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Workaholic nearly died, now wants balance

Coach's Corner--January 19, 2009

The Client
Name: Ben
Age: 54
Title: Support services
Industry: Public agency
Issue: Breaking workaholic habit

Q. I'm back at work after an extended medical leave. In my absence, my staff did a great job and the higher-ups were most supportive. After almost dying, I'm not willing to be the workaholic I once was. How do I re-engage without being overcome by the madness that infects most workplaces?

A. While re-engaging, focus on creating a healthy environment for both yourself and your colleagues.

The inner game
Pause to reflect. Take time for gratitude for your recovery and for the support of the people around you. Then, consider the toll that work stress takes on your health. Remind yourself how it feels to be in the flow -- that ideal place between boredom and stress.

Envision your preferred workplace. Picture the best day you can imagine. How many people do you see? How do decisions get made? How much information gets tracked? Think about how limits are set, conflict is addressed and the reflection time you have.

Compare this to your current environment. Perhaps you've helped create conditions that lead to workaholism. If decisions -- even minor ones -- have to come through you, if you expect yourself to master the details on all projects, or if you can't say no when you should, you're setting yourself and your staff up for unreasonable pressure. What happens if you slow down?

Re-imagine your role. With your return, you have the chance to change your role. The big question is, what does it become? This can be uncomfortable to face. Often, leaders spend too much time managing and far too little time leading. Permanently delegate some aspects of your role so you can be a visionary, ambassador, advocate and coach -- some of the key elements of leadership. By doing so, you also provide an opportunity to your staff to grow through new challenges.

The outer game
Share your perspectives. You're clearly seeking a healthier balance, while remaining committed to your work. To help your entire workplace change, let people know where you stand -- but without preaching. Your insights will help them understand the changes they're seeing in you, and may lead them to make changes themselves.

Do your job -- let others do theirs. This can be hard. To stop being a workaholic, you must sacrifice some control. Develop your coaching skills to help your team be effective. Avoid the temptation to micromanage, and remind those above you to seek detailed information from your team, not you.

Stay strong with your goal. Be an advocate for slowing down the pace. Promote careful decisionmaking that doesn't get second-guessed, and sufficient planning to prevent rework. You'll be healthier and the work outcomes will improve, both in productivity and quality.

Put yourself first. Your health is a precious asset. Focus on maintaining balance and making good choices for food, rest and exercise. Build relationships that provide emotional connection and support. Avoid toxic people and situations when you can; prepare for them consciously when you can't.

The last word
Workplaces can be fast-paced and productive without sacrificing their employees' health. Take this opportunity to influence yours for the benefit of the whole team.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted January 18, 2009
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