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Knowing When to Take a Risk and When to Opt Out with Kelly Battles

Kelly Battles studied engineering at Princeton and got a Masters in Business Administration at Harvard, but some of the most impactful learnings in her entire educational journey came from her high school history teacher. Not only did he teach her the value of understanding current events and seeing the world from different perspectives – but he also demonstrated that when you are passionate about something, you can, at the very least, change one person’s life and, at best, make the world a better place. 

On this week’s episode of Inspired Execution, Kelly discusses how her passions led to a career in strategic and financial leadership at the likes of McKinsey, HP, and Quora, and how she finds balance among all areas of her life. 

Taking micro-risks

Kelly has taken many risks in her life and career – leaving her hometown in Alabama to attend Princeton, studying engineering and business, moving to California to pursue a career in tech / finance with no previous experience. We usually think of risk-taking as saying “yes” and trying out new things that scare us, but sometimes the hardest risk is opting out or saying “no.” 

“I said no to my first CFO title promotion, even though I'd been doing the job for a couple of years and was acting CFO, because personally it didn't work for me at the time. Then when I had each of my kids, I took time off between jobs and in transition periods.” Kelly said. 

These decisions didn’t hurt Kelly’s career. Ultimately, they actually helped her take time to rest and recharge, which enabled her to approach the next steps in her journey with tenacity and passion. 

Kelly’s advice to people early in their career was simple but poignant: “If you need to say no every once in a while, it’s okay. Just be thoughtful and intentional about it. Then enjoy that decision and move forward.”

Finding truth in calendaring

I’ve spoken to many leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs. There are a few things we all agree on, and one is that work-life balance is hard. In our conversation, Kelly shared her practical and tactical advice for finding balance. First, you have to establish your priorities—the few big things that make you happiest. Kelly’s top five priorities are: family, friends, faith, work, and self-care. Then, you have to hold yourself accountable to each priority. Kelly uses a method called time blocking to break up her days and help her focus on a specific task (or group of tasks) during each block of time. The goal is not to get the perfect balance every day, but to allocate her time as equitably as possible over a year. 

“Time is my most valuable asset. So, I look at my calendar and I'm intentional about how I spend my time. Every year, I look at those five priorities and ask myself, Did I make progress? Where did I succeed? Where did I fail? And what do I want to do in the next year to, to be better?’” she shared.

Finding balance is a career- and life-long journey. You’re almost never going to get it “just right.” So be forgiving toward yourself and get up each day knowing you will try your best. 

Tune in

Tune in to our episode with Kelly Battles for more insight on finding balance – plus, three things that set apart the best CFOs, the biggest mistake companies make with regards to execution, and lots more. You can listen to Inspired Execution on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Next time, I’ll have a conversation with Jennifer Edwards – founder, author and Fortune 500 business coach – about the top obstacle all leaders face, how to stay grounded when you’re facing overwhelming emotions, and her new book Bridge the Gap.

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