Self-Care is a Leadership Strategy
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Self care is a leadership strategy

Self-Care is a Leadership Strategy

“I don’t have time.”

Busy executives and leaders often say some variation of that when I ask whether they are making time to eat lunch/exercise/pursue a hobby they enjoy. And they often respond in the same way when I ask what support systems or peer relationships they are cultivating beyond colleagues and immediate family. And when I ask how they are committing to a growth mindset and engaging in learning activities to stay sharp, agile, and forward-thinking? You guessed it: no time.

I often say that the best defense is a good offense, and that applies here as well. Those pre-flight instructions aren’t frivolous. If you don’t put on your own oxygen mask first, you could run out of air and become unable to help anyone else. The same is true in leadership. If you aren’t tending to your own needs, how can you successfully support and guide anyone else?

Nurturing yourself as a leader is paramount for sustaining growth, high EQ behavior, and effective decision-making. I recommend these practices for leaders who want to be at peak performance for their organizations and their people.

Follow Industry Trends

Leadership is not a static role; it evolves with the changing tides of industries and markets. To stay ahead, it’s essential to be proactive in learning. This means dedicating time to read publications, attend conferences, and participate in relevant discussions with thought leaders inside your company and within your industry. By staying informed, you can better help steer your organization toward success amidst shifting landscapes and have confidence that your insights are based on current realities.

Connect with Peers

No leaders can thrive in isolation. Finding peers or mentors outside of your organization provides invaluable support and perspective. Engaging with like-minded individuals allows for the exchange of ideas, experiences, and best practices. Whether through formal networking events or casual meetups, these connections foster personal growth and provide a sounding board for thoughts and concerns that you won’t get if you operate in a vacuum.

Focus on Mental Health

Leadership often comes with high levels of stress and pressure. It’s crucial to have “release valve” strategies in place. Activities like meditation, mindfulness, or hobbies provide much-needed brain breaks from the demands of leadership and help leaders keep emotions in check in challenging situations. Many C-suite executives believe mental health counseling is a great avenue to talk about their feelings and fears in a no-judgment zone, whether in group sessions or one-on-one. And by being open about taking advantage of mental health resources they help create a culture in which it’s normal for team members to participate in using an organization’s mental health benefits in order to feel like their best selves.

Prioritize Physical Health

Prioritizing physical health is non-negotiable for effective leadership. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, avoiding stimulants like excessive caffeine or alcohol, and establishing regular exercise routines. A regular sleep routine is important as well. I advise leaders to pay attention to what physical activities or behaviors lead to a bad night’s sleep and adjust accordingly. For me, I don’t eat, drink or look at screens after a certain time because I know from experience that it will interfere with my sleep. Data fans may want to incorporate devices or fitness trackers to help them see how much and what quality of sleep they are getting, identify when their bodies are showing signs of stress, and what corrections and improvements they can make.

Block Off “You” Time

When the workday gets crazy and your input is constantly in demand, it’s easy to overlook basic needs like breakfast or lunch. But blocking off time to take care of your physical or mental wellbeing during the workday is essential. Set those boundaries as a way to keep your super-computer (aka your brain) in its best state, and model good balance to team members. No one gets a medal for passing out from hunger. Taking regular breaks to eat, think, stretch, or walk fosters productivity and creativity. And often, the elusive solution to a difficult problem may come easily when you allow your mind a break.

A Leader Self-Care Plan

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services that oversees public behavioral health initiatives, offers a helpful step-by-step guide to address the essential dimensions of wellness, including emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being. 

And mentors, coaches, and professional associations can help leaders find ways to build valuable connections and keep learning in ways that enable leadership excellence.

Taking care of yourself with a well-designed plan beats constantly trying to catch up on your rest, your meals, your sleep, and your professional knowledge. By prioritizing self-care and personal growth, you not only enhance your own effectiveness but also create a culture of well-being and resilience within your organization.