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An Executive’s Dilemma: The Challenge of Supporting A Work/Life Balance While Holding Employees Accountable

by Gordon Loeb, Natalie Loeb, & David B. Sarnoff, Esq.

Anyone who has recently engaged in hiring has found out that it is a fairly tight labor market and quality candidates are in short supply.  While a focus on recruiting is important, equally so is to retain and inspire current employees.  This has proven more challenging than many executives, law firm partners, and managers expect.  What seems to be a constant theme of discussion in management circles is, how do we provide a culture where work/life balance is encouraged while still holding employees accountable for performance, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling responsibilities?  Due to the sensitivities around this topic, the interviewees preferred that they and their companies not be identified.

A senior-level executive at a media company states, “Work/life balance has to be part of the organization’s culture and that is set from the top down.”  This executive continues, “It’s about managing the whole person for success, not just the ‘work’ person.”  He says many employees are derailed when experiencing personal matters such as marital issues, substance abuse, depression, or an illness with a family member.  Executives and managers should show empathy for employees who are experiencing tough times.  This also sends a message to other employees that they matter, and the firm has their best interests at heart.

In the media world, there is constant pressure and deadlines and it can be a high stress environment.  This executive tells his colleagues and employees, “Take all your vacation time and don’t leave any on the table.  You need time to recharge your batteries.”  He is not saying that employees shouldn’t work hard.  However, he does believe that “managers need to take time and learn about their employees and what they need.  Leadership and managing is complicated and hard.  The easiest thing is to tell an employee ‘no’.”  However, each employee is different, and managers need to engage employees and find out about the “whole” employee; this helps establish culture and leadership.

With respect to “accountability,” the media executive states, “Executives and managers must establish a clear expectation concerning accountability.”  Is this a firm where you are expected to respond to emails on weekends?  Are employees allowed to leave for their child’s school play?  Are managers approachable when employees need to discuss personal matters that are affecting performance?  Are executives and partners willing to coach employees for career development or make accommodations that will make employees more productive?  This executive sums up that “millennials have made it clear that work/life balance is a priority for them and they want a full life.  It should not be a tough issue, but it is for many companies.”  Executives and partners will learn that disgruntled employees are not productive, and it is costly and disrupting to lose and replace high performers and high potentials.

Another CEO in a consumer goods company has a different problem.  “To be honest, a big part of the conversation revolves around the problem that some employees work too much instead of not enough.  This is a particular problem with people who work from home.  They often work way more than 40 hours and seem to never be far from work and never really leave it, so burnout is an issue.”  He continued, “I used to worry about remote workers goofing off all day but that has seldom been a real problem. Once in a while, but not much. I have more problems with my office staff texting and checking Facebook or doing online shopping.”

He adds, “Culture plays a big role. For us, the culture starts with how we try to foster a supportive atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes.”  He sums up by noting, “At the end of the day we have to balance the company’s needs to stay afloat and achieve our goals and objectives.  I have found that in general it is better to trust people and deal with the occasional abuser than to tighten the screws on everyone and have an uptight culture.  Most people are good and want to do the right thing.  The few bad apples end up self-selecting out of the system.”

Professional service companies such as law firms and accounting firms provide for other work/life issues.  As one law firm partner relayed, “When you bill by the hour, profitability depends on meeting and/or exceeding targeted billing requirements.  However, sometimes it feels as if you are only as good as your last monthly revenue generation.”  Law firm partners face many challenges in providing for work/life balance because of the nature of the profession.  At times, litigation can require significant time demands in engaging in motion practice, depositions, discovery, and preparing for trial.  Likewise, transactional practices require significant due diligence, document review, extensive negotiations, and document drafting.  Law firm partners seem to be confronting, more and more, a generational disconnect with associates that impacts a balance in work/life culture, policies, and how they are communicated and modeled to employees.  We hear from many partners that when they were associates, they “worked grueling hours on a regular basis and that was just an accepted part of the job description.”  One law firm partner stated, “I am still waiting to find a junior ‘me’ as an associate, someone dedicated, hardworking, and does what is required.”

The question that needs to be asked is: What is work/life balance? Is it leaders who model this culture for associates and staff to see?  For instance, leaving the office at a reasonable hour, not emailing late at night, and taking vacation days?  Conversely, is it leaving at a reasonable hour for whatever reason, but working late at night and on weekends to get the work done on time?  This is the challenge that companies face.  What culture does your organization support?  And how does it reinforce this culture?

Law firm associates, in many cases, have voiced concern over working excessive hours and spending time on routine or mundane assignments.  Associates want challenging and stimulating assignments, mentoring, and skills development to advance their career potential.  Additionally, they want their hours kept in a reasonable range.  Some law firms have raised compensation to attract and retain top talent.  However, increasing compensation alone doesn’t always lower attrition.  Research shows that when compensation is tied to other measures, there is a likelihood of greater job satisfaction.

Specifically, these measures can include the following: 1) Providing stimulating work; 2) Recognizing employees for work done well; 3) Nurturing a culture so that employees believe they are part of something bigger than themselves; and 4) Leaders should explore the goals and aspirations of employees and support the attainment of those goals. Research and studies, including work by B.F. Skinner, bolster the notion that money alone will not inspire and motivate employees in the long term. However, a positive and meaningful culture, paired with professional and personal development will have greater impact.

A company’s work/life balance should be firmly ingrained in the organization’s culture.  Culture is established and reinforced by executives and this behavior should be modeled by managers and group leaders.  Just remember, leadership and managing employees is hard work, if it is done right.




NATALIE LOEB is the Founder of Loeb Leadership

Development Group and an Executive Coach.

She can be contacted at natalie@loebleadership.com,

866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com.


GORDON LOEB is the COO of Loeb Leadership Development

Group and an Executive Coach.

He can be contacted at gordon@loebleadership.com,

866-987-4111, or www.loebleadership.com.


DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is the Principal of Sarnoff Group

LLC, an Executive Coach and a consultant to Loeb

Leadership Development Group.

He can be contacted at david@sarnoffgroup.com,

646-665-4899 or www.sarnoffgroup.com, and

dsarnoff@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111, or



Boosting Confidence Before A Big Presentation

It’s only natural to have butterflies in your stomach before giving your big pitch or presentation. Even those who give presentations regularly can struggle with jitters. The good news is, there are practical steps you can take to alleviate those jitters, and to build some confidence before your presentation begins.

Simple Strategies for Building Confidence

Consider some of these approaches:

Speak self-affirmations out loud. Self-affirmations aren’t just pop psychology; there’s real evidence to support the idea that, by speaking positively to yourself, you can boost confidence and calm your nerves. Direct some praise at yourself before giving your presentation: “You will give a great presentation. You are a dynamic presenter. You will be engaging and professional.”

Get some blood flowing. No, you don’t want to do vigorous exercise and work up a sweat just before giving your presentation—but there’s benefit to some light activity that boosts your heart rate just a little. A brisk walk or some quick stretching can work wonders.

Take a few deep belly breaths. Again, this isn’t just a cutesy cliché. Anxiety can tighten your muscles and cause you to be stiff, but some deep inhalations will loosen you up—which can, in turn, help you adopt a more confident and assured posture during your presentation.

Rethink your anxiety. Studies have shown that when you try to ignore your anxiety, it just makes it worse. When you rename it, though—calling it excitement instead of anxiety—it can help you be more positive. Don’t tell yourself that you’re feeling nervous; tell yourself you’re excited.

Emphasize the value you’re about to provide. Focus on the giving. Remind yourself that you’re about to share some information that will truly be helpful to people. Review some of the ways in which your audience is going to benefit from what you share. Emphasize your role as a gift-giver.

Rehearse your opening. You may not have time to run through your entire presentation before it begins, but you can probably find the time to practice your opening minute—which will allow you to start more confidently, looking your audience in the eyes and being sure of what comes next.

Know the area. Whenever possible, make sure you spend a few minutes checking out the meeting room, as well as the AV setup, before your presentation. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings so that you’ll feel a little more comfortable during the presentation itself.

Act like you’re happy to be there. In other words, smile! This relaxes the body and can help melt away a little of your apprehension. Plus, it helps you seem more approachable to your audience.

Become a More Confident Presenter

At the end of the day, you may not think of yourself as a natural-born orator—but the truth is, anyone can become a compelling and persuasive public speaker. We’d love to talk with you more about some of your specific struggles or presentation goals. Reach out to Loeb Leadership Development and ask us about our executive coaching services!

How New Managers Can Build Trust with Their Team

Imagine this: A room full of over 50 rocket scientists. Real rocket scientists. And, at the end of a presentation on building high-performing teams, a scientist sitting in the very back of the room raises his hand and asks: “One more time? How do you build trust?”

When preparing to lead this session, I was a little apprehensive. What could I possibly teach a group of 50 of the smartest individuals I had ever met?  The journals on the table in the reception room were in English but I honestly couldn’t understand them. These people were brilliant on so many levels—but I opened the workshop anyhow, and found more than a few who were interested in learning how to engage their team members, curious about how to build effective communication skills.

Eventually, the conversation moved towards “trust-building” and “trust-breaking” behaviors.  Establishing trust is at the foundation of all effective teamwork. Engaging in certain behaviors can help build this trust. And diligence and intention about these behaviors is a critical choice every leader (even rocket scientists) can choose to make every day.

The gentleman in the back of the room just wanted to confirm what he heard…and was intrigued by the idea that he could impact his effectiveness as a leader and intentionally build trust.

The difficult thing about trust, of course, is that it’s something leaders build over time. New leaders have no track record of goodwill to fall back on, it can be challenging to jumpstart that trust-based relationship.

Though it is challenging, it is by no means impossible. As you rise to a new leadership or management role, start cultivating trust from day one, facilitating honest and candid conversations that generate a real rapport. In this post, we’ll show some examples of what those conversations might entail.

Focus on Trust—Not Change

As a new leader, you may have an ambitious agenda you’d like to roll out, including some big changes you plan to implement. It’s fine to have those ambitions, but it’s typically best not to lead with them right out of the gate. That’s putting the cart before the horse; to get buy-in on your agenda, you first need to build trust—and that should be the focus of your first team meeting.

Put those grandiose ideas and sweeping changes on the back-burner, then, and instead work toward these short-term goals:

  • Prove to your team that you’re worthy of their trust.
  • Also show that you are curious, open to feedback, and willing to learn.
  • Show that your goal is to help and empower, not just to dictate.

These might seem like fairly modest goals—but keep in mind that you’re new in your position, and your team may be a little skeptical of you. Frankly, they have every right to be. It won’t be possible to get much done, or to move forward with any big changes, until you alleviate that skepticism.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Relationships

One specific way you can cultivate trust is by spending some time actually getting to know the members of your team—something that may sound a little corny, but is actually critical for facilitating trust-based relationships.

In your early meetings as a leader, put the spotlight on your team. Ask them some questions that help you get to know each of them a little better—and take notes about what you find out! Use your gleanings to brainstorm some future activities you can do with your team, and also to piece together some different ways in which you can play to each employee’s strengths.

Also remember that relationship-building is a two-way street; be prepared to share some details about yourself. This doesn’t just mean listing some of your credentials, though that can sometimes be useful. Also talk about what motivates you to get up in the morning, and why you’re excited to be in the leadership role. Above all, be candid; a willingness to get “real” helps you build trust.

Come Ready to Learn

One more word of advice: As you approach a new leadership position, be willing to get vulnerable with your team members, letting them know that you’re very much in “learning mode.” Tell them that they’re the ones who really know how the team works, and that you hope to benefit from their experience and perspective. Show yourself to be open to insights and feedback, adaptable within your new position.

These tips can all help you generate trust amongst your team members, and ultimately to get off to a good start in your new managerial role. Yet, it’s just one component of being a successful leader; to learn more about thriving in any professional position, contact the executive coaches at Loeb Leadership Development.