Teeter Totters and Leadership: Balance in Motion!

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership, Managing Yourself

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my fourth: Balance in Motion.

When I was a kid, I loved playing on the teeter totter. You might know it as a “seesaw.” Every day after school, my friend Jackie and I made a mad dash for the playground. We had to get to that teeter totter before anyone else!

We’d go up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Trying to go fast without hitting that awful KA-THUNK at the very top or bottom. Or worse, falling off completely! (Although I must admit, we did try to knock each other off sometimes.)

When we got it right, without hitting the top or the bottom, it was balance in motion. And we so enjoyed the fun.

Occasionally we’d find ourselves in a fleeting moment of equilibrium. It was a kind of a “perfect balance.” Neither up nor down, it felt like we were floating effortlessly in space.

But as quickly as that moment arrived, it was over!

Once again, we were in motion: Up and down. Up and down. Bumps here, bumps there. Up and down.

Looking back now, I’ve come to  appreciate “balance in motion” as an essential leadership skill. Life and work are like the seesaw. We are always experiencing — and responding to — ups and downs. We are not striving for a perfect and permanent equilibrium. It doesn’t exist!

Get Your Copy:

My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “Balance in Motion.”

On the teeter totter, Jackie and I had intention, focus and a kind of in-the-moment responsiveness. We weren’t distracted by dogs chasing squirrels or by other kids on the playground.

As it turns out, those qualities — intention, focus and healthy responsiveness — are just as important in a business setting.

I learned this lesson in the early years of running my company. I was excited by every new idea — and tried to implement far too many of them. I was upset by every  unexpected change or challenge — and spent many hours awake at night.

I was like the seesaw rapidly bouncing up and down without control, jolted so hard at those tops and bottoms. And it simply wasn’t effective leadership.

I realized my staff — and the healthy growth of my business — required me to maintain my focus and keep all things in perspective.

And I noticed that balance in motion was just that: ongoing. Not a one-time accomplishment. It was something I’d need to continually manage, especially in the face of constant change.

So, how can you find balance in motion? And how can you maintain it?

Check out the Power Challenges below for some ideas and tips!

Power Challenge 1: What Throws You Off Balance?

We can’t really measure balance in motion. It’s more of a sense. A feeling.

When Goldilocks tasted Papa Bear’s porridge, she found it too hot. So, she moved onto Mama Bear’s porridge, but that was too cold.

But then, she tried Baby Bear’s porridge. “Just right!”

That’s how balance in motion feels to me. Maintaining a forward-moving equilibrium. Busy … but not frantic. Challenged … but not drained. Energized … but in a sustainable way.

Just right.

Power Question:

What does “balance in motion” feel like to you?

Everyone’s idea of balance is different. What’s yours?

Close your eyes and imagine those days when you feel totally out of balance. What’s that like? Overwhelmed and anxious? Like you’re suddenly “not good enough” to meet the challenges?

Open your eyes and shake off that feeling. Take a few deep breaths. Now close your eyes again. This time, imagine yourself in a balanced state: Everything is flowing and you’re handling both the expected and unexpected throughout each day. What’s this feeling like? In control? Empowered? Confident? (Hopefully you said yes to all three!)

What will it take for you to feel in balance in motion more of the time? Like the teeter totter in the park, life and work will continually hand you ups and downs. It’s not if, but when.

That’s why it’s important to know what types of situations — good or bad — might make you feel off-balance.

Can you relate to any of these examples?

  • Interruptions and distractions: Your technology breaks down. An employee has a meltdown. A suddenly unhappy customer demands attention right now.
  • Surprises and changes you didn’t see coming: A star employee quits. A big client goes elsewhere. Your supply chain is disrupted.
  • Overwhelmed: Just too many monkeys on your back!

Related: Is Your To-Do List Getting You Down?

And it’s not only “unwanted” situations. Even “positive” situations can throw us off balance. Can you relate to any of these?

  • Triumphs: Breaking a new sales record. Landing a major contract. Getting media recognition for a humanitarian contribution.
  • Scaling the business: Revamping a system. Remodeling the office. Opening a second or third location. Hiring to keep up with business growth.
  • Life: Getting a new puppy!

Ups and downs in business (and leadership) are to be expected. Start taking note of those ups and downs and how you respond to them. Notice which ones really get under your skin. That’s where you’ll want to start working to create that sense of balance in motion.

Power Challenge 2: Find Ways to Restore Balance

As a leader, you can’t bury your head in the sand when something throws you off balance. You can’t scream or throw a temper tantrum. You can’t get carried away by excitement for so long you neglect the challenges.

You have to lead.

Usually, you have to act quickly. You have to be smart about the decisions you make. That’s what balance in motion looks like.

So how can you quickly regain your ability to respond well? Here are some tips:

Calm down. Hit the pause button. Do some breathing exercises. Go for a walk around the block. Use a mindfulness technique that works for you.

Step back. Respond, don’t react! Look at the bigger picture. Figure out what needs to be done. Then do it – or clearly and calmly delegate it.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Especially in crisis situations, your staff will look to you for reassurance that someone is in control. You have to be that person. Even if you’re just as afraid as they are.

Own it. If you made a mistake, acknowledge it. Apologize. Then move on to rectifying it. (Don’t let yourself be swallowed up by it.)

Power Quote:

“Balance is not something you find. It’s something you create.” – Jana Kingsford

The Beauty of Balance

Of course, when I sat across from Jackie on that teeter totter all those years ago, I wasn’t thinking about it as a career metaphor. But now I do.

And what’s the same, then and now, is I love the feeling of balance in motion.

As an adult, and a leader, I’m aware of what typically distracts me (for better or for worse) and what situations can throw me off. But I’m able to take all of those situations in stride.

I keep my intention and focus on what’s really important — the bigger picture. I manage my emotions, keep a clear head and respond in a measured way. I don’t stay long at the highest highs and the lowest lows.

As a result, I feel strong, confident and energized more of the time. And I know you can do this, too! It just takes some intention, awareness and practice.

Jackie and I happened to meet for lunch the other day. The young waiter, still in training, accidentally bumped into our table as he brought our meal. He was carrying one too many plates in one hand, and it made him lose his footing.

As the water in our glasses sloshed over the rims, we smiled at one another. Balance in motion is always a work in progress!

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Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

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