We so often hear that life is all about balance, and while in many ways that’s true, I think the term work-life balance has led us astray. Because at the end of the day, it isn’t really about “balance”—it’s not always going to be 50/50 when it comes to work and personal life. It’s not about the hours. 

For me, it’s always been more about the wisdom to know when you need to give a little more to life and when you need to spend a little more emotional real estate on work. It’s knowing that what makes someone feel successful in life and what makes someone feel successful at work are both really important. Humans need to feel successful in more than one place in order to be their best selves.

And this wisdom is even more important when it comes to being a “best boss ever.” Being able to gauge when your team members need a little space to handle what’s happening in their personal lives is a skill that many leaders struggle with.

One of the biggest mistakes that many businesses make is treating employees like resources. They manage their work and career based on deliverables and deadlines–but the truth is, to get the best out of your employees, you need to manage them as human beings, who have needs and obligations outside of their work deliverables and deadlines. 

I’ve heard this sentiment time and time again on episodes of Best Boss Ever. 

One of my besties, Elise Steffe, joined me for an episode of the podcast in 2022, and she talked a lot about this idea (though she didn’t know at the time that I had a name for it!). After two maternity leaves, she had a really hard time finding a role that would allow her to be her best self at work, while still being there for her kids and keeping up with all the demands of having two pre-teen boys. That is, until she met her “best boss ever,” who really, truly, deeply practiced work-life wisdom. 

This boss, who Elise began working for at the height of the pandemic, said early on that her approach was “family first.” She had two young kids and others on the team had adult children with disabilities and elders that they cared for. It was really a new style of leadership that Elise hadn’t experienced before. So not only did this boss oversee an extremely successful team at one of the “best-run organizations” Elise had been involved with, but she gave her team space to show up for the things that mattered to them outside of work. 

It’s incredibly important that we normalize having these types of employer-employee relationships, and normalize having leaders who are successful at more than one thing. This means that CEOs are making it to their children’s soccer games, or senior leaders are able to care for an ill parent or spouse when needed. 

These are behaviors that need to be modeled to ensure that employees feel comfortable practicing the same work-life wisdom in their own lives. And it means that employers can support the success of multiple aspects of an employee’s life. 

The bad news is that many corporate cultures don’t support leaders in managing work-life wisdom; they don’t encourage it. Some “good bosses” do it in a hush-hush way, like supporting your employees’ personal success is something that needs to be done in a back alley… like it’s illegal. 

I’ve heard from leaders across industries that they have a fear of being seen as “wasteful.” That if they help ensure an employee makes their kid’s hockey game because it’s an important one or they give an employee a couple extra weeks off because they’re taking care of an elderly or palliative parent, it’s almost perceived as wasting company resources or not managing company resources “tightly.”

But what I find to be most important to both employees and for the success of leaders who want to practice work-life wisdom is to customize the way they work. Customize the way they work with each individual. Be cognizant of timelines and deliverables. 

Recognize that not all employees will do well when given the freedom to work where and how and when they want, but the vast majority will thrive. And the ones who do, will pay it back to the business in spades. 

What do you think about the idea of work-life wisdom? Have you worked for a boss who practiced it? Join me on LinkedIn and let’s continue the conversation. 

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