The great leadership hypocrisy
As leaders, we try to be supportive and transparent with high integrity. Even with the best intentions, however, we can easily fall into the hypocrisy trap when it comes to work life balance.

We have all heard that happy, well-balanced employees are more engaged and productive.

So why are we the first ones to work late, send emails at 3am or check in while on vacation?

When we say we want work-life balance for our teams, encourage them to take unplugged vacations or be home each night for dinner, we are laying out our values. Values we expect the team to share and/or participate in. If we SAY we value these things, but then we don’t DO them, it means we don’t really value them.

We are also showing that violating all these values is what takes to get ahead. We are already in leadership positions – have gotten to a place they may be aspiring to be. If we don’t do the things we say we value, but we’re “ahead”, we’re showing that for them to get ahead, they need to do what we do.

For the sake of their engagement and productivity, we end up modeling “do what I say, not what I do.”

Hence the great leadership hypocrisy.

I try to be very aware of the messages I’m sending, not just the ones I’m saying. I do my best to be home every night for dinner. I juggle my schedule between work and home, to the detriment of one or the other at times. When I take vacation, I take vacation.

I also periodically break those rules, but I try to keep the violations from my team if at all possible (yet I reveal them here, so now they’ll know I’m sometimes a hypocrite too). For example, I check email from my smartphone, but wait until morning to respond if it’s late at night. On vacation, I delete spam and flag things to follow up on when I’m back in the office, but I do my best not to respond to anything unless it will create work for others if I wait it out.

On the flip side, I kick my folks out of the office if I think they’ve been working a lot of hours and need a break. I ask them what they are doing online when I get a note while they are supposed to be on vacation. I am as flexible as possible, giving when I can to offset when I need to take.

As much as I’d love to, I don’t believe you can have it all. I believe you can have the best life you can make for yourself.

For me, I believe I can work hard and achieve great things. I believe I can be a good wife and mother who does my best at the family thing. I don’t believe I can achieve everything I’m capable of at work if I also want to be present and engaged at home.

If being a contributing member of my family (not just financially) means limiting my upward mobility, then so be it. But I also want to make sure the people that look to me as a mentor or model don’t think they need to kill themselves or sacrifice seeing their children grow up to get ahead.

By most definitions I am successful. I’m not in the C-suite – but to me that’s not the only definition of success. If we take a hard look at how to be the same type of well-balanced, happy and productive employee we’d like working for us, then maybe we need to redefine success for ourselves too.

We have to make the choices that fit for each one of us. For me, I just need to be able to look in the mirror every morning, knowing I am the kind of wife, mother, daughter and friend I want to be AND I’m providing my company value. If I can do that, it’s been a good day.


Do you find yourself challenged to model the behaviors you’d like to see in your team?  What suggestions do you have for balancing work demands and the “life” part of the work-life equation?  I’d love if you would share your thoughts in the comments and keep the conversation going.