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Executive Coaching – Dilemma of Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance has been a perennial pain in the neck for many executives and ironically such managers suffer in the familial sphere without even knowing that their pail of personal life is dripping drop by drop for a prolonged phase. Theirs is a case like that ill-coached tennis player with one arm remarkably robust and other one slim and skinny.  Such an asymmetry between the two vital spheres – professional and personal – starts sapping their energy and vigour of inner core without any inkling of awareness. By the time the realization dawn, it’s too late and occasionally the family life of such a workaholic person is ruined beyond repairs.

The case of Sudhir (name changed for privacy purpose) was fortunate one, as he approached me when the things were not in that bad shape. He is a successful chief technology officer (CTO) who has led several IT initiatives in the manufacturing plants and offices of the company he works for. As we know, an IT project entails a series of steps like chalking out a broad plan, selection of several agencies including vendors offering appropriate technology, testing, procurement and installation of the software, training the users at various levels, preparing for data migration and final role out. Being an enthusiastic and energetic boss, he would always love to lead from the front which, in his eyes, meant being there on the spot for any and every step of project. With his solid commitment at each step, the project would be a success and then another project would succeed. This kept on and on without even an iota of awareness that he was drawing upon the patience and forbearance of his family members continually. Eventually the tipping point was reached when these withdrawals resulted into an overdraft.

In my first meeting with Sudhir, initial small talk was nothing but career, career and career only! After my sly redirection to other walks of life – away from the office – he hastened to assert, ‘I do not get into those paltry things at all’. When cornered with queries like ‘when was it last that you met your best friend’, his response was ‘I am always there for my friends when they really need me; but why should I see them when all is pretty normal?’ Another probe ‘when was it last that you and your family went for a small weekend outing’ was retaliated with ‘we all go once in a couple of years for a week-long trip, so why do they need me on weekends? After all they have all resources to make their weekend enjoyable’. After somewhat hard disputing and visualization of the personal scenario two-three decades down the line, it started occurring to him that family relations would stay put even after retirement. At least in a selfish sense he acknowledged that he ‘owes’ some time to family on a weekly basis. Later on I helped him resolve the dilemma of ‘Office Vs. Home’ in a reasonably equitable manner. Even today he breaks few commitments made to his family, but then he makes it a point to compensate it by a lovely weekend or at least a month-end together – sometimes even second half of a Wednessday or a Friday, if not Saturday or Sunday – with family that clears the emotional backlog of the entire family and helps Sudhir rejuvenate.

Office duties can be quantified and measured like 24 X 7, 52 weeks a year, etc. but the family life has got several intangible, subtle aspects that merit priority over the former at least once in a while. Another point to note is that the office has a succession plan for everyone, including you, but your family has none! Sudhir learnt this extremely delicate equilibrium between professional responsibilities and personal relationship, just when he was on the brink of immutable imbalance; Shouldn’t we learn it well in time?


-Dr. Pramod Damle

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