Why Leadership Means Leaving on Time

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An overused- but often cited- definition of leadership is “the art of influencing people to willingly achieve the team or organisational goal”. As leaders, we often forget that the behaviour we model is one way we influence our subordinates and how they work. This can be as simple as being logged online and available late at night, or being the last one to leave the workplace.

There’s always a reason why a leader may have stayed late. A deadline demanded it, operational needs mandated it, or even simpler we chose to do this work because we felt productive at the time. When this extra context isn’t explained to subordinates, we may be doing more harm than good to the perception of work and influencing the next generation of leaders to model this behaviour.

By remaining at work well beyond the scheduled finish, a message is conveyed that maybe there is more that your team can be doing. Not everyone will follow your example, but some may be encouraged to stay behind and miss out on key time spent outside of work socialising, taking care of their health and spending time with family. 

The Australian Defence Force is built upon being more than a job—it is a lifestyle. However, this does not mean that socialising, spending time with loved ones and personal time is not available and should be encouraged to maintain high performing, inspired and safe teams.

I believe that there are three key things of which leaders must remind themselves to maintain a healthy work-life balance, and therefore lead their teams effectively:

  1. Clearly articulate working boundaries
  2. Stick to boundaries
  3. Acknowledge we are human

Clearly articulate boundaries 

When we clearly articulate our team’s working hours, we are committing to model this and should set clear expectations for when we may work more or less than expected. By virtue of exercises, training, and operational needs, working conditions may change. Our teams can plan for this and can manage the additional stress imposed when their personal lives may be impacted by work. 

Clearly communicating the expectation, but also how you personally are choosing to manage the extra work, can encourage others to do the same. This can then be an opportunity to start a conversation with your teams about flexible working arrangements; defining your team as one that works the way that suits it without impacting operational capability and our people as much as reasonably possible.

I acknowledge that at times resource constraints may require teams to work longer, however those instances are an opportunity to develop a plan to remedy these constraints and raise that plan with appropriate levels of command. 

Boundaries and clear responsibilities plainly communicated can also aid your commanders in their planning.

Stick to boundaries 

It seems obvious that once boundaries are set we must stick to them. However, it may only take one action to void them and demonstrate that you set boundaries you choose not to follow. This can create a culture of ignoring rules, disregarding command and further create a work environment where people will work unhealthy hours because that behaviour is modelled by higher commands. 

An active measure to stick to boundaries may be as simple as walking by each of your teams at the end of the day and ensuring they are leaving with you, or asking when they will finish if their work hours are different to yours. An open conversation between your teams can pay large dividends in creating a workplace where leaving on time is normal and important to performance. 

Acknowledge we are human

There will be times when boundaries are breached. We will stay late to finish work, begin a follow-on task or complete last-minute tasks that we may have missed. We are human and by no means will be perfect. By acknowledging this has happened and communicating it to our teams, we can affirm that setting reasonable work hours is imperative to our health and performance. Well rested and inspired teams perform at much higher rates than those who are burned out, stressed and overworked. 

If you cannot explain to your teams why you worked outside of your set hours, it is a good time for self-reflection so you can understand what is requiring your attention outside of your schedule and plan appropriately.

Reinforcing this cycle is incredibly important in establishing consistent work patterns. You will continue to understand your people, model correct behaviours and demonstrate to future leaders what need to emulate– leaving work on time. 

On this is note, it’s time for me to turn off my computer and spend time on something other than work.

About the Author: Lieutenant Emma Watson is a junior officer of the 11th Engineer Regiment. Follow her on Twitter. 

Cover Image Credit: Defence Image Gallery