Holistic Leadership: Women Bringing Their Whole Selves to Work

“There is no work-life balance. We have one life. What’s most important is that you be awake for it.” ― Janice Marturano, Institute for Mindful Leadership

The holistic leader strives for integration beyond work/life balance. Work is an opportunity for growth. Life is a leadership training ground. Bringing her whole self to work, the holistic leader exemplifies authenticity. She’s well resourced, grounded, and present, a leader in her organization, as well as in her community and family. At ease and focused, she knows herself and her value.

At Next Level Leadership, we encourage connected leaders who lead from the center of the web, rather than the top of the pyramid. The connected leader serves customers, patients, regulators, partners, employees, team members, and higher-ups across her web. As such, she must be well resourced. By recognizing that every aspect of our lives affects the others, a more integrated, holistic leadership becomes possible. Possible but remember, progress not perfection.

“Balance suggests a perfect equilibrium. There is no such thing. That is a false expectation…. There are going to be priorities and dimensions of your life, how you integrate them is how you find true happiness.” Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup

Speaking to a coaching client recently she described herself as “burnt out”. I asked her to identify the relationships in her life: friend, colleague, sister, manager, and so on. What was her role in those relationships: cheerleader, confidant, supporter, organizer, etc. What was the common thread? The arrows of energy all pointed outward, serving everyone without refueling herself. She committed to a daily walking habit and gratitude practice. Self-care. One month later, she reported feeling refueled, and proud to be a positive force again

Women are leading the move towards more sustainable practices and organizations. The McKinsey Organizational Health Index (OHI) consistently finds companies with more women at the top to be healthier and happier. When our Rutgers Executive Leadership Program for Women (ELP) graduates were asked what success means to them, 30 percent cited “happiness” or “satisfaction,” and being able to balance work and family successfully. 83 percent of ELP graduates mentioned work/life balance before researchers asked. 70 percent of ELP graduates report they’ve taken action to make their workplaces more flexible for others. This need crosses gender lines. A recent study of Fortune 500 companies found that fathers who spend more time with their kids report greater job satisfaction.

Step Back

Developing holistic leadership requires space and time to ‘step back.’ All parts of life affect the whole. If we skimp on sleep, we are unable to focus or delegate, resulting in longer work hours, with no time for exercise and guilt about missed dinners. This leads to another restless night of sleep and prolongs an unhealthy cycle.

In a recent interview, Poornima Vijayashanker, CEO and Founder of BizeeBee, Inc talked about the need for integrating sleep into her life.“ I know a lot of people shirk off things like sleep and working out once they start businesses, but for me, I’ve actually made it a point that that’s absolutely what has to happen; sleep and exercise, and if those two don’t, then it’s very likely that I’m not going to do a good job on the business side.” By making conscious choices, we can use this interconnectivity to our benefit.

Sleep is what Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) calls a “keystone habit”–or a habit that has a cascading effect, enabling the formation of other positive habits. Exercise, meditation, and proper nutrition can all be keystone habits.


Staying in the center of the web requires connection. At The Rutgers Executive Leadership Program for Women (ELP), we help women develop the supportive relationships they need to stay resourced. Connecting enables them to ask for–and receive–the support needed to successfully use self-care to inspire and nurture growth. The benefit of recognizing they’re “not alone” in their effort to integrate complex working lives cannot be overstated. One ELP graduate said the most valuable takeaways of the ELP program was “speaking to other women and thinking, ‘I am doing okay.’” By building group accountability, the ELP gets results. What busy women won’t do for themselves, they’ll do for one another. The return on investment from self-care ultimately creates the most essential accountability–to themselves. In this way, the muscle of self-efficacy is strengthened.


By committing to one keystone habit and building it in small increments, or ‘micro-habits,’ we avoid overtaxing our limited resource of willpower. At the same time, we strengthen “the habit of habit formation,” by maintaining our commitments to ourselves. When our candidates master the habit of habit formation, they are empowered. Working in this way, we’ve seen women leaders become masters of holistic leadership, mindfully building an integrated work/life, micro-habit by micro-habit.

“If you feel that you have a work/life balance problem, only you can fix it…you’re the only person who can solve it. Nobody will solve it for you.” — ELP graduate

Enrollment is now open for The Rutger’s ELP Spring 2016! Click here for more information and to apply. 

ELP alumnae on our holistic approach to leadership:

The most rounded and valuable course I have attended in the 16 years I have been in the industry. It pulls together many aspects of understanding self and others and leadership styles. – VP, Johnson & Johnson

It helped me to discover the authentic leader deep in my soul. – VP, Johnson & Johnson

In 30 years, I’ve never attended a program that comes close to this one in terms of self-discovery and set-up for positive personal and professional growth – VP, Chubb & Son

Great balance of head, heart, self-reflection, tools, and techniques to develop women leaders – a great platform for growth. – Diversity Education Chief, Johnson & Johnson

The ELP allowed me to learn and apply concepts and frameworks for my personal development, as well as leadership and management of others. – Dir, Johnson & Johnson

Click here for more information and to apply. 

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On making choices for holistic leadership: Saying Yes, Saying No

On communicating with presence: Resonant Presence