How to Lead with Work-Life Balance

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Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET.  This is excerpted from my recent interview with Donnie Hutchinson, @Donnie_Hutch. Donnie is the leading first responder work-life balance speaker and eLearning coach teaching firefighters, police, EMTs, and hospital staff on aligning their day-to-day behaviors with their priorities in life. Learn more at

SmallBizLady: What is work-life balance?

Donnie Hutchinson: First, let’s discuss what it is not. It’s not about spending equal time at work, home, and other activities.  Work-life balance is about aligning your day-to-day activities with your priorities in life.  Now, I don’t tell people what their priorities ought to be; however, my research and other research shows that leaders who are effective at work-life balance are also effective at managing their self-care needs.  As for entrepreneurs and leaders, it is important to understand that employees who are effective at balancing work-life are more productive at work and at home.

SmallBizLady: What do you mean when you say leaders were effective at managing self-care needs?

Donnie Hutchinson: My multiple case study research revealed that all the leaders in the study explicitly stated that effective management of their self-care needs was a pre-requisite to attaining their work-life balance.  In other words, if they didn’t take care of themselves first, they were not as effective in their other roles in life, including their work and careers. You cannot pour from an empty cup—you must fill your cup first. Nourish to flourish.

SmallBizLady: What is self-care management?

Donnie Hutchinson: Self-care management is about how well we take care of our physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs.  For instance, our physical needs consist of one’s diet, exercise, and sleep. Psychological needs might include sharing our thoughts and emotions.  Our social needs are usually met at work and with friends outside of work. Our spiritual needs are often met by prayer or mediation. The essential attribute of effectively managing these needs reside in the positive spillover it has in many areas of our life.  I will go more into that later.

SmallBizLady: How do leaders and entrepreneurs get out of balance?

Donnie Hutchinson: Work-life imbalance is an adverse effect from experiencing work-life conflicts.  There are three universal conflicts that everyone in the workforce can experience and often do.  These conflicts are time-based, strain-based, and behavioral based. Time conflicts occur when the time demands from work, family, and other interests compete.  In other words, we cannot be in two places at one time. Now some people believe that technology has given us the ability to be with family while working on email.  However, the mere physical presence does not satisfy this need. Strain-based conflicts occur when we work so hard that when we arrive home to our spouse and children, we are drained.  Our energy has been spent at the office, and we have nothing left for our loved ones or our self-care. Behavioral-based conflicts can occur when behaviors in one role in life spillover into other roles.  Perhaps the A-type personality can work very well at work; however, it could cause some conflicts at home or other roles in life.

SmallBizLady: You defined work-life balance as aligning your day-to-day activities with your priorities in life.  Is there a method of helping entrepreneurs, leaders, and employees to discover their priorities in life?

Donnie Hutchinson: A method I have found to be very effective is reflection.  One way I help clients reflect is by listening to one of my favorite song’s: Don’t Blink by Kenney Chesney.  I believe everyone can benefit from listening to the lyrics of this song.  The song lyrics include a line that says “when the hourglass runs out of sand…”

SmallBizLady: How else do you help people reflect?

Donnie Hutchinson: I ask people to think about, and document who’s important in their lives and how have they shown them that they are an important priority?  I also ask people what’s important in their lives and how have they made that a priority? When people reflect, they discover their core values as a human being.  When we ponder who and what’s important to us, it is a systematic process to determine if our day-to-day behaviors are in alignment with our priorities. However, it is usually a very difficult and emotional process when we realize our day-to-day actions are not in alignment with our true priorities in life.  Whether one is in alignment or not, it is what it is. I call this our ‘current reality.’

SmallBizLady: What do people do with this information and realization after they reflect on their priorities in life and understand their current reality?

Donnie Hutchinson: The urge is to jump right into a dream or goal state of what they want their future reality to look like regarding work-life balance.  However, before focusing on the future, it is highly recommended to reset your psychological and emotional state by choosing to “reset” your situation.  It’s very similar to hitting a reset button. For instance, some people feel stuck in their imbalanced life because that’s just the way it has been. They might be harboring guilt for their past behaviors toward their spouse, children, or self-care.  It is important to learn how to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is essential for resetting one’s current reality. The idea is to move forward in a positive direction with no new regrets. I encourage you to think about whatever it is you are struggling with and then look in a mirror and say, “I forgive you.”

SmallBizLady: Once people have engaged the reset button, what’s the next step in balancing life?

Donnie Hutchinson: Be bold and think about how you would like your relationships, self-care practices, and successes at work to look and feel like in the future.  Once you have a good idea, document your thoughts on a piece of paper. This paper becomes your desired future or future reality. Don’t be scared to imagine having rewarding relationships, careers, and businesses all while taking great care of your physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

SmallBizLady: So, if people understand where they are and where they want to be, how do you recommend they achieve their desired future reality?

Donnie Hutchinson: It is very important to not make work-life balance a goal.  Your goals should be action items that you can do immediately.  Concentrate on implementing a few new day-to-day behaviors each week that promote achieving your desired future.  If your desired future calls for an improved relationship with your spouse or significant other, then act now. For example, if it has been a while since you have taken your spouse or significant other out on a date, be sure to ask her/him before today is over.  If exercise is in your plans, perhaps invite your spouse or significant other to take a walk with you or go to the gym. You both will benefit from the exercise, and you will be doing a new activity together.

SmallBizLady: Why is self-care so important to people’s work-life balance?

Donnie Hutchinson: It is essential because our self-care delivers positive and negative spillover every day in our lives.  Positive and negative spillover is defined as how a behavior in one of our life’s roles spills over into another role.  For example, when we don’t receive adequate sleep, our mental processes slow and our emotions are less controllable. Or if we eat a high-fat, high-sugar lunch, we often will feel mentally and physically sluggish in the afternoon.  Both negative spillover examples reduce productivity in the workplace and at home. On the positive side, when we exercise in the morning and eat a balanced diet, we often feel energized, mentally sharp, and can focus better during the workday.  These statements I make are not my opinions, they are backed with a significant amount of research.

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