How “Balanced” Are You? Lessons from 5 am Running

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to meet a group of women who convinced me to get up at 4:30 am and run.  At first, I thought it was a crazy idea.  Who would get up at 4:30 am, dress in glow in the dark clothing, put on a headlamp and run around neighborhoods that look so much different at 5 am in the morning?

Many years later, I cherish my time with my 5 am running group and look forward to our adventures. We have seen many sunrises together, survived skunks, falls, sprained ankles, loss of pets, new babies, grandbabies, deaths of family members and many stories of misbehaving children.  We have enjoyed and celebrated our successes and mourned each others failures.  But, most of all, this 5 am running group has brought a much-needed balance to my life.

Some of the best leaders I have known throughout my career have been able to obtain balance between their work and other aspects of their life.  I typically have not been one of those leaders.  As I have matured and gained confidence in my leadership skills, I force myself to step back and find a balance.   I’m also lucky enough to have a persuasive husband who often intervenes.

Balance is different for each person. Finding balance is personal and one strategy does not work for everyone.   I’ll share some of my leadership strategies, but recognize that these strategies may not work for everyone.

One of the main strategies I use is to lead by example.  While not every employee will get up at 4:30 am, I work to encourage opportunities to allow flexibility in employee schedules to stay healthy.  At Northern Arizona University, there are many employee wellness opportunities.  I encourage employees to participate and provide flexibility in their schedules to allow this to occur.

Second, I discourage individuals from comparing their work schedules to those of others. We’ve all dealt with employees who compare the amount of hours they’ve worked to others in the office. I want my employees to work hard, but recognize that a work-life balance is key to their productivity.

Third, know when to call it a day. While this is easier said than done, it’s easy to fall into the trap that just another hour of work will finish a project.  As I have matured in the workplace, I recognize that the work will always be there in the morning.

Fourth, don’t fall into the email trap.  Many who have worked with me know that I take my time in responding to emails.  I am a firm believer that, many times, problems solve themselves if you don’t respond immediately.  While many of us are always connected to our phone and email, resist the urge to respond immediately.  A good night’s sleep will always help you make a better decision.

Finally, encourage employees to take vacation time.  It’s important for all of us to relax, spend time with family and return to work invigorated.

So, what’s the lesson from running at 5 am?  Balance is key to being an effective leader.

Take the time to go for a walk, enjoy a yoga break at lunch or leave work to go for a run.  Or, if you’re as lucky as I am, find a group of women who challenge you, support you and help you find balance.  And, you will not regret the amazing sunrises!


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