# Calculating What You Will Tolerate

## Calculating What You Will Tolerate

We cannot overemphasize that every individual has to determine how much work-family imbalance she’s willing to accept and the price she’s willing to pay. Some women, for instance, are willing to forsake a family for their careers. For others, such a sacrifice is unacceptable. Similarly, some executives will sacrifice time with their family early in their career but not later. Others will jump through every hoop the organization places in their path , and their spouses will support them as they jump.

The CEO of a large financial services company told us a story about what happened to him in midcareer. For the sake of a significant promotion, he was asked to uproot himself, his wife, and his three children and move across the country. He was willing to do so because it was a great career opportunity, and his wife and children were enthusiastic about having new experiences. As they were driving across the country, following the moving truck with all their belongings, this executive called in to his office and received the message that the company had decided to move him to a different office. This meant selling the house they had bought, explaining to the children that they weren’t going to the wonderful place with the lake and the beautiful weather after all, and dealing with the logistics of relocating twice in twenty-four hours. On top of that, this executive had to go through some serious mental gymnastics, as he wondered what the “real” reason was that management had decided to shift him to a different location. Despite everything, this future CEO didn’t question his company’s decision, let alone protest it, and his family remained supportive of him and the second move.

To many people, an event like this would have triggered the beginning of this passage and a questioning of work-life issues. Some executives would have resigned, or at least confronted their boss on being told in the middle of the drive to relocate again. It all depends on the individual and how much uncertainty and unpredictability he is willing to tolerate or how much his partner and children are willing to tolerate.

Perhaps the worst way to deal with this passage (and a way that many executives choose) is to deny that you’re making sacrifices or that you’ll have to pay a price for making them. If you’re traveling around the world and working enormously long hours and thinking about or doing work when you’re at home, you are not engaged and your family knows it. At the worst, your relationship is diminished. Your children feel distant from you or don’t know you well.

Even at best, though, it can become an issue that creates ongoing tension in your relationships. Today most spouses expect that their partner will contribute to running the household and raising children, and if you contribute only minimally , you can expect to pay a price. This may be an acceptable price, but you need to think about this issue and discuss it with your partner. If you are in denial about it—if you rationalize why it is necessary for you to be a workaholic—you will be blindsided by the repercussions your choices entail.

Similarly, don’t delude yourself that you can “multitask” your way out of this imbalance. We’ve coached incredibly busy senior executives who maintain that even though they work constantly at home, they also pay attention to their spouse and children and that even though they spend a significant percentage of their vacations with their computers and cell phones, there is still time to swim, golf, sightsee, and hike with their families. They admit that they spend inordinate amounts of time on work- related matters, but they add that when they are with their family, it’s “quality time.” This is generally nothing more than a rationalization. If they’re not fully engaged and present when they are with their families (and it’s difficult to be this way when every conversation is interrupted by a cell phone call from work), then they are simply fooling themselves into thinking they’re providing their family with what they need.

Some people also deny that choosing family over work will have repercussions. As we’ve mentioned, some women find it extraordinarily difficult to resume their careers after having children. Whether this is unfair isn’t the issue. Some women refuse to face the reality that having children can have a negative impact on their career. If they don’t discuss this impact in advance with their partner as well as their boss, they may be surprised. If they convince themselves that nothing is going to change when they have children— the time they spend in the office, how others perceive their commitment to work, their work schedule flexibility—then they will struggle in this passage. One day, perhaps after an argument with their partner or a confrontation with their boss—they will realize they made a major decision without fully considering its implications.

Of course, it’s not just women who choose family over work or try to achieve a perfect balance. We have coached and know male executives who absolutely refuse to miss certain events in their child’s life, or they turn down great career opportunities because it would interfere with their family time. We know of one senior executive who arrived late at the company’s annual top management meeting because it was more important for him to be at home for his son’s birthday. This choice fits their values, but some of these men are tremendously resentful when they plateau at a certain level. They denied to themselves that their balancing act would have any consequences. Thus they enter this passage and become tremendously angry and resentful, failing to grasp how their actions resulted in the situation they’re angry and resentful about. Rather than use this issue as a catalyst to learn about themselves and find a meaningful balance, they become mired in their negative emotions.

Ray Viault, vice chairman, General Mills

To maximize leadership learning and growth, therefore, don’t deny; instead, do the following:

How truly important is it to participate fully in your family’s day-to-day activities? (Children learn in both ways: from parents who are present and from those who are absent.)

Do you believe marriage should involve an equal division of labor and child-raising responsibilities?

Do you believe in typical male- female marital roles? Is it possible you have feelings about roles that you aren’t aware of or haven’t articulated ?

Can you achieve happiness and fulfillment only through reaching ambitious career goals?

These are the types of values-based questions you need to consider. As you enter this passage, you may feel as if the choice in front of you is impossible : Do you move your family to Saudi Arabia and advance your career, even though your family hates the idea of living there? You can’t use logic to arrive at an answer; you can argue both sides of the proposition. Therefore, take some time out to reflect on what you really value. Admittedly, it is tough to reflect on this issue when you’re working eighty hours per week, so you may need to spend a little time outside the work environment to come to terms with your values; you might escape to the country for a weekend or go on a long walk. A coach or another adviser may be able to facilitate this process, providing you with a sounding board to test what is really important to you. Some people value achieving capstone positions above all else, and in some situations their families will support them, no matter how much time and energy they must devote to this quest. Others value family to the point where they draw a line and refuse to cross it when it comes to working more than forty hours per week.

Dan, for instance, had P&L responsibility for a division of a large software company. His organization valued his knowledge and skills and accommodated his desire to spend as much time as possible with his family. When his company was bought, however, he had to deal with a new boss and a new set of people and procedures. As someone going through the professional passage of being acquired , Dan recognized that he should be creating a new support network. He realized he could use lunches and after-work social gatherings as ways to build this network, but he usually refused to take advantage of these opportunities. Dan ate lunch at his desk and worked so that he could arrive home to have dinner with his family every night. Because he wanted to be home at night, he went to very few after-work functions. Dan had incredibly strong family values, and he had vowed when he started working for this software company that he would not adopt a schedule that would prevent him from maintaining these values. In Dan’s mind, he knew exactly how much he was willing to give his organization. Though he knew he was placing himself in a vulnerable position by not developing this network immediately, his behavior was dictated by his values, and he felt comfortable with his decision.

• Involve your partner early on in your decisions about work and family.  Reach consensus on what you’re willing to do for work and where you’ll draw the line. Most people don’t have these discussions until after the fact. When they do get around to talking about these issues, they usually take the form of arguments. Typically, one person misses a kid’s concert or game or takes yet another ten-day trip or misses a birthday or anniversary, and this event triggers an argument in which promises are made and then broken later on. The time to talk is early in a career. At that point, you can create parameters that will help you create a meaningful balance.

• Monitor your attitude toward success.  When you join a company, the organization shapes your perspective about success. In formal and informal ways, they communicate that your success revolves around promotions and that titles, perks, salaries, and bonuses are how you measure your achievements. If you accept this as gospel throughout your career, you’ll find yourself asking, “Is this all there is?” at some point.