Balance Takes On A New Meaning

It seems the most common understanding of “balance” in the workplace means managing our home life in relation to our work life. Just the thought of it holds the promise of greater happiness, and a more satisfying work/life experience.

I think most would agree achieving this kind of balance can be a struggle, and either impossible, or more likely, improbable to attain.  

That’s about the extent to which I’d given the idea of balance at work, until I looked closely at the data I gathered for the High Points Survey on Leadership. Something really jumped out at me.

Respondents saw “balance” as being a top-10 issue. But it was surprising to see the significant number of responses that dealt with “handling relationships properly,” as a matter requiring a balanced approach.

Consider these responses …

“Can I lead, and relate to people? Are they mutually exclusive?”

“What about bridging the gap between inclusion and direction?”

“What’s the line between being a friend, and doing the job?”

“How do I manage tasks/priorities while still building relationships?”

“How can I be empathetic without letting it overwhelm me?”

As I see it, managers have a huge interest in optimizing the connection between themselves and the people they lead, as they try to elicit the results their organizations expect. That’s a type of balance which directly reveals leadership ability as a people skill.

The balance of organizational needs and employee wants

The best managers seem to have a handle on managing relationships. They’ve developed “a people-reading meter.” In other words, they’ve mastered their capacity to relate to their workers without “becoming too close where friendships interfere with decision-making, or being too distant and failing to engage their people’s hearts and minds.”

Not everyone reads their people meters accurately, and that’s why it’s essential to grow in this area. Some employees want clear direction, while others desire to see the goal and achieve it on their own. Some necessitate flexibility, while others require the leader to be firm. But who’s who?

When do you push hard, and when do you pull back? What’s the line between delegating, and shirking your responsibilities? How can you be the boss, without being bossy? When should you speak up, and when should you hold your tongue? What situations can you accept, and which cannot be ignored? How much time do you spend in your office, and how much time do you have to interact with others? These are all relational judgment calls.

One manager stated that, “I focused on tasks for most of my first 20 years of work, but have evolved to spending the workday putting relationships first, and doing my tasks after others start leaving for the day. It works.”

Attaining high levels of quality without excessive oversight is the hallmark of leadership. To these leaders, balance means handling relationships carefully, and with exceptional skill.

– Jerry Strom

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This article is based on *‘The High Points Survey: What Managers Most Want to Know about Leadership,’ copyright 2012, by Jerry Strom & Company, Inc. Download the White Paper at:

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