The balancer Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2009

Afew years ago, Anita Misra-Hebert was working with a team on a leadership development course for medical students when one of the activities got the wheels turning in her head. In one of the exercises, she was asked to create a vision statement for herself by looking at where she saw herself in five years and then to look at the things that meant the most to her. She was to then make that part of her career path to make sure she was spending time in the areas that meant the most to her.

“It seems an obvious point, but as we enter our careers, it’s difficult to step back,” she says.

At that point, her family commitments — and her two young children — were definitely vying for her time as an executive wellness physician at the Cleveland Clinic, and within a year, she had another child.

“I kept looking back to that time and was thinking about this visioning statement,” Misra-Hebert says. “Really, I started to change things in my life where I could be at a point where I wanted to be and would be the most comfortable to me.”

She also thought about comments her colleagues had made to her over the years. When she had expressed a decreased desire to travel for work after her first child was born, the colleague told her she was just going to have to get over that. Years later, she still hadn’t gotten over it. She was also told to prepare to miss a bunch of events in her children’s lives, as well.

“I don’t want to create a life where I’m missing all the events,” she says. “I want to be there.”

As she progressed in her thinking and her career, she realized it was more of a choice to have more balance between her career and family than it was something that had to be dictated to her.

“I could choose to have a life that allowed me to be more at home and present for the kids,” Misra-Hebert says. “Once I realized it was a choice and it was OK to choose the path that I have chosen, I felt so comfortable with it. I haven’t really questioned it since then.”

She decided to have the courage to ask for what she wanted.

“It was more of coming up with creative ways and say, ‘Hey, I can be here for the amount of time you need me to be here, but I don’t have to be in the office to do it,’” she says. “It was selling that idea to people and saying, ‘I can be really effective when I’m here, but you’ll have a much happier employee if I’m able to do these other things, too.’”

She asked if she would be able to leave work a little early each day so she could be home more for her kids. The trade-off was that she would work at home in the evening hours to stay up to speed.

“It’s definitely a two-way street,” she says. “Be willing to give 100 percent when you’re asking for things like that. The whole idea that somebody knows that you’re committed 100 percent and are available even if you’re not physically present is something that would have a boss at least consider your request. The trouble comes when people want to count their hours very specifically in terms of how much work they put in outside the workplace, and then it becomes more difficult.”

She routinely has to make follow-up calls to patients and finish work at home, but that’s the choice she’s made, and she’s OK with it. But there are different choices for everyone, so she says it’s important not to judge people for the decisions they make, and as a leader, be open to your employees’ needs that may differ from your own.

“There’s just creative ways to make things work, so it’s thinking outside the box and be open to your employees’ suggestions on how they can do things is the only advice that I can have,” Misra-Hebert says. “For many people, different things work. Some people can’t stand working at home, and they want to be done when they’re actually at work, and this type of arrangement wouldn’t work. Just be open to other people’s ideas of what would work for them. Everybody has their own issues, and it’s just nice to be in an environment where somebody did listen, so I could make things work.”

How to reach: Cleveland Clinic, www.clevelandclinic.org or (216) 444-5403