June 25, 2019

For better work-life integration, embrace authenticity

A guest post by executive coach Patrick Curran

Jerry is a Jesuit who was known by everyone during my undergrad at Loyola University. He embodies the archetypal leader often described as “influencer” and “achiever” — highly intelligent, highly motivated and able to get stuff done. In my time at the school, Jerry lived in a residence hall, taught classes, preached regularly at Sunday Mass with over 800 worshipers, served as chaplain to multiple graduate schools, wrote articles and represented the community at international conferences. He was regularly spotted cheering at sports games, in conversations at the campus bar and riding his bike along Lake Michigan.

Despite this busy life, Jerry is the type of person who, when you interact with him, makes you feel like you are his only priority in that moment. As a result, the walls of his office are lined with framed memories with those whose lives he touched.

How did he do it all?

As I got to know him over the years as a mentor and friend, I learned that Jerry was very intentional about a few things: listening to himself, respecting his limits, setting expectations and saying “no.” Jerry’s influence and leadership on our campus didn’t stem from the things he did; instead these qualities flowed from his ability to show up as his whole, authentic self in all of these moments.

The work of self-awareness gave Jerry insight about his true passions, how he enjoyed using his gifts and the values he wanted to live in the world. These insights anchored his daily interactions with individuals and served as the guideposts for decision-making: they empowered him to be vulnerable at the right moments, offer a genuine “yes” or “no” when requests were made for his time, and live with harmony as his time and energy were invested in his passions in ways that reflected his values.

From balance to integration

The most influential people among us show up as their whole selves every day, all of the time. When I started coaching executives, I was often surprised when my clients would say to me, “What I really believe is X, but I can’t be that person here.” Often, these were the same clients who came to me feeling overworked, overwhelmed or unable to manage everything on their plates. They struggled with work-life integration.

I used to think the notion of work-life balance was outdated simply because we don’t manage our time in the ways that we used to. Conversations with my clients revealed an unintended lie that the image of “balance” suggests: if “work” and “life” are competing for equilibrium on scales, then we are forced to hold them separately, and accept an implicit equality between them in order to achieve balance. I began using the term “work-life integration” because I believe our work and our life are not separate; and our time — the truly scarce resource — should not be evenly split between them.

Work-life integration is a result of owning who we are, the values that drive us, and the relationship between our energy, our passions and our time. And this notion is deeply connected with authenticity. Authentic leadership requires a certain level of self-awareness, vulnerability and presence that frees a person to be themselves at critical moments. Authenticity emerges when we stop performing for others and begin living — in an unselfish way — for ourselves.

Integrating work and life

A few simple starting points can have a big impact on your work-life integration. I suggest picking just one to get moving:

  • Build awareness of your authentic self. Try spending just 5 minutes every day in silence, listening to the voice in your head:
    1. What do you think your core strengths are?
    2. What do you think you would like to contribute?
    3. How do you spend most of your time outside of work?
    4. What are the things that you daydream about?
    5. What is a thing you have been successful with that surprised you?
  • Develop a healthy ability to articulate, “This is what I want.” Spend time reflecting on your true desires, which clarifies alignment for other decisions and demands on your time.
  • Be present. What does it take for you to be only in the current moment?
  • Assess the values you claim to have and the behaviors you show the world (especially the people you think you lead). How do they line up?
  • Recognize the times when your professional energy is spent, and honor the moments when brilliant professional ideas strike you outside of work.
  • Be vulnerable with your staff / team members (check out Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown for expertise).

Your life’s work

What is the benefit of progress toward authenticity at work and an integrated life? In my work with clients and in my own life, the conversation moves quickly toward the integration of our passions and beliefs into our daily interactions. We stop talking about a tension between our “work” and our “life,” and instead focus on intentionally building our “life’s work.”

What does our life’s work look like? Many of my family members work in medicine as doctors, nurses and administrators; their life’s work is about healing and restoration. As caregivers, they do their best medicine when they show up not only as doctors, but also as wives, fathers, sons and daughters. They bring their whole selves into the room with their patients, combining their medical expertise with their lived reality as human beings. Similarly, at baseball games or out for dinner they continue to interact with the world through the lens of their professions — and when medicine comes up, their passions are ignited.

Rather than wrestle with the falsehood that at some moments I should be coach, at other moments husband, and still other moments neighbor, I instead embrace the invitation to be coach and husband and neighbor all at once in every moment — fully integrated. By living into my dreams as a husband and my limits as neighbor, I become a better coach; and by embracing my passion as coach, I become a better husband and better neighbor. The alignment of passions and values clarifies decisions about where to invest time and creates a virtuous cycle that regenerates energy.

When we take risks to be complete and authentic in our daily interactions, we step into the roles to which we are called — this is vocation, our “life’s work.” It is the integration of our passions, our energy and our time. I believe that if we are honest, we wouldn’t want our favorite leaders to show up any other way.

How do you see authenticity in the workplace?

What benefits have you seen?  Has it moved you toward your life’s work?

Last updated June 25, 2019

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The work-life balance myth

Learning how to say the strategic yes!

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