New Momentum: Leadership and work/life balance

The topic of culture & leadership is slowly and steadily moving towards the centre of diversity and work/life. In line with this insight, the regional ambassador for Hesse for “Success Factor Family”, Michael Müller, member of the Executive Board of Fraport AG, has focused a specialist conference on the topic of “Management between Career and Family”. A summary.

When dealing with the management culture from the perspective of work-life balance, practitioners repeatedly come across certain crucial issues, most of which lie within the company and others in the private sphere: Questioning the face-to-face culture, establishing successful top-share models, switching to “family first”, organizing periods of absence, making arrangements within partnerships, recognizing the leadership competencies of parents, initiating new forms of work. It was precisely these neuralgic points that were the focus of a conference to which Fraport AG had made an invitation. Almost 100 experts from companies, politics and science came to the event and discussed the topics openly and with dedication, supported by experts and moderators.

It all starts at home

The best operative tools can only be effective if the basis for their application has been established in the private sphere. A thematic cluster highlighted how effective and healthy arrangements can be made “at home”. The discussion identified three main approaches:

  • Clear rules, clean agreements and a solid organisation of the family partnership
  • Acceptance, openness and understanding for each other, for the respective views, needs and possibilities
  • Letting go, taking responsibility and addressing role questions


For managers, these agreements can be complex, as a large number of aspects may need to be regulated in different contexts and time frames

You can find a current study on the topic of partnership here

Drawing a clean line: Family First

Between the private sphere and the workplace, the question of boundaries repeatedly arises – especially for managers. The thematic block, moderated by Edith Ebbesmeier (Adidas) and Mario de Alessio (Fraport), therefore highlighted personal situations as well as the leadership role and implications for the teams led. One conclusion was the recommendation that the need to set priorities, as in professional life, is also important in private life. When switching (to private mode), as in the leadership role, the involvement of the family and the team is essential; preferably with clear rules.

Topshare: Simple entry-level solution – yet undervalued

Lufthansa’s ‘model tandem’ Gasse / Schröder provided the inspiration for the TopShare and Shared Leadership thematic cluster. According to the group’s assessment, there is still little acceptance for the model. Accordingly, the participants summarized both the advantages of the model (complementary competencies, high availability, motivation) and aspects of implementation (tandem exchanges for finding partners).

Being present as an unwritten rule of leadership culture

The widespread phenomenon of face-to-face culture was examined by the thematic block 1: On the basis of new management tasks and opportunities, including in the context of digitalisation and globalisation, diversity expert Michael Stuber gave the participants impulses for top-down (KPIs or compensatory guidelines) and bottom-up approaches (using their own design options) with which face-to-face cultures can be softened. Many individual examples showed the possibilities that can be imitated in many places: Leadership tandems, active delegation to make absence possible, younger people who bring different ways of working into the company, telephone calls from home, time off for the start of school, arriving later to get toys repaired, sometimes disagreeing. Clear agreements or even rules were named as success factors (e.g. Fridays, closed door = quiet, day off = not responsive, result orientation, allowing others their own flexibility, defining communicative leadership role, setting attendance times or presence meetings). Furthermore, beneficial aspects of the corporate culture were mentioned: trust, results orientation, courage, sensitivity to life phases, learning process (organization / team). Existing infrastructure was generally considered indispensable (laptops, smartphones, video conferencing), compatibility with core business facilitates the approach (e.g. project business vs. apron logistics) as well as a cost and time advantage (e.g. facilitation by reducing travel time).

For an overview of corporate culture and balance, click here

Conclusion and Outlook

Both the initial contributions before and during a discussion round as well as the fishbowl at the end showed that the interface between leadership, corporate culture and work-life balance holds some complexities and shortcomings. From a political point of view, care services and legal entitlements are essential. The fact that framework conditions and mechanisms are only part of the solution is shown by the experiences of the past 20 years as well as by the examples of the conference, which show the power of role models, the importance of senior managers and above all the persistence of unwritten laws. Solutions such as the expansion of leadership models (private/family competencies) or career paths (absence as a building block) as well as the targeted development of corporate cultures through innovative change programs or (dialogue) formats illustrated the promising fields of action of the immediate future.

A case study of KfW’s award-winning cultural development programme can be found in this textbook

A case study on dialogue sessions as a building block of cultural development can be found here