I stepped into my boss’ office for a tough feedback session. I had been in my position 18 months, but under this boss only six. My days had been long, my nights spent still at work until 10 or 11pm. I had a great group of people around me but I felt overwhelmed and knew I was neglecting my family.
My boss sought to put me at ease ahead of what would prove the most valuable conversation of my professional life. He didn’t waste any time.
“You need to delegate more. Trust your folks, they’re capable of so much more.”
I knew he was right. I’d known it for a while. But something held me back.
“I’m always afraid they need more training, that I need to provide more training before I can hand them something.”
“You’ll always feel that way. Letting go won’t feel good at first, but if you don’t allow them to take ownership, you guys won’t move forward and you’ll burn out.”
For more than an hour, he shared his own lessons from the past, from his own experiences leading teams large and small. You may never feel that your subordinates are “ready” for more responsibility, to help take things off your plate. But for my own health and the sake of my family, it was necessary to start letting go and entrusting my people with more work. As I thought through how I would articulate a new direction to my team, I realized much of what I needed to tell them had to do with our long-term goals … where we were, and where we should be heading. Daily tasks were easy give-aways, what was key was their understanding of how each task fit into the bigger puzzle. Vision was key to our team’s progression, and my ability to step back and find a balance between my work life and my personal life.
Everyone wants more personal time … to spend with their spouses and children, to attend barbecues and dance recitals, to entertain friends and family who traveled in from around the world. Building new teams and leading a large change effort taught me that finding such time requires developing and maintaining a long-term vision in your professional life, an end state you can recall when you find yourself wondering, “What’s this all for?”
Perhaps you think setting a vision is for “leadership” or “management” and that neither of those words describes you. I’m here to tell you, vision is for everyone. Knowing the long-term purpose behind your work is what helps define its purpose, thereby defining how fulfilling it is. If you set and maintain a vision for what you do at work, that vision will support your ability to balance work and home life. Here are three ways how.
1. You’re focused on the long-term, so you don’t have to stress about ‘finishing’ everything every day.
A vision is about long-term goals. Where do you see yourself, or your team, one month from now? Six months from now? One to five years from now? Vision is never about the near-term, or ‘quick wins,’ but about what “successful” looks like in the long run. If you’ve developed a vision—an end state in your mind—that is sufficiently forward-looking, then you should also realize it cannot be accomplished in a day.
This means you can stop stressing about getting everything done that’s lying in front of you. In most work environments, we know what’s urgent and what’s not. And normally, far less is as urgent as we think. So as you work through your task list, prioritize based on your vision and know that you probably won’t finish it all today. And that’s okay. When you get to the end of the day and you’re trying to decide whether to stay late or not, sit back a second and ask yourself: “Will this task bring us closer to our vision of the future?”
If the answer is ‘no,’ it’s not important enough to get done before you head home. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then make it a high priority for tomorrow … vision isn’t about what you can do in any one day. Either way, a defined vision helps you organize what you’re doing and keep the less-important tasks in perspective. Then at the end of the day, you can head home on time to be with your friends and family, comforted by the fact that you did what you could do … and you’re still on your way to the future you want for yourself or your team.
2. Your team knows what the vision is, so they’re as invested as you are.
And if they’re as invested as you are, you won’t be alone.
If you lead a team, it’s your responsibility to set the vision, no matter how long you’ve been there. Setting a vision for the future is key to keeping everyone aligned, proceeding in the same direction, and provides everyone on your team a starting point to prioritize tasks when there’s more to do than time available.
If you’ve set a vision and everyone is invested in it, then they are each invested in its success. This means they’ll take ownership of the work you need done to do their part to make the vision a reality. If they’re empowered to make decisions and execute tasks on their own, then you should be able to trust they will get done what needs done, leaving you to the ‘bigger picture’ and without a laundry list of tasks at the end of each day. The more your team is invested in the vision, the less burden you shoulder alone. Everyone is able to maintain a worthwhile balance, relying on each other as the team moves forward together. At the end of the day, you can step back and lead, all the while making it home in time for dinner or your kid’s next soccer match.
3. Your family knows your vision, so they’ll be supportive on the days you have to work longer, because they know why you’re doing it and what it’s all for.
Assuming your family knows what you do (except for very few cases, this should be the case), they should also share in the vision you have for yourself or your part of the company’s mission. While everything up to this point has talked about your ability to be home on time and avoid late nights, sometimes extra hours will be necessary. In those instances, a family as invested in your vision as your team is will understand and be more supportive of you and your effort. Without letting them know what your vision is, all they see is you spending more time at work and less time with them, toiling toward some unnamed or unidentified goal.
It took me a few days to formulate a vision and bring everyone together to share it. Just as my boss has predicted, my team was chomping at the bit for more responsibility—more ownership. As I delegated certain tasks, not only did it become easier to do, but I found each of my team members more willing and able to make decisions and take ownership of their own mistakes. They were invested in our end state, and so took seriously their role each day, which left me time to continue pushing us forward … helping us all to continue to grow.