Jan 15

Balancing Life

Heinz Landau
Heinz Landau is a seasoned business leader who has gained valuable working and leadership experience on three different continents.

When I recently went to Germany for Christmas and New Year holidays, I read in the plane an interesting article about Dr. Marijn Dekkers, the incoming CEO of the German pharmaceutical and chemical giant Bayer. What caught my eye in the story about this high-flying executive in the January edition of the German “Manager Magazin” were his statements on balancing life. “I do not see myself as a workaholic. I have nothing against hard work, but I am trying to keep balance. Apart from that, I have a family with three children whom I want to watch growing up.” Dekkers, who is already at 7.30 a.m. in the morning in the office, states that, already many years ago, he made an agreement with his wife to be at 6.30 p.m. at home from work. In the evening, he says, he is reading stories for his daughters and he helps to bring them to bed. Dekkers states further: “It is so important that you don’t scourge your family with your business agenda.” Dekkers, who lost his mother when she was only 47 years old, mentions:” What is important? Surely that I am still there and that I can play with my kids.”

According to “Manager Magazin”, among Germany’s top managers, only Dr. Helmut Panke, the former CEO of BMW, has come out with a similar understanding of life balance.

I wish I had come across and had understood the topic “life balance” earlier on in my career.

I wish I had come across and had understood the topic “life balance” earlier on in my career. An eye opener for me in this regard was the participation in a two weeks executive education program at INSEAD, one of the leading European business schools, in Fontainebleau, France. Unfortunately, at that time, I was already in my mid-forties and had paid the price (in terms of  health, fitness, family, other relationships etc.) for failing to achieve life balance, like so many other executives.

Part of the INSEAD – course was a 360 degree feedback performance appraisal (also called multi-rater feedback) where ten different criteria were rated on a scale from 1 to 10 by subordinates, peers, my boss and myself. It turned out that in nine out of the ten criteria, I got a high or very high score, but in one category the results were poor: for work-life-balance, I received from all parties (including myself) only a very low score (the average was about 2).

At INSEAD, we had the opportunity to discuss the results of the 360 degree feedback initially in a group of five peers plus an experienced facilitator (either a person with a background in clinical psychology or seasoned business executives with a relevant coaching background). These sessions were very helpful, since the rated executives were willing to open up.  The discussions on the topic “work-life-balance” in class later on with all participants and a professor provided some useful insights. INSEAD has done quite a lot of research on this topic which is typically not on the top of the list of business executives and universities.

A shocker was when the professor shared information about a big American technology firm where studies revealed that a considerable percentage of the executives of this company died within a rather short time after their retirement. Therefore, we got the advice to start latest ten years before retirement to have hobbies, to spend time in building up or strengthening relationships with a circle of friends, to spend more time with the family etc. All that might sound pretty obvious to you, and, indeed, it is. Nevertheless, in reality, many managers have an unbalanced life, probably even more when you are working as an expatriate moving from country to country every two to five years.

After coming back to Bangkok from the INSEAD – course, I shared the key learnings with my colleagues in the Leadership Team. I also openly discussed my result of the 360 degree feedback performance appraisal. My image as a workaholic wasn’t a surprise to anybody, since they all knew that I am putting in a lot of working hours, even at night time and at weekends. And I have seldomly taken annual leave, since I have really enjoyed what I have been doing. Nevertheless, I am aware that it was not leading by example.

I told my colleagues that I, being the highest paid executive in our company, felt guilty and bad when I left the office before them. Frankly speaking, I hadn’t realized that sometimes the employees will wait for me to go home first, before they will go. Therefore, my Leadership Team – colleagues encouraged me to go home early more frequently.

I decided and announced to them that twice a week I will leave the office already at 5 p.m. to join some fitness class. However, the setback came, when I went home one day at 5.10 p.m. Our receptionist, a young lady with great service mind who leaves office every day only at 6 p.m. or later, took all her courage and asked me in a way where she showed all her astonishment: “Mr. Landau, are you going home already??” And there it was again, my feel of guilt!

Over the years, I would say, I have made progress in balancing life. Particularly during the last few months, I partly made up for some of the shortcomings of the past. I spent more time with family and friends, did a lot of traveling and took time for reflection and soul-searching. Nevertheless, I am aware that I still have a lot of area for improvement when it comes to establishing balance.

The good news for me is that my new employer, B. Grimm Joint Venture Holding Ltd., has a company culture where balancing life is a firm part of it. During a recent conversation, Harald Link, the CEO and owner of the company stated that “since decades, you will not see the lights on in B. Grimm’s offices after 6.30 p.m.” It always has been their culture that their employees should have time for their private life and their own interests and priorities.

Concluding it can be said that work-life-balance is as much the responsibility of employees as well as employers. Times have changed. Many organizations understand that employees will look for another job, if they don’t get the support for their family and personal obligations. It helps a lot when business leaders like Dekkers, Panke and Link come out and share openly their philosophy and lead by example. Nevertheless, the topic “self care” shouldn’t be underestimated, since we cannot expend energy on work and life without taking appropriate care of ourselves.

And for me, the new year started with a small step in the right direction. I spent time with my family and postponed the writing of my blog by one week. My friend and co-blogger Stephan Polomski was kind enough to switch with me the schedule and publish his own blog one week earlier. Thanks for that, Stephan!

This entry was posted on Friday, January 15th, 2010 at 09:21 and is filed under Leadership, Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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