RLI 278 2
March 2012 research Library issues: a QuarterLy report froM arL, cNi, aNd sparc
Leading a Full Life:
Reflections on Several Decades of Work, Family, and
Accomplishment
Shirley K. Baker, Vice Chancellor for Scholarly Resources and Dean of University Libraries, Washington
University in St. Louis (retired June 2012)
N
either my husband nor I ever wanted a life that was all work; neither wanted to marry a person
who worked billable hours. Each of us loves many things—reading, dancing, and family and
friends. We wanted all of those in our lives. We agreed that each of us wanted rewarding
work; neither wanted to give up career goals for the sake of the other. Compromise, yes; give up, no. We
developed a rough “your move/my move” strategy that took us through half a dozen job changes while
moving each of us forward in our careers. Sometimes it meant moving across town, sometimes across the
country. Each of us has left a job we loved for the benefit of the other.
Each of us did manage to excel in a career. And we have friends and children. It was not easy,
especially when the children were young. But our children are now interesting, balanced adults and my
husband and I are still married and happy more often than not. We worked hard at balance.
We paid close attention to time management. Taking on more responsibility at home or work meant
being even more cognizant of managing our time. Here are some strategies that worked for us to get our
work done and have lives outside work.
Managing Work Life
Choose carefully what you do yourself. For me an important insight was that I should do first what
only I could do. If I could delegate the task, I did. To do this, I had to learn to share up front what was
important to me in the final outcome. Then I could leave the how up to the staff member. In my first
weeks as dean I was talking with the associate dean whose position was the one I had held at MIT. I
was about to tell him exactly how I wanted something done, when I realized how badly I react to such
detailed instruction. So I backed off and told him what I considered important—the rest was up to him.
One has to assume that most delegation will turn out well. To guarantee that, do give feedback on
action taken—either confirming success or providing positive guidance on improving. Good staff are
quick learners. And they respond to increasing and interesting responsibility.
Fight your urge to control. By delegating, you give up control of details and you generate more results.
Leaders who insist on paying close attention to details don’t accomplish as much as they could. In lower-
level positions, you might have had time and sufficient knowledge to control most processes. As a dean or
Author’s note: Encouraged by friends and family, I am writing a book on leadership. A critical section of my draft is a
reflection on work/life balance. This article is drawn from that section. To read drafts of additional stories from the book,
visit my blog at http://www.shirleykbaker.com.