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Balancing the Grind with Padraig O’Sullivan, Founding Partner at The Leadership Context

Padraig O’Sullivan is the founding partner at boutique management consulting firm, The Leadership Context, and host of The Leadership Diet podcast.

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

I started life as an intensive care (ICU) registered nurse, specialising in cardiac surgery and heart transplants. I was fortunate to work in Ireland, London, Manchester, Bangkok, Adelaide and Sydney in this line of profession. 

I have had several career changes, studied lots of interesting things, completed a few too many degrees and now find myself in a role where I am a leadership advisor/executive coach to CEO’s and corporate leaders all over the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East.

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

No day is the same, except in COVID lockdowns!

But a typical day can include having 4-5 x 90-minute individual, 1:1 meetings with senior leaders where we are focused on their leadership. In the same way, a personal trainer will help their client focus on health or fitness, my job is to help a leader increase their overall leadership impact.

This will include using psychological or leadership assessments and discussing the data with the leader so we can decide where they need to focus.

It might also include me doing a range of stakeholder interviews, where I interview 1:1 key people the leader is involved with to get their feedback on what the leader is doing well or not as well as is needed.

Other days I run 1-3 day workshops for groups of leaders on what a leadership team needs to do together in order to become a high performing team.

I also have a podcast (The Leadership Diet) so many days I am recording or editing episodes before they are released.

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

Loads of flexibility- thankfully- as I really appreciate that.

Most of my 1:1 leadership advisory work is done on Zoom and has been the case for many years. We used Webex and Skype before it was fashionable. I built a home office in my car garage 7 years ago and so working throughout COVID was easy. Plus many of my clients are based in different countries or time zones, so being flexible is important. 

I also built an outdoor BBQ with beers on tap, so working from home is very pleasurable!

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

I think of this as a whole of life and not just a work-life balance question. I have been self-employed for over 20 years and so I set up my life to suit me. Some of my friends work with me in our business and we also have music clubs or go on cycling tours together. 

I work 40-60 hours per week depending on my projects and at times up to 80 hours per week So I can get busy. Years ago I learned that if I am not careful I can let work take over all of my life. I learned to block out parts of the year when I don’t work at all.  

Every year December 20 until January 27 is a complete no work zone for me. I never work on my birthday, January 12. I block out long weekends for specific concerts or music festivals. My wife and I have a long weekend away together once per quarter. Family dinners are every Sunday evening (I have 5 children who are between 15-26). I go to one music live gig per week (not during lockdowns).

I did have to create a separate workspace -hence repurposing my garage into an office- just so I did not bring work into my home. I “leave” my office every evening and do not bring my laptop into the house.

Doing emails on my phone is not a problem. I see that as part of my overall life.

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

 COVID changed everything! I used to travel a lot internationally, as in every month. That all stopped. With that my typical routine of reading a business book on every flight, also stopped!

So I have had to create a routine of reading in my office. I bought two chairs to “create” my airport lounge setting just so I could read!

In 2020 I took up playing the bass guitar. So now I practise every night. I find it very relaxing and meditative to play the bass while watching TV or listening to music.

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

My podcast! The Leadership Diet.

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

  • iPhone and iPad.
  • Spotify
  • Flipboard for news updates
  • SBS on demand (streaming TV) for world movies and Nordic noir TV series
  • Trek Domane bike
  • SBL, a website for bass guitar learners.

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

Bono from U2 as he works and travels so hard yet seem to be continually creative

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

I recommend thinking holistically about life rather than looking for balance between lives.

So I ask the following questions:

  • What is fundamental to your life and therefore make time to do that part really well
  • What brings you joy in life and therefore make time for that
  • Who are the people that are really important for you in the long terms and make time for them
  • What and where do you contribute to others and therefore make time for that
  • What physical activity do you do that feeds your body and therefore make time for that
  • What adventures do you want to have and therefore make time for them

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.