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Part-time leadership positions - More than just a trend

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

"Be the change you wish to see in the world"

Mahatma Gandhi

In this article, you will learn:

  1. Why part-time leadership can be beneficial for all of us.

  2. Why it is challenging for many people to lead in a part-time capacity.

  3. What you should consider to make it work.

More and more well-educated people want more from life than spending the majority of the week in paid work. While work remains important for their self-esteem, it should be meaningful and bring added value to society. Employees often want to achieve more than just generating revenue. Ideally, the job should have a higher purpose and enable them to have enough time for other areas of life, thus promoting long-term health.

Flexible work schedules and part-time positions are suitable for this.

A Scrabble board with the word "Teamwork"
In part-time work, teamwork becomes even more important

What is driving this shift in values?

Many well-educated individuals today are tired of dysfunctional family dynamics resulting from work overload and constant stress. They want to do better, be there for their children, and model good communication, negotiation skills, and perseverance. This requires time, patience, and a constant willingness to work on oneself. Sustained stress at work is not conducive to these goals. Mental health problems, physical ailments and poor sleep can result from prolonged overload. Sometimes people turn to alcohol, pills, or other drugs, which may help in the short term but create new problems in the long term. Fewer, more intentional work hours can help to restore balance.

It is important to pause in the daily routine, set priorities, and check if you are still on track. (See also "5 Tips for a Balanced Work-Life").

One way to find a better balance between work and other areas of life without sacrificing appropriate professional challenges may be to assume leadership responsibilities on a part-time basis.

A father with toddler in his arms talking on the phone and looking into a laptop
More and more fathers want to be present at home

Part-time work is valuable

Flexible work time models can have a positive impact on the work environment and employee satisfaction.

For a long time, there was a stereotypical image of a leader - he or she knows everything and makes decisions alone. But is that still appropriate? Well-educated employees today want to think along and take responsibility. A team that is empowered to take initiative and make decisions grows beyond itself. However, a supervisor must overcome the urge to control everything. This is often difficult.

We all constantly sabotage ourselves, telling ourselves things like "I have to be perfect. Otherwise, I will be exposed as an imposter." Often, our high expectations of ourselves are projected onto others, which, in turn, leads to stress and dissatisfaction among employees. Fortunately, we can learn to recognize these inner voices and confront them. See my article "Mental Fitness - Your Ticket to a More Self-Determined Life" for more information.

A person opens the shutters and you look at a beautiful mountain valley with Matterhorn
New perspectives are opening up

4M as a prerequisite for a leadership position

The fundamental requirement for a leadership position is the principle of 4M: one must like people (in German: Man muss Menschen mögen). Those who like people listen to them and are open to creative and innovative solutions. To be efficient, part-time leaders require exactly these qualities, which in turn benefits the entire company.

And one more thing: if society aims for a more equal division of labor between paid work and care work, we need more part-time leadership positions, not fewer, so that the burden of care and paid work is more fairly distributed. This would make it possible for all highly skilled professionals to have both enough time for a family and an exciting job without burning out.

Two people in a field plant a tree.
New things arise by planting them

Part-time does not necessarily mean fewer responsibilities

Part-time does not have to mean investing less time in a leadership role. There are great models, such as job sharing - and in the case of joint leadership, it is called top-sharing - where a role is advertised at 100 percent or more. However, two people fill it together, similar to the family tasks of a parenting couple, and independently coordinate how they organize themselves. They appear to outsiders as a single unit. Great examples of job and top sharing can be found here.

Two women in a picture, shoulder to shoulder as an example of a job sharing duo
Job-sharing tandems complement each other and create added value

More productivity in fewer hours

"Do I really need to work full-time as a manager?" Reto wonders. He leads a sales team at an international company and previously thought that leadership in Sales only works in full-time. However, Cathy from another team, with a reduced leadership workload of 70%, achieves better results with her team than he does. How does she do it?

She has introduced meeting-free days for the team to work productively. In addition, she has clearly communicated time slots in which she is available to her team. There are two office days a week where all employees are present and have lunch together, ensuring that team spirit can develop. The rest of the week, employees are allowed to work where they want, giving them freedom to pursue hobbies and design their own work-life balance.

Their jobs do not require constant office presence. Every two days, they meet online for 30 minutes to align themselves and exchange feedback. Customers know that their inquiries will be answered within 24 hours. This has dramatically reduced overtime and stress for everyone.

Woman in meeting room in discussion with her team
A team charter aids team collaboration

Cathy uses calendar blockers to have focused work time without interruptions, and even turns off her mobile device during those times. She works with high concentration and accomplishes more in less time compared to being constantly interrupted. The whole team uses the calendar system transparently.

At the beginning, Cathy invested time in team development by involving her team to find the best ways to work together. They established a team charter for collaboration, tested it, and continually improve it.

Through this process, she gained a better understanding of her team members' needs and built trust. Often, small adjustments could significantly improve an employee's situation, which he or she was previously hesitant to bring up.

Cathy actively encourages idea-sharing and fosters a culture of collaboration, leading to improved team performance, satisfaction, and stronger relationships.

A wall with inscription "together we create"
Together we can do better

Successful part-time leadership: Clear roles and communication are key

As a part-time leader, you have an important task: ensuring that your team can work efficiently despite your reduced working hours. To achieve this, it is crucial to establish clear roles and responsibilities. Ask yourself: Where can I step back and which tasks can be delegated to others? Also consider your expectations and how you want to be perceived by your employees. It is best to discuss these questions with your team and incorporate their ideas. Open and clear communication is essential for this. Only then can a real dialogue emerge and possible misunderstandings be uncovered.

Of course, this requires openness on your part to let go of certain old patterns, and, above all, being willing to learn from others and treating them as equals.

A merry team together in the meeting room
Trust is gained by giving it

Self-management and clarity as further keys to success

In his 1985 book "Managing Management Time", William Oncken Jr. described the multitude of tasks that can overwhelm leaders and lead to a feeling of overload. Challenges seem to come from all directions - from above, below, left and right. Instead of simply solving other people's problems, it is advisable to enable people to reflect on and solve problems through targeted questions. This enables them to grow and develop while reducing last-minute management. This leads to more self-confidence, independence and creativity among employees. They will feel valued and find new innovative ways to develop products and services.

Of course, this requires clarity about a leader's role and beliefs. It can be helpful to reflect on these beliefs with a trusted person to recognize inner conflicts. It often turns out that internal voices such as the perfectionist (or stickler as it is called in mental fitness) lead some leaders to believe that only they can do the work well. However, this leads to them taking on all the work and ultimately becoming overwhelmed, or employees no longer feeling confident to work independently.

There is a piece of paper that says "I can't do it" and a pair of scissors that cuts off a part so it then says "I can do it"
Beliefs - examine them.

Not every person is suitable to lead in part-time and not every company is ready for it

Although leading part-time offers great opportunities to prioritize, think ahead, optimize processes, and rethink structures, it also requires a certain level of maturity. In strongly hierarchical companies, it is less likely to work because it leads to bottlenecks. Those who have difficulty delegating and need to control everything may find it difficult and end up working more than their part-time schedule.

However, it can also be an opportunity to confront your own beliefs and learn to become more relaxed. Things do not have to stay as they are, and sometimes there is more than one way. Seek help from a trusted person and allow yourself to receive an independent outside perspective. This will give you clarity and show you new possibilities.

The most important thing is to try it out. You only learn by doing it. Embark on the journey together with your team and discover together what is possible when you just do it.

And if it does not work out? Learn from it and try again. Maybe job-sharing is the better option or another variation? You did not learn to ride a bike in one day, did you? Why should it be any different with professional things? Just get back in the saddle and try again, staying curious, and be happy when it works out in the end.

And how do I set boundaries in a part-time job?

Let yourself be inspired by the article "Setting boundaries pays off, even in a part-time job".

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