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I worked with a university led by a president who boasted that he never took vacations. Indeed, when traveling for business, he carefully arranged to fly in and arrive just before and fly out right after. No time to visit a museum or take in a local site. No checking out that new great restaurant. All business.

That same president was insistent one day that a director of Work/Life Balance needed to be created in the Human Resources Office. He had heard repeatedly from faculty and staff that it was challenging to pursue tenure when you are in the midst of starting a family. Or that working evenings and weekends took away from time needed to care for aging parents. His solution was to create a job that would hopefully help solve those problems.

Of course this idea, while perhaps ok in merit, failed. He did not model what he voiced. And, culture does not change by hiring a “person” or a even creating an “office.” When a leader says one thing and acts in another way, it sends a cultural shiver down the proverbial organizational backbone. A man who never took his wife and family away for respite does not model work-life balance. Nor can he apply a lived experience understanding of challenges that emerge when life supersedes the demands of the work environment.

It is a time of tension and questioning. Voices are louder. Opinions bolder. Leaders are challenged by balancing the many points of view within their communities. It is an opportune time for all leaders to self examine.

Another president, at a different college, regularly delivered speeches that mentioned her humble beginnings and passionate dedication to mentoring women to leadership positions. However, when staff took time off, she required them to call in for regularly-scheduled meetings and to read e-mail 24/7 in case they were needed. She rarely asked staff about their families. She never revealed anything personal about herself. And she easily worked 20-hour days with similar expectations of those around her. Shiver.

In our heads, we most often know what is right and just. But the demands of daily work can skew our lived reality. In consulting, I sometimes want to sit down with a president and point out the anomalies in the way s/he speaks and the way that they act. In order to do this, they need to be honest with themselves – introspective in a way that changes who they might be and how they act. It is a rare leader who takes the time to make this kind of change.

In the Fall, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education is offering an online course that is highly relevant to leaders in any education setting. “Including Ourselves in the Change Equation: Personal Learning for Organizational Effectiveness” is described:

“Many change efforts falter because we try to solve challenges by changing our skill sets alone, when we must also change our mindsets. This requires overcoming blind spots, identifying competing commitments, and freeing ourselves from limiting assumptions.”

It is helpful to pause and think about how we act in the workplace and to identify how what we do might not “do as we say.” It is easy to slip into the bubble of deadlines, too much work for too few people to complete, limited resources to do a job as well as we would like. It is even easier to never pause to celebrate the achievements and successes we do attain. I am finding that more organizational culture is dominated by this inability to take the time to self reflect. The cultural shivers are what lead to a lack of trust in leadership and an absence in real progress that could catapult organizations. As the Harvard program notes, leaders can get frustrated when good ideas are not moved to implementation, and there may be reasons – or patterns of behavior – within the leadership team that explain the inertia.

It takes time and reflection, but leaders who develop the internal capacity to affect change move organizations forward and overcome stagnation. The Harvard course looks like a mindful approach to more carefully align our mindsets, our actions and our leadership manifestations. The old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” does not bode well in leadership. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote better applies, ““What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” Shiver.


A blog chronicling the up's and down's, trials and tribulations, fear and happiness of moving your life from the expected 9-to-5 job to a life of consulting. While it is a big and often scary decision, it is a time of discovery, rejuvenation and introspection that will help you remember who you are and who you were supposed to be. It's a wonderful journey.

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