Ask the everywoman Experts….how can I take on a leadership role and not lose my work-life balance?

This month, three everywoman experts address a Network member’s concern that taking a promotion will have a negative effect on their hard-won work-life balance…

‘I have been approached by my line manager about taking on a leadership position in the company. This would be a huge promotion for me and a move that I am excited about and keen to make. However, I am worried about the step up in terms of the longer hours and the increased travel that will come with the role. I know that leadership is by its nature demanding and requires greater responsibility, but does that mean I will have to sacrifice my wellbeing for it? My daughter has just started school and I need to ensure I am there for her too.’


It seems that you are already coming from the paradigm of, ‘it’s difficult to say no’ and ‘they’re going to overwhelm me’, which suggests this a trigger point for you. Your career is developing, but you have to make sure you’re keeping up with your career — often people hit a ceiling not because there aren’t opportunities, but there’s a ceiling of your own development. Don’t think of the job as a ‘new chapter’; think about your own development opportunities as the new chapter. Put your intentional self at the wheel, rather than your people-pleasing self, your fearful self or your ‘you’re not good enough’ self.

The second thing to consider is where the highest value is for you? This is about the truth in the phrase ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’. Up to now you’ve been really good at implementing and getting stuff done in one way, but this is about now really understanding where your strengths are and what the highest value in the shortest time can be for you. For example, a high-value piece I can put into my organisation is to spend 10 minutes on the phone to creatively shape a programme, which adds a lot of value to my colleagues and my clients.

You’ve also got to learn to be good at asking what you need to do to empower people. What do they need from you? More information? More skills? More autonomy? What do they need from you to enable them to take the space and for you to lead the system rather than lead the work? That is the big mindset shift when you take on leadership roles, which is difficult because it feels as if you’re doing less and that’s what panics people who’ve historically gained brownie points from doing a lot. That ties into the whole ‘but there won’t be any time’ worry that you have, but there really should be time at this level because you should be able to do a two-minute call and guide somebody to get something done.

Finally do a practical piece around this — what teams are you going to have to talk to and in what time zones? How many meetings a month are you expected to be on? Then ask yourself, ‘What am I actually prepared to do? How many extra hours? How many late-night calls?’ And write yourself a contract around that. Let’s say someone puts in another midnight meeting and you think ‘I’ve hit my quota’. There will be exceptions, of course, but otherwise, get creative. How do you stay relevant and present without throwing yourself under the bus? Do you send a video message with your thoughts? Do you make sure you’ve got a good wing person that can hold some of that? And finally, remember you don’t have to take a promotion just because it’s offered.

Philippa Waller is Director and Co-founder of 4D Human being, a consultancy focused on excellence in communication, leadership and wellbeing.


First of all, congratulations. There’s something to be said here about being proud and feeling in the moment how great it is to have this opportunity. But your question is valid. You ask whether leadership means you’ll have to sacrifice your wellbeing for it? And I want to say absolutely not. Companies that invest in staff wellbeing and enable their leaders to thrive actually do better, so it’s absolutely in your company’s interest to enable you to take on this promotion and do it in a way that helps you manage your life so it feels good.

However, it is still sadly countercultural for us to even be thinking about this because we know from research that 66% of parents do experience overwhelming burnout in the workplace. We also know that women are leaving the workplace in mass numbers in terms of this pressure that they’re feeling to hold on to things. You may want to share that data with your company as part of a piece around how investing in you is actually going to be very worthwhile and you can share your desire to make it work and your commitment to family life as part of that as well. I think it’s good to have that conversation.

I also want to say that nobody else holds your boundaries for you or indeed for any of us. So it’s not realistic for you to expect your workplace or your new boss to prioritise your wellbeing, you have do that for yourself. And that means setting clear boundaries and expectations up front and starting as you mean to go on — you can’t start with ‘I leave at six and then now I start leaving at five’ and reel it back later. To help you in this I’d suggest imagining that you’re three months into this new job and it’s going really well and you are feeling good and able to get the time you want to give to your daughter. Then work back from there — what is it that you’ve put in place to enable that feeling when it’s going really well? That will make it clearer to you what you want and need to negotiate.

This is a powerful moment to ask for what you need and this is the time to have this conversation, not in three months when you’re feeling exhausted and it’s all going belly up. And bear in mind you’re also carving out the way for others. What you’re doing here is asking for something that actually is better for everybody — all the data shows flexible working is so good for everybody in terms of wellbeing and morale and also productivity. So it is not something you’re asking for and being a ‘difficult woman’ around. It’s something that companies need to see as a massive benefit to their bottom line and you’re part of that bigger movement.

Katy Murray is a DEI expert, leadership coach and author of Change Makers: A Woman’s Guide to Stepping Up Without Burning Out At Work.


A promotion will obviously mean more responsibility and a bigger remit but women tend to think ‘if I get promoted, then I’m going have to prove I was worthy and deserving of it’ which adds a self-imposed pressure that isn’t necessary. You have already proven that you deserve it. This is about changing the belief that stepping up is going to require more responsibility, because when you step up, you should presumably have more resources available to you whether that’s people to delegate or a higher salary, so you can maybe afford a cleaner that you didn’t have before or whatever it might be that allows you to actually stop doing all the things that we still insist on doing ourselves.

You should be developing the people around you to take on more responsibilities so that you can step away and do more strategic, big thinking as well, because that’s how it should be when we’re stepping up into leadership positions. If you have a partner at home then it’s important that you have a conversation with them too around: ‘How are we going to do this if I step up so it’s not all on me?’ Ask yourself how you are going to up-level not just your job but the support system around you at the same time? Ultimately, there is no such thing as work-life balance — this is your life, so it’s also about thinking about what you want your career to be for you. Are you going to enjoy it? Is it going to stimulate you? That mum guilt that can sometimes cause us to not step up. Balance is not about the hours that you spend in each place, but the quality of the time that you spend in and the energy that you have at each place and there are ways we can make more quality time in both areas.

Sit down and think, ‘what are my non negotiables?’ — maybe it is a Zumba class once a week or you’re at home at least three nights a week to have dinner. When you’re stepping up, part of being a leader is leading yourself and actually, great leadership comes from people who have good boundaries and are assertive and clear about their needs and communicate them clearly to the people around them. 

Jodi Goldman is a Personal Impact Coach and experienced international speaker who works with professional to help them develop magnetic confidence, powerful personal brand and assertive communication skills.


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