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4 essential traits that CEOs need for the right work-work balance

Soumya Roy PhD
(Former) CEO New York
Hall & Partners

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It’s become one of the mantras of our age - ‘searching for a work-life balance’. The sense that to be truly effective in the office, content in our private lives and rounded individuals, we need to make a conscious effort to shift between the two, to find a happy medium.

This is indeed true but I wonder if there’s an even more profound balance we should be seeking. One which not only helps guide the type of people we are but the impact we have on others as leaders. And, most crucially from the standpoint of brand marketing, the image that we portray.

Because, in an always-on digital world where brands must engage with consumers in myriad and instantaneous ways, a balanced image is more essential than ever. We see it every day, from the multiple successes at companies like Apple to the very public recent failure of, for instance, United Airlines.

Let’s call it the work-work balance, a combination of inward and outward-focused traits and behaviours that the best brands display, especially if their leaders display them too.

At the heart of any balanced brand identity sits a balanced leader

On one side there are two different but complementary motivations – creativity and productivity. Put simply, people love to get stuff done, to think laterally, to show great instinct and intuition, to influence others through the power and speed of thought and action, to be fearless and embrace risk.

We can’t all be creative and productive all the time. It’s sometimes a quite insular and controlling way of working, demanding more introverted methodologies. Which is why they need to be balanced with the more extrovert behaviours of connectivity and competitiveness – a desire to engage with people and to form effective collaborations whose overriding ambition is success. For both the individual and the brand.

Personally, my greatest joy at work is to engage with people, whether that’s in a pitch to new clients, in bringing together multi-skilled teams to shape new approaches, or simply in the one-to-one communications that all leaders are now defined by. If we don’t connect, we lose our competitive edge and cease to matter, and if we cease to matter success is harder to achieve. That’s especially true in this digital world where customers don’t just want to be told things by their brands; they want to have meaningful conversations with them and amongst themselves, particularly on social media.

So we have four traits split down the middle – two which are about us as individuals and two which are about us as partners. And the glue that binds all four together is responsibility. Leaders are responsible for building and balancing these four cornerstones of effective business, whilst brands are responsible for displaying a balanced approach that reflects the values and aspirations of their customers.

4 essential traits that CEOs need for the right work-work balance - graphic

I’m convinced that the leaders who are able to find a harmonious balance between these four instincts are those who will build a strong culture, resulting in brands that succeed and are viewed as most responsible by their disparate audiences.

No leader can boast that, at their core, they represent all four. Always, one or two will outshine the others. The challenge is to bring the less dominant elements to the fore, to lead the culture and brand by example. Think of Steve Jobs at Apple. Few would have called him a people-person – he was incredibly creative and driven, often selfishly so, and wanted to win at all costs. Human connections were secondary. But every time he stood in front of that Apple audience and the billions around the world to reveal the latest must-have addition to our lives, he found balance. He connected at a deeply human level that belied his more self-centred instincts. We became convinced that the Apple brand and its leader understood us because he connected in a manner that suggested he was one of us. If only for a few hours.

Contrast that with the performance of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, who took forever to apologize for the appalling treatment of the customer forcibly removed from one of his planes. The leader of a brand which prides itself on its Fly the Friendly Skies logo couldn’t connect with the wider public. Perhaps his focus on being the belligerent cheerleader for his staff – to show them he was a ‘winner’ – unbalanced his approach and he initially forgot to connect on a more human level. In this case, with contrition.

If leaders can find that balance of creativity, productivity, connectivity and competitiveness they will reach more people and in a meaningful way. And they will help to create a culture of responsibility, shape it, strengthen it, enthuse others – staff and customers – to promote and perpetuate it.

At the heart of any balanced brand identity sits a balanced leader, motivated perhaps by one or two of these four traits but with the pragmatism and wisdom to develop the rest. People are intrinsically who they are, but when you reach the top and are responsible for shaping a culture and building brand identity, that’s no longer good enough. You need to be more than who you are. You need balance.