I once wrote the above in a card to a friend who cancelled our day out together due to ‘work commitments’. We both laughed when I did because it wasn’t a quotation from the usual suspects like Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain but a line from a George Michael song.
As time has gone by though it’s become an important metaphor for us both. When either of us is working too hard and neglecting ourselves, our families or our friends the other reminds them of ‘the wise words of George’.
I was working with a group of headteachers last year and we were exploring the issue of managing work life balance. One head shared the fact that for her, Wednesday was ‘date night’. This was the day she left school at the same time as the children and without any ‘homework’. Having a ‘date night’ immediately became the group’s by word for looking after themselves.
If you’re thinking that this all sounds self-indulgent with no place in a busy headteacher’s life then please read George Binney et al’s book on a Living Leadership – a practical guide for ordinary heroes. In their chapter on practising ‘healthy selfishness’ they share one of the strongest findings of their research – leaders need to look to their own needs if they are to survive and be effective. In other words leaders need to ask themselves:
“How am I going to lead others if I am not in good enough shape myself?”
‘The wise words of George’, ‘date night’ or ‘healthy selfishness’ (whatever you call it) is about getting your life in balance and looking after yourself as a prerequisite to being effective in your role.
Maybe books and leadership courses have talked about work-life balance until it has very little meaning left for you. If so, you might find the ‘wheel of life’ to be a more useful model for assessing how balanced your life is. If any of the spokes are shorter or longer than the others, your life is out of balance and things don’t run smoothly – a bit like cycling on a bike with wonky wheels! The key point is that career and money are only two spokes on this wheel with health, friends & family, romance, fun & recreation, physical environment and personal growth making up the other six.
So this year, in your quest to become a better leader, why not make a resolution to create more balance in your life? Which areas of your life could you be more satisfied with? …Your health? …The time you spend with family and friends? …The amount of fun you have? And what are you going to do about it? Michael Heppell, author of How to be brilliant, has some suggestions on his website to get you started like playing with your kids, drinking at least one and a half litres of water a day and speaking to strangers!
We all know that there is never enough time to do everything. Balance is simply recognising that all aspects of life are important and ‘healthy selfishness’ is making sure nothing important is neglected.