Healthy boundaries for balance, with RAPP Worldwide Chief Talent Officer Leigh Ober

In my role as Chief Talent Officer for a global marketing agency, I’ve often heard, through conversation in interviews, performance reviews, exit conversations and even day-to-day chatter, a focus on stress, grueling schedules or the effects of a poor leader who says the right things but is, in reality, demanding and relentless. This isn’t, of course, exclusive to the marketing industry — it’s something felt throughout the American workforce. We feel overworked and under-appreciated.

As women, these stressors are compounded by issues we uniquely face — often working in a male-dominated environment, dealing with feeling undervalued and underpaid, and the antiquated societal pressures we face to serve as primary caretakers of the home and family. As a result, we’re oftentimes, and increasingly, left to manage little-to-no-balance — a lack of time and energy for loved ones, let alone hobbies or caring for ourselves. We feel trapped and stuck.

But there are ways to regain control! Here are three steps to take, and considerations to action against, to begin doing our best work and living our best lives.

  1. Be specific and honest with yourself — and your team — about what you need. Recognizing that there are business factors you do and do not have control over, focus on what you can control. Evaluate things like when you work best — are you a lark, an owl or a third bird? (see Daniel Pink’s book, “When, The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”). Are you getting the direction from your manager that best facilitates your inspiration and output? How does the space you’re in — open space, an office, etc. — impact your productivity? Do you have child or family-care needs or desires that would benefit from scheduling flexibility? Take time to dive into understanding what would really make you feel more productive and more valued at work.
  2. Work up a proposed plan, with some options. If you’re struggling, ask HR or a mentor for some help. Using the information you’ve gleaned during your self-analysis, establish, at the outset of your plan, how you work best, providing explicit examples of times when you’ve done your best work, due to getting what you need. These are powerful proof points about your ability to excel — and you shouldn’t shy away from celebrating your accomplishments! Then, clearly indicate your preferences for getting assignments, direction and feedback and be honest about your preference for scheduled meetings vs impromptu, drive-by conversations. Indicate, and ask to reconcile, any conflicting messages or signals you’re receiving so they can be addressed before they become a problem. Think through where you’re willing to be flexible, so you can be open to all of the options that will get you closer to your goals. Distill this down to a one-pager that succinctly conveys your needs, strengths and opportunities for growth. Self-awareness goes a long way.
  3. Request time with your manager. Ask for a meeting to check in on how things are going and use the time to respectfully share your plan. Be sure to remain open to options and alternatives, clarifying healthy boundaries and discussing how you intend to address urgent business needs within the constructs of your plan. If you’re not sure you’re getting full buy-in, ask your manager if they have concerns or ideas and discuss them. Accept the feedback, rethink your proposal, and revisit the conversation. Your manager may be privy to information or insights outside of your purview, so embrace this as new data to factor in to your planning. This process can and should be iterative, as you’re working together to find a path forward that both works for the business and helps to better your personal balance — a win-win for everyone involved. Before you leave the meeting, map a path forward. Be transparent about timelines, next steps and formalizing the plan, confirming who else should be involved in its finalization.

Of course, before you approach your manager, you’ve got to ask yourself a tough question — whether or not your performance has earned you the respect for an open conversation about what you need to consistently deliver great work.

And, if you’re a manager, you should initiate similar career check-ins regularly. Ask how things are going and what your employee(s) need to do their best work. Giving them explicit permission to share openly, so they feel safe to talk about what’s going on in their personal lives, helps facilitate collaboration — and is just plan refreshing. Refrain from judgement and show empathy, so you can both make some adjustments that tip the scale between a fulfilled employee and one who’s burnt out and about to exit.

At the end of the day, we’ve got to empower one another, as women, to truly take care of ourselves. Being able to bring our best self to work means caring for our whole self; physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. What do you need to honor yourself — and what do you need to make that happen? Time, resources, or something else? The more you feel connected and understood across the facets of your life that make you, you, the better you’ll be able to focus on your projects and impact your business positively.

What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?

Leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility. It’s how we show up in every relationship and bring out the best in our organizations and our teams. It means always learning, pursuing innovation and ways to work smarter, being vulnerable, empathetic and resilient, building trust to have safe and often difficult but honest conversations, and knowing when to land the plane. It means I surround myself with people who are smart and complement my own management style, then empower them to shoot straight, push back and bring forward new ideas. It also means having the humility to step aside and let someone else lead in an area you’re passionate about so you can help them grow their leadership skills, too.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve had an incredible career journey that’s zigged and zagged due to the variety of brilliant mentors who’ve influenced me. It started with a prescient stay-at-home mom who wanted to be sure I would be an independent career woman and pushed me to take internships, travel and explore multiple careers early on. That’s how I learned I didn’t want to be a retailer or a journalist, and redirected my first career to entertainment PR. From there, I’ve had a series of incredible mentors — sponsors, really — who’ve pushed me to pursue opportunities way outside of my comfort zone and provided a lifeline when I needed it most. It was Steve Rexford and Ron Davis who inspired me to leave PR and NYC and head up employee communications at Perrier (now Nestle Waters); John McDonald who tapped me to run unionized call centers for a division of what was then GTE (now Verizon); the late Sandy Henjum who knew I was interested in HR and offered to mentor me and teach me everything if I would join her leadership team; and it’s the trifecta of Susan Sachs, Renee Nymeyer and Phil Ober who inspire me and hold me accountable to living a life that is true to my values. These special trusted partners regularly help me unleash my own potential to do the same in others — while also reassuring me that I’m only human (and sometimes fallible!).

Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?

This question makes me laugh, as this is an ongoing challenge. I’m fortunate to have a circle of trusted friends who help me on the continuous journey of making it a priority to ensure I’m caring for my whole being — physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I love what I do and find it incredibly rewarding to coach others to realize their potential. But, over the years, I’ve learned that I need to be sure my own tank is full so I can fuel others. That means I have to prioritize fitness, mindfulness, friendships and love. I ask for help. I have an accountability partner who helps me stay focused on doing what’s most important for my personal and professional life. I’ve got coaches and colleagues who advise and guide me to make better business decisions. I have incredibly talented teams and leadership who have my back. Most importantly, I have a husband and kids who keep me grounded and I have friends who call me out and remind me of the importance of laughing, crying and having fun!

About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Authority magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site:

Healthy boundaries for balance, with RAPP Worldwide Chief Talent Officer Leigh Ober was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.