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Leadership Lessons for Women: Creating Balance

Alison Young

alison youngHow many times can you recall having a great idea at work, but backing down from asserting yourself so as not to appear “aggressive”? What about that time you advocated your point, saw it ignored, and then heard it praised when a colleague offered a similar idea? And when was the last time you fell asleep thinking, “If I were in charge, I’d be so much better off”? If these questions resonate with you, it’s likely time to take control of your career and live life on your own terms.

Determining how to best align your personal, family and career goals is a lengthy process, and your goals and priorities will undoubtedly shift throughout your life. One of the goals of Drexel LeBow’s Institute for Strategic Leadership is supporting women executives and leaders at all levels in managing organizations within dynamic and constantly changing environments. This means building businesses and, in turn, supporting the careers of your employees by utilizing evidence-based research that encourages the implementation of flexible work schedules, opportunities to work from home and even lifestyle conveniences like office concierge services that are becoming more prevalent. In today’s workplaces, leaders need to do what it takes to attract and retain key employees working to balance professional and family goals.

Drexel Professor Jeffrey Greenhaus, Ph.D., a world renowned expert in work-life balance, states that various family considerations influence work decisions, and “family-relatedness” of those decisions is a factor in today’s business environment that leaders need to understand.

“If organizations have a better understanding of the processes by which their employees make decisions that are high in family-relatedness, they will be able to manage their human resources better,” Greenhaus states. There’s a growing body of research that suggests that individuals are more likely to factor in their personal or family goals when making work decisions, rather than basing those decisions solely on perceived work successes like salary increases or promotions. “When faced with a work decision, individuals are choosing the options that are consistent with both their family identity and their work identity.”

For example, Holly, a lobbyist from Philadelphia, started her own firm after 20 years in the business. “I’m passionate about what I do,” she says. “I spent the first years of my career proving myself in a business where it’s tough for women to be respected. I had confidence in my skills to do it and had been considering it for a while, but it took me getting to a point of burnout and frustration before I really took control.”

For Holly, that meant creating a business built on passion – for clients, for causes and for supporting women in the workforce. She is also a single mom and understands the juggling act that working women face. “Part of my goal is to mentor young women and encourage them to follow their passion.”

She created a workplace that encourages flexibility, not just for working parents but for all of her employees. “In this business, the hours are long and unpredictable. So we created a firm built on mutual trust among our employees. Trusting your employees to work on their own terms is easy when you share a commitment to shared ethics and a passion for your work,” Holly says.  “And our clients appreciate it. I’ve been very open about my personal priorities like my daughter, and clients respect that.”

Holly’s story is an example of finding balance by living life on her own terms. Aligning your personal, family and career goals is possible when you surround yourself with a network of colleagues, clients, friends and mentors who support not just your work, but your personal goals as well.

Tips from women for creating life-work balance:

  1. Allow for shifting priorities. If work is critical this week, accept that and know that next week you can prioritize studying for that continuing education course or your child’s soccer games.
  2. Don’t sell yourself short. If your idea is overlooked, speak up and be confident in your position.
  3. Take risks.  If it were easy, everyone would do it. Living life on your terms means sometimes making a risky choice for a stronger personal payoff in the end.
  4. Develop a thick skin. Your decisions will be judged by colleagues, clients and even family members. Decisions that align with both your work and family goals will not work for everyone, they only need to work for you.


Alison Young is the executive director of Drexel University’s Institute for Strategic Leadership at LeBow College of Business. She is a former White House official and nationally recognized expert on leadership and civic engagement. Alison can be reached via email at [email protected].