breaths for ten seconds today.
  • Share a humble brag about a special talent or skill that feels life-giving.
  • Change it up by saying “no” to one request for your help this week.

It’s hard for me personally to embody all (any?!) of these things on any given day, so I asked some amazing business leaders to share ways they have put versions of “R.E.S.T.” into practice in their own lives. I asked each of them how they maintain an optimal work-life balance and was absolutely delighted with their thoughtful, unexpected, yet astonishingly common-sense responses.

Stephen Murray, Boosterthon

Stephen is the President and COO of Boosterthon. He’s also active in the Greater Atlanta community, serving on the board of his children’s school, his local YMCA, as well as an advisor to a non-profit that supports social-good entrepreneurs. Add to the mix that he is a husband and father of three, and somehow finds time to regularly complete marathons, ultra-marathons, and even an Iron Man triathlon. So how does he do it??

Stephen uses routine as a measurement stick for rest. He knows that if he is trying to juggle too much, his priorities can fall out of line and he’ll be too tired for his daily workout routine. He and his wife Brittany have also established a ‘sacred’ Sunday evening ritual where they lay out a plan for the week – it includes both personal and professional activities – so that the couple can stay in sync and manage expectations of one another’s participation. (Stephen vulnerably shared about a time when Brittany expected him home for dinner but he had actually flown across the country for a work event. Sometimes it takes one of those “events” to really solidify the value in these rituals and routines!)

Relaxation for Stephen looks like spending time with his coworkers, friends, and family. Quality time with those he cares about recharges both his head and his heart. If you’re an extrovert like Stephen, it’s critical to stay engaged in social activities to feel both rested and fulfilled.

As a leader, Stephen knows that all eyes are on him – the same way that when there’s turbulence on an airplane, we all check to see how the flight attendants are responding. My favorite quote from Stephen: “HEALTHY LEADERS WHO ARE AT EASE LEAD HEALTHY ORGANIZATIONS THAT ARE AT EASE.” Though he is “on the go” nearly all the time, Stephen has found what works for him to still maintain a sense of calm and control.

Michelle Khouri, FRQNCY

Michelle leads a lean team at FRQNCY, but they are managing massive projects and opportunities. Their work with Coca Cola, Diane Von Furstenburg, Grady Hospital, and other clients can reach millions of ears – so the pressure is on. Michelle is dedicated to work that has impeccable quality, while making sure her team absolutely thrives within the company culture as well.

Michelle shared a bit about her journey of burnout over the summer, when she recognized she was feeling an irrational sense of anger towards her work and her team. (Personally, this is how burnout shows up for me too – resenting others and developing a narrative that others’ efforts are never “enough”.) Michelle is an incredibly self-aware leader with high emotional IQ, and this triggered a need to change. Not only did Michelle give herself permission to pause and rest over the summer, but she gave her entire team a week of vacation as well. A potentially risky move, but the results have been incredible. Her mantra as a caring leader is, “when you start to see little things slip here and there, you don’t drill in harder, you stop to ask if everything is okay”. 

Now the team is back and brighter than ever. FRQNCY is experiencing unprecedented growth and staying incredibly busy, yet Michelle embodies balanced leadership by getting out in nature nearly every weekend. This allows her to stay in tune with her own personal rhythms, and the “frequencies” ???? of the world around her. 

Bryan and Shannon Miles, BELAY

Shannon and Bryan are a powerhouse husband and wife team who co-founded the successful staffing company BELAY. I love that while Bryan and Shannon’s personal lives obviously intertwine with their professional efforts, they each find ways to individually rest and recharge.

Both Shannon and Bryan talked about really listening to their bodies in order to know when the stress becomes too much. (Bryan and I share something in common – that an overload in stress manifests in chest pains. It makes me wonder how many burnt out leaders are getting EKG’s on a regular basis …????) 

Shannon shared that clearing out space in her schedule empowers her to be not only a better leader, but a more creative individual as well. Yet she doesn’t try to go it alone: “I had to learn to put systems and structures in place to help me recognize and manage the stress and not allow it to intensify.” I love Shannon’s recognition that systems and structures do not prevent us from the freedom of rest – rather they actually ensure that rest happens.

It was an honor to peek behind the curtain and better understand the personal challenges and solutions that each of these leaders have created for themselves. Although they each have different personalities, leadership styles, and industries that they support, I found three consistent elements across the board:

  1. Minimize Ego: Leadership isn’t about you, or how others perceive you.
  2. Journal and Meditate: These simple self-awareness rituals are life-changing.
  3. Time Without Screens: Whether in nature or with family, literally keep your eyes on what’s important.

Which of these leaders do you relate to the most? There is no one single formula for success, and there is no silver bullet for feeling both rested and productive. We know that it isn’t about working the longest hours or sacrificing your own personal needs. Beyond that, choosing what works is up to you. Follow along as we continue to feature leaders who live productively without losing their sense of joy.

Theresa M. Ward

I love leading workshops about everything from time management hacks to mindful goal setting. And I thrive on propelling projects towards a successful finish line with an artillery of cohesive tips & tools. Read more…

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