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Defining personal flexibility as a leader

Nancy Rector, Enterprise Risk partner and mother of two, strives for balance without a BlackBerry

Opting not to carry a BlackBerry could be a career-limiting move in some organizations, but it hasn’t curtailed Nancy Rector’s options. She’s spent the past eight years leading Enterprise Risk services in Deloitte’s Ottawa office, and recently added national leadership responsibilities to her role. And being “BlackBerry-free” isn’t the only line she’s drawn to achieve balance.

To understand Rector’s approach to work-life balance, here’s a peek into her life. She has two hockey-obsessed sons who collectively notch about 250 practices and games between September and April. Some weekends, she and her husband are at different arenas in different cities, each cheering on one of their boys. But don’t expect to find Rector tapping away at a BlackBerry or glued to a cell phone in the stands. As a rule, she doesn’t work weekends.

Enforcing limits takes strength of character
There are several other rules Rector follows to define her own personal flexibility. She takes Fridays off in the summer, starts workdays at 7 a.m., gets home in time for dinner, meticulously schedules her time, adopts a focused one-task-at-a-time approach, checks her messages between tasks to manage distractions, and challenges others to think hard before using the word “urgent.”

“I’ve never faced any resistance to setting personal limits,” says Rector, who joined Deloitte as a chartered accounting student 19 years ago after earning computer science and finance degrees. “But it takes strength of character to make it work.” And she speaks from personal experience.

Making change means taking charge
Ten years ago, the Fredericton native routinely hopped on a plane most weeks, leaving her husband and two small children behind while she worked with organizations across Canada. She was energized by the security, audit and control work she was doing, but her family life was suffering. “I wasn’t happy, and I needed a change,” she recalls.

Rector wanted to stay with Deloitte, so she proposed a move to the Ottawa office – home base for her many federal government clients, and a favourable employment market for her husband. There, she would establish a local Enterprise Risk practice. Within two years, she became a partner. Within five years, she was taking every Friday off in the summer – although it did take a few years to fully transform those planned long weekends from theory into practice.

Setting the tone, supporting colleagues
Today, Rector counsels others on defining flexibility – whether they’re working parents, amateur athletes, avid travellers or community volunteers. And her actions as a leader speak as loudly as her words as a counsellor.

Within her own team, Rector is viewed as an advocate for flexible work arrangements, reduced workloads and leaves of absence – even an exceptional two-month travel leave at the height of the federal government’s October-to-March busy season. “As long as we’re keeping commitments to clients and colleagues, it doesn’t matter where or when the work gets done,” says Nina Grimes, a senior manager who has worked alongside Rector for nine years.

A leadership choice: Flexibility or farewell
Grimes credits Rector for creating a “guilt-free” environment in which high expectations are balanced with schedules that respect people’s individual commitments. “We make it work,” says Grimes, a mother of two. “The reality is, if I didn’t have the flexibility to balance family commitments, I wouldn’t be here.”

This fact certainly hasn’t escaped Rector’s attention. “Leaders who recognize the value of top talent aren’t about to sacrifice people because of work-life balance issues,” says Rector. “I’m a strong believer that people who say it can’t be done have never asked, or haven’t tried it. The change has to be driven by you.”

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