Energetic. Quick witted. Charismatic. Ivy League degrees. These are the traits companies hunt for when building up their leadership teams and, Lucy, a young executive, has them all. We met when I was partnering with a big corporation to bring more understanding, trust and respect to their work environment. On paper she is the perfect fit to rise as a leader but her resume was not the complete picture. In our first conversations it was clear to me that she had difficulty connecting to and communicating with her team. They didn’t always align with her ideas leading to confrontation and discontent. I put my finger on something else though--Her anxiety when we talked about her home life.
(Photo: Jonathan Hillyer)
Married and the mother of two young children, Lucy is the household’s breadwinner. While she escaped to the office everyday, her husband’s flexible work situation allowed him to be home for the children, to help them with their homework and to handle the domestic tasks. Duties divided this way should have been an ideal divide-and-conquer situation, but in practice it was an arrangement that was causing resentment. Not wanting to be the one to deal with the domestic half of the partnership, her husband, Fred, was hunting for a better job, feeling very little support from Lucy in the process the friction worsened between the two of them.
While Lucy wanted Fred to have a more fulfilling job, she was scared that if he found such a job, the caretaking of the children would be jeopardized. Even worse, she was worried that it would fall on her. Lucy always wanted kids, she just didn’t want to raise them. This is where I found myself starting my work with Lucy as the root of her work issues was her personal conflict. Job performance is ultimately a reflection of an employee’s personal life - if things are good at home, they’re good at work.
Focused on the relationship with Fred and her connection to their children, we worked on ways for her to have more meaningful evenings and weekends with them. We strengthened the relationship and lo and behold, it translated to her leadership at work. Her meetings became smoother and more meaningful. Her team started being more productive and less contradictive.
And just when we thought the issue was resolved in came the curve ball of 2020: COVID19. It slammed into all of our lives, challenged our expectations of normal and left families to scramble to get back to normal. Combining work life and virtual learning was a routine and a nightmare many families never anticipated. Stuck at home unable to keep up with her children’s needs, work demands, household necessities and a cranky Fred, Lucy spiraled into a downfall. Her office sanctuary was taken away from her and she was totally out of her comfort zone, desperate, very depressed and left feeling like the rug had been taken out from under her feet. She put her situation into these words: “I always wanted to have children, I didn’t want to raise them, and I never thought I would have to…”
This pushed us back to a different beginning.
To pull her back up we focused on prioritizing time and letting go of pre-pandemic habits and expectations. We accepted her losses--lack of personal time, no escape from the household-- and the need to adapt in order to accomplish the tasks ahead. It could not be a literal translation of life before into life now. It was altogether a new set of needs that had to be met as efficiently and productive as possible.
Little by little she found the time and a way to balance work and home. Lucy found her “center” through self-care exercises such as setting daily morning and evening intentions, breathing exercises, journaling, etc. all of these served to ground her and gave her the head space to be more involved in the children’s lives, without losing her commitment to her job. She applied her creativity to guide her through new ways to engage with them while allowing her to do her work and attend Zoom meetings. The spirit of cooperation in the household turned into a treasure and a gift, teamwork both at home and at work becoming smoother.
The challenges of Covid turned positive, she’s developed a more meaningful and loving relationship with Fred and made raising their children top priority. So much so, when talks started about opening schools Lucy said to me: “I can’t believe how much fun it is to have children, spend time with them….I actually don’t want for the pandemic to end….”
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