I'm a CEO who tried to keep my personal life out of my business. When I finally let people in, it made the workplace a happier, healthier place to be.

Getty ImagesMental health days exist for a reason.
  • Christine Alemany is the CEO at TBGA, a brand and marketing firm.
  • She always took pride in her dedication to her marketing business, working long hours and valuing her clients above all else.
  • But when her parents hit different stages of Alzheimer’s, she became their caregiver – and found herself having to open up to clients and employees about what she was going through.
  • Doing so strengthened her relationships with the people she worked with and allowed her to better serve them – and to set more realistic expectations for herself.
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As the cofounder and chief executive officer of TBGA, I’ve always taken pride in my dedication to my marketing business. It was my priority – the thing I worried about at night and woke up thinking about in the morning. For years, I valued my clients above all else, and I expected my employees to do the same.

Christine AlemanyCourtesy of Christine AlemanyChristine Alemany.

But when my parents hit different stages of Alzheimer’s disease, I became their caregiver and had to quickly shift my priorities. They needed a lot of attention, and it was clear they could no longer live independently. Meanwhile, I was trying to keep my usual work schedule without letting my personal struggles get in the way. In fact, my largest client had no idea what I was going through.

If you stay bottled up, you’re eventually going to burst

One day, as I was with my parents to make arrangements for getting their furniture moved, a client called in the middle of lunch to iron out a few nit-picky details to finalise the launch of a new business line. I had nailed down all of the details, but the client had minor last-minute tweaks.

This was when I finally broke – I had been trying to give 100% to everyone, and I had nothing left.

I suddenly realised how work-focused I had been. I was obsessed with achieving outcomes to the extent that the thought of letting clients down was terrifying. There was no physical way I could take care of my parents and keep up the level of attention that my clients and employees had become accustomed to.

3 ways to replace transactional leadership with personal leadership

Previously, all my communication with clients and employees focused strictly on projects and results. But suddenly I realised that it was OK to have personal conversations with people in the workspace. Here’s how you can do the same:


1. Share aspects of your life, even when it hurts

Getty ImagesClients and employees felt safe to open up.

Before that lunch, I had never spoken to my clients or employees about my personal life. I did not want to interrupt our workflow or burden them with my problems, but now I had to. I was being pulled in so many directions that continuing to hide the truth would have permanently damaged my business relationships. I had been so devoted to them that when I pulled back they could feel it immediately, and assumed I was deprioritizing them.

What I found was that the more I opened up, the better those relationships became. My employees wanted to help. They offered to pick up the slack. They understood that they were taking on greater responsibility with clients, and they became excited rather than frustrated.

When I allowed myself to talk openly, it gave my clients and employees the safety to open up about what they were dealing with outside of work. Clients shared that they felt more important and valued because they were being kept in the loop. One of my partners even confided in me that they had a relative with Alzheimer’s, and we can now share resources and talk through our feelings.


2. Address situations as they arise

goodluz/ShutterstockIt helps you learn about your employees’ needs and work-life balance.

Now that I share my life with employees, I discovered more about their own work-life balance needs, and can serve them better. Some of them are parents and need flexible working hours. Others have lifelong passions they are desperate to pursue. One of my employees is even a part-time magician – I had no idea.

Studies have shown that employees who work longer hours are not necessarily more productive. In fact, they are more likely to experience stress and illness. You can lighten an employee’s load or give him a short leave to focus on what he needs. A client might need an extended deadline or need to reschedule a call. Create room for team members’ outside lives, and you’ll help them become more productive and engaged.


3. Set realistic expectations

dusanpetkovic/Getty ImagesYou don’t have to be always available.

Until this point, I had set extremely high expectations for myself. I was always available. This was an ethos I learned from my parents. They worked in very different fields – my mum was a hairdresser, my dad a watchmaker – but they evangelized this devotion to customer service.

For business leaders, this is not an uncommon state of affairs. A study by Harvard Business Review found that CEOs work an average of 62.5 hours per week – not just in the office, but also while travelling, while at home, and during vacation days.

I once had a speaking engagement at an industry event. Even though I had the time blocked off on my calendar, my phone kept blowing up. Clients were calling me with minor issues while I was prepping my speech – even while I was on stage. I got off the stage and took one of my clients’ calls when I should have been networking. I did not get to meet prospects or make industry connections because I was babysitting a client.

Once I shared the details of my personal life with my colleagues and clients, they better understood why my calendar was a true reflection of my availability. Nobody expects you to answer the phone on Sunday – unless you tell them it is OK. And then it becomes expected.

When I opened up my personal life to clients and employees, I strengthened the bonds between us and made loyal partners even more committed to the company. Becoming more human is not a burden; it is a gift. It allows others to do the same and turns your workplace into a healthier, happier place to be.


Christine Alemany

is the CEO at

TBGA

. She has a passion for helping early- to midstage companies grow and scale. Christine has more than 18 years of experience reinvigorating brands, building demand generation programs, and launching products for startups and Fortune 500 companies. In addition to her work at TBGA, she advises startups through Columbia Business School’s Entrepreneurial Sounding Board and is a teaching fellow at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Centre.

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