Finding work-life balance isn't as simple as you may think.
"If you want to change somebody, don’t preach to him. Set an example and shut up.” - Jack LaLanne
No matter who, how, or why you lead, being a leader means eyes are on you: you’re looked to for answers, accountability and decisiveness. At the executive level, leading means both day-to-day and strategic decisions, but it also means existing as a symbol of your organization’s values. When you make a statement, decision or display of the values, mission, or policy of your company, these actions exist through the filter of your words, deeds and presentation.
In other words, effective leadership begins with aligning your message with your expression. Do what you say, say what you do.
I’m not saying anything radically new here; I’m simply bringing these principles of leadership to mind because effective leadership is a unique challenge when your values include digital well-being.
Leadership and JOMO
I’m in the business of joy: helping people find it, reclaim it, and keep it. The JOMO movement is centered on the essential principle of moving toward what brings joy, and moving away from what doesn’t (the "missing out" part). I’m especially excited when I have the opportunity to work with large companies or other organizations, because it represents a chance to bring this incredibly positive message to a greater number of people by transmitting it effectively to the leaders of those companies. Sometimes, the organization is small enough (or its management generous enough) that I can run workshops and presentations for each and every team member; more realistically, though, I’m presenting this information to top-level leaders, with the hope that they’ll be able to disseminate it throughout their structure and achieve the goals of greater well-being, productivity and team satisfaction.
Digital well-being is at the center of JOMO, because tech consumption without intention is probably the greatest drain on and threat to joy we face in the modern era. I fully appreciate how dramatic this sounds, but I stand by it. Well-established research abounds that we face an unprecedented crisis of attention span, memory, anxiety, loneliness and depression. Despite a booming market, and despite access to a larger pool of talent than ever in history, the best companies still struggle to find and retain quality team members, with dissatisfaction and burnout being some of the top reasons retention is so difficult. Immeasurable ink (and pixels) have been spilled on the phrase “work-life balance” – it exists and you should find it, it doesn’t exist and you should give up, it exists but requires a dramatic restructuring of your life, it doesn’t exist but working really hard should make you happy anyway, etc. For the majority of people I’ve met, worked with, and spoken to, the problem is one of balance, but it isn’t specifically “work” vs. “life”– it’s intentional vs. unintentional living. For nearly all of us, that balance becomes problematic when it’s about our relationship to technology.
Unwell leadership, unwell organization
Nearly every smart organization is waking up to the reality that “always-on” culture burns out their team, gives steadily diminishing returns in productivity and kills retention. “Wellness” initiatives permeate the startup world, and venerable orgs are following suit, but these initiatives rarely exist at every level of the company. In many cases, it’s tacitly understood that well-being policies are “for the troops” or “for people who aren’t really essential” or “what we do when it isn’t crunch time.” It’s seen as common sense that while it might be OK for project members to stop answering texts and email after closing time, this just isn’t realistic (or possible!) for the COO.
There are a lot of reasons why unevenly applied digital well-being policies are harmful, besides ineffectual:
The organizational problems caused by digital drain are often most acute at the highest levels. When it looks like the problem is that team members are distracted, inattentive or burned out, it may very well be the always-on leadership that’s making them that way. After all, what’s the point of a rule that discourages texting and emails outside of a certain schedule when you’re receiving “urgent” communications from leaders too powerful or important to ignore?
Setting inconsistent or hypocritical examples of organizational values is far more visible and damaging than it seems. The behavior of the most important leaders in a company trickles down. It’s unavoidable. Senior management signal, tacitly or explicitly, the expected culture of the organization, and teams that value their place in the company will have a hard time with a “do as I say, not as I do” message when it seems clear that the CTO who won’t look up from his device during a meeting doesn’t actually value an organizational commitment to balanced, intentional tech use.
Well-being is at least as important to organizational health at the highest levels as it is among the most numerous team members. If your company genuinely believes that digital well-being matters and isn’t just paying lip service, it’s because you understand the consequences of neglecting it: the aforementioned inattention, depression, and so on. Besides the impact on their effectiveness as role models, digital unwellness at the highest levels of leadership has its own direct effect on company performance: leaders that are distracted, anxious, or inattentive can make errors in judgment with disastrous consequences and set themselves up for incapacitation when their personal and family lives become unmanageable, leaving the organization deprived of crucial leadership when it is most needed.
When leaders find joy, organizations thrive
So, how do you as a leader personally apply the principles of JOMO to becoming an effective role model and ambassador for digital well-being? One of the beautiful things about JOMO’s principles is that they work everywhere in life: at home, in relationships and at work. When you come to understand what “the joy of missing out” represents beyond the platitudes, it becomes very easy to integrate the principles into your leadership.
Have realistic margins for change. The Joy Of Missing Out is about behavioral change: identifying the areas of our lives that lead us away from our values and steal our precious resources of time and energy. Long-term change, especially replacing negative patterns with positive ones, is challenging and often frustrated when unrealistic goals are set. Incremental change is the best way to attack our entrenched habits and mindsets; identify the areas of your personal tech use that are most problematic, and begin by implementing reductions that you know you can achieve, giving yourself time to acclimate before making another shave.
Be honest with yourself. In all my JOMO work, whether with individuals, groups big and small, companies and nonprofits, I begin with the same statement: joy begins with self-awareness. Thanks to social media, we’re pressured more than ever to signal goals and values that we think people want to hear, but we should never be dishonest with ourselves about what our goals and values are. When we start lying to ourselves about what we really want to achieve, or let externalities determine these for us, we will always fail.
Lead courageously. You’re at this level because you have the dedication and strength of character to see things through. View yourself as a project as worthy of your hard work and skill as any other. The greatest leaders are unafraid to lead from the front when the situation warrants: making your personal efforts to have greater digital well-being open and visible to your company – at every level – enhances not only your credibility as a leader, but the credibility of your organization’s broader values of well-being.
I tell every audience that the Joy Of Missing Out is a journey or a “quest.” It involves longitudinal change, self-exploration, and continuous improvement; you’re never really “done,” but you ascend to greater and greater heights of joy as your self awareness and value alignment is improved. Being a leader gifts you with the rare opportunity to harness JOMO not only for the greater success of your company, but to enhance the lives of your entire team.