Leadership in the Balance

From West Michigan Business Review, July 3, 2008

Written by Mary Jo Asmus

“Entropy,” a term used in physics and chemistry, is a measure of disorder in a system. To decrease entropy and restore order, energy must be drawn from outside a physical or chemical system. Similarly, when a leader is out of balance, she may experience a high state of disorder and elevated entropy. A leader must learn to draw energy from someplace outside of her “system” to assure her leadership is whole, balanced and healthy.

This energy can be obtained from activities that renew, based on individual preference. They may include a reflective or meditative practice, prayer, journaling, reading or other activities. Dedicated leaders want to make a difference and experience a connection to their work that goes deeper than their current stressful lives usually allow. They long for renewed connections to meaning in the work they do. They know, deep down, that carving out time to renew their energy can make them better leaders, allowing them to remain grounded in what matters most. They know they must take care of themselves first to make a difference in the institutions and communities they lead. But putting this knowledge into practice is a challenge.

Much of the dialogue we hear about work-life balance misses a point. The very phrase leads us down a path to arrive at a destination that is rarely sustainable. The term makes us think of work and life as separate entities. It assumes that once balance is attained, the work is done; there is no further need to pay attention to assuring balance over the long term.

In reality, in our fast-paced 24-7 world, we’re lucky if we experience any kind of balance for more than a nanosecond. The pull of things that throw us out of balance is so compelling that many leaders — if they are honest with themselves — feel unbalanced most of the time.

Leaders must learn to continually rethink, prioritize and act on what is important to them through a regular renewal activity. When this habit is developed, it is possible to reach a state of work-life synergy, where all parts of our life work together connected by a common thread of meaning.

What is needed is a regular, deeper dive into what gives meaning to life — paying attention to beliefs that have allowed a leader to get out of balance and the actions needed to gain synergy. For many leaders, the time needed to reflect on all of this is not a priority. Leadership suffers under these conditions.

Great leadership cannot be sustained without spending time and effort in the heart of what matters most.

To be a great leader, you must be intentional and committed to regularly checking in with yourself through a reflective practice of some kind. This will ensure your values and priorities are aligned, giving you the synergy to sustain yourself as the best leader you can be.

copyright 2008 by Western Michigan Business Review.

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.