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Tips from the Boardroom

Becoming an EP is not the only way to balance work and family, as many a corporate working mom or dad can attest. Here's the "other side of the story" for those parents who are lucky enough to have found reliable, quality childcare...and have become "master jugglers" of the executive kind.

© 1998, by Rosanna Pittella

Master jugglers are not confined to the Big Top but alive and well in Corporate America. Successful corporate executives, particularly those with children, are blazing new trails in a quest for lives characterized by balance and excellence. Their strategy is to first define, address, and integrate the needs and responsibilities of each of the three major sectors of life: the professional, the personal, and the physical. Managers, directors, and other corporate pros are leading the charge toward work-styles that allow them to meet all of their responsibilities.

These unique corporate players are characterized by confidence, obsession with professional performance, "executive cool" in the boardroom, and unwavering control over projects. But look closely and you will see baby wipes in their briefcases, workout clothes in the trunks of their cars, and detailed to-do lists and planning calendars that incorporate the requirements of their many roles.

The following are 'tips and truths' gleaned from conversations with a few such successful master jugglers.

(1) Power is freedom.

Gone are the days when it made sense to accept lower paying, less satisfying positions typically in administrative, support, or sales in the hopes of a more flexible work schedule. The truth is, the higher you climb the ladder, the more control you have over your schedule. Take a look at the corporate workers who enjoy staggered schedules and authorization to telecommute from home. They are not usually members of the administrative or support staff, but higher paid, more visible members of management at some level. The more valuable we are to the organization, the more it will do to support us.

(2) Planning equals peace of mind.

It's just common sense to apply our well-developed corporate skills of organization and management to the most important project of all: our lives, our whole lives. On the job, the true "movers and shakers" live and die, not by "the sword," but by "the list!" To-do lists and planning calendars are power tools in the effort to integrate tasks from all areas of life. As such they make it virtually impossible to focus merely on professional endeavors, all day, every day or to be neglectful of our families or our own needs. When we think ahead and plan for contingencies, we are calmer, and our professional performance benefits.

(3) True excellence requires balance.

Obsessive personalities are common among successful executives. The Achilles' Heel of productive people is the guilt, even depression that they suffer when they feel that one or more facets of their lives have been ignored. Achievers want to win the big bonus but not, for instance, at the cost of neglected children. We want to excel but not at the cost of our own well being. The merit bonus earned is less sweet if it is earned as we watch the scale climb until we are 25+ lbs. overweight. People who achieve want to do so in spite of the challenges that must be overcome. It's not enough to do only one thing (our jobs) well.

(4) Personal means private.

Fair or not, it is counter-productive to discuss home life, children, diet regimens, etc. on the job -- especially for executive women. Sympathy, empathy, understanding, fellowship and the like are not what we get when we bear our souls in the corporate environment. Unfortunately, there are preconceived ideas of what corporate "mommies" and "daddies" are willing and/or able to do. If you want to be evaluated on performance alone and play with the 'big boys' -- keep your personal life to yourself.

(5) Tap the power of the word "NO."

First, learn to say it, firmly, and mean it when inordinate requests for your time or involvement will conflict with your goals -- professional, personal, or physical. Balancing all of your responsibilities means fully contributing in each area of life and not obsessing in any one. It's a safety valve!

Second, conversely, never take 'no' for an answer if it means compromising the important objectives of your balanced life. Successfully surfing the corporate tide means aligning your resources, planning your schedule, and demanding needed tools and support. Never let a 'no' get in the way of your goals. Research, rephrase, re-propose, but get there.

(6) Remember role-playing.

The single most important thing I have learned is that the population of each area of my life expect a different part of my multi-faceted personality to come forward, consistently. My children don't appreciate my cooler professional demeanor when focused on them and the things important to them. My staff and peers rarely appreciate parenting. My physical self needs my focus at least 30 minutes every day regardless of what my children or staff may need or want. Sometimes I need a moment to refocus and I give myself that time. Part of my desired standard of behavior is to treat my staff, family, and body with the respect deserved.

(7) Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize.

You can handle it all. You just can't handle it all at the same time. I might miss a PTA meeting on a night when I am working on a presentation to the Board, but never my child's Birthday party. I might pass on a small extra departmental project, but I simply don't decline a business trip with high visibility. I make conscious, measured choices and I discuss them with my family and often my staff because they inevitably are effected.

The trends over the last decade in Corporate America have included telecommuting, remote and mobile staff support, outsourcing, and other flexible work-styles. Hat's off to the master jugglers, those quietly pushing these positive trends, developing the supportive technology, and proposing process changes that support the pursuit of more balanced lives.

For 20+ years, Rosanna Pittella has served Corporate America, providing practical strategies and facilitating their implementation. A strategist focused on the "human side of technology" she has educated IT audiences (NYC's PCEXPO/1997&1998, IT Forum, San Francisco/1998), been featured in PCWeek, PCWeek Online, and Executive Female, and appeared on Silicon Spin, Ziff-Davis/TV (Sept. 98). Rosanna Pittella may be reached at either PRGL/Catalyst Group headquarters (NY Metro or West Coast) at 800-749-8446, or via or .

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