Balancing the Grind with Alicia McKay, Founder of Not An MBA

Alicia McKay is a New Zealand-based strategist, speaker, podcast host, coach, author and the founder of Not An MBA, an accelerated strategic leadership programme.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I went into policy and strategic planning out of university, but I discovered pretty early on that I’m not cut out for a traditional work environment. I get frustrated with the pace and the rules, and I like doing things my own way.

I launched the first iteration of my consulting firm in 2014, doing strategy, review and policy projects. As I upskilled and extended my knowledge into business cases and investment proposals, I realised that it was the people and workshop stuff I enjoyed the most, rather than writing long reports that people didn’t read! So I spent a number of years running strategy and change workshops with government agencies and businesses. 

I got frustrated with that too, after a while, because I found that implementation was always a big hurdle for many of these groups. I tackled that challenge in my first book: From Strategy to Action, and started training facilitators through Meetings that Matter, to try and turn implementation rates around. 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve expanded that focus into leadership – because no matter how good our change programme is, or our internal facilitators are, it all falls over if the people at the top don’t have the strategic insight and skills to keep driving their ideas forward.

That’s why I’ve written You Don’t Need An MBA and launched Not An MBA (naMBA) – to try and shift the dial on strategic leadership! I spend less time in a workshop setting now, and a lot more on stage, writing and training people in person and online.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

It depends whether I have my children or not – I have a very amicable 50/50 parenting arrangement with my ex-husband which means I have my three daughters on a week on/ week off basis. This often leads to me having two completely different weeks! One is largely home-based, and sees me working school hours as much as I can to make pickups and drop-offs. 

In those weeks, I try not to deliver with clients or run training programmes. The other week, I’m based in the city here in Wellington and I’m often travelling around the country. It’s on those weeks that I schedule all my training programmes and client work. It’s a hectic balance, but it works, most of the time!

Many things stay the same though. I’m an early riser, but I don’t function in the morning with coffee. I exercise at least three or four times a week – I’m hugely into F45, and love the weights classes. I do my best work mid-morning and I try not to work too late.

Out of work, I’m pretty boring – I read a lot, catch up with friends and keep up with my house, garden and kids’ activities.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

Absolutely, I’ve worked almost exclusively from home or client-side since I became self-employed 7 years ago and I couldn’t imagine having to trot into an office at the same time every day. I’m so accustomed to it now, that I think I’d be a terrible employee!

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Honestly, it means minimising the amount of guilt I’m feeling at any point in time. If I’m going to bed and I’m not totally exhausted AND I don’t feel like I’ve let down my clients or my kids that day, I’m happy.

I do my best to set boundaries around my time and be careful about how much I’m taking on, but honestly – it’s a work in progress. I regularly check in with myself, and with my partner, and I’m always tweaking how I run my days and weeks to try and get it right.

It tends to be more about mindset than it does about what actually happens. If I’m nice to myself about how I’m going, everything usually pans out OK.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

I’ve stopped keeping my mobile phone in my bedroom at night and it’s completely changed the way I wake up and feel about the day.

I still slip up sometimes and fall into old habits, but I try to get back on track quickly as I always notice what a difference it makes when I have a chance to check in with myself before I worry about emails!

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

This is a pretty boring one, but I always have my journal alongside me. I have lots of whizz-bang platforms and apps that keep my business running, but at heart, I’m a pen to paper kind of girl. I’ve faithfully used a dotted A5 Leuchtturm notebook for the last 7 years, which I replace about every 3 months. I love it!

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

I’d love to know how people with very automated or part-time businesses or jobs live their lives. I think we get a lot of guidance from people with full-on careers and businesses – I just read an article about how Jacinda Ardern manages her schedule, and my mind just boggled!

But I don’t think we always get presented with alternative models. I’d like to know more about how people with low workloads live, for an insight into what it’s like to live at a different pace (rather than becoming better and better jugglers!).

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Assume everyone else is battling and no-one is as together as they seem. You’re doing great.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.