There are many common statements in our culture and among people such as, “I’m so busy” or, “I need more balance” or, “I feel burned out”. Most people are coveting “balance” in their lives. They are searching for it but it seems to be eluding them.
So how exactly does someone capture this elusive balance? If you were told to go outside right now and to capture a “Snurdle”, how would you go about doing it? Perhaps you have something in mind when I say Snurdle so you might go looking for what you have in mind. But what if what you have in mind isn’t at all what a Snurdle is? Then you are going to be frustrated chasing around looking for something that you can never hope to find. How can you capture something when you don’t really have a clear concept of what it is to begin with?
When it comes to balance and leadership, there are many definitions. Most of these fall within the categories of being well-rounded, achieving regularity or some type of equalization of all parts of your life. In fact these are often the default definitions of balance that many leaders adopt. They feel that they should try to balance the development of every possible area of their lives and aim towards being a well-rounded person with many activities, interests, and pass-times, etc. They feel that each area of their life must weigh out evenly like the scale, and their goal is to be constantly trying to adjust. Or they feel that balance is like juggling where the aim is to simply keep all the things thing are doing, all the balls in the air, without dropping one. The problem is that these definitions are nearly impossible to achieve. Therefore this results in a tremendous amount of stress and frustration because one never experiences sustained success using this definition of balance.
I would propose that a more valuable definition of balance for the virtuous leader is “consistently living life on the edge, without falling off the edge.” “Living life” means truly living, not just simply existing. Experiencing life to the full! “Without falling off the edge” means knowing one’s limitations and boundaries so that one can operate within them without falling off the edge and crashing.
This perspective seeks to view balance less as the balancing of a scale or as an equalization of all parts and more like a balance beam. It states that we can find balance by doing some things to live our lives to the fullest provided we ensure that we don’t overdo it and fall off the edge. Consider the gymnast performing on the balance beam. They have a defined space to work with and specific boundaries and limits, and as they practice and improve they can approach the edges of the beam with confidence. In fact, they can achieve incredible feats right on the edge. However if they didn’t respect their boundaries or limitations and went simply one millimetre further, they would lose their balance, fall and crash.
When you think about most great leaders, they are not balanced in the sense of the first list of definitions. Rather they accomplish great things and live life to the full because they live life on the edge, without falling off. Therefore the key component in understanding balance as virtuous leaders isn’t trying to do a little bit of everything or to balance the scales equally in all areas. A key to balance for leaders is to recognize where the edges are in one’s life. This requires the cultivation of the virtue of prudence – which is basically good and wise judgement applied to one’s actions. And then to act to achieve great things within those boundaries, which involves cultivating the virtue of fortitude – basically the courage to get close to those edges – and temperance – self-control or self-mastery in our decisions and desires not to step beyond them.
Balance for leaders is certainly achievable, as long as you know what you should be looking for to begin with: to live life on the edge, without falling off the edge.
And by the way, I asked my 6 year old daughter to draw a picture of a Snurdle and here it is, just in case you need to go looking for one.
Read more about Leadership and Balance: Four Cultural Factors that Affect Balance