Self-Care for Leaders

I have been thinking about self-care for leaders this week because when I posted a question on my LinkedIn profile the other day about skills you need for leadership, my business mentor, Ann said this: 

“The good ones are busy looking after everyone else but they’ve still got all the same concerns and issues in their own lives. Who is looking after them? “

It reminded me of that phrase ‘who coaches the coach?’ because it’s easy to look after others and forget our own self-care. This is true of any stage in our life but in my experience, the more responsibility we gain, the less self-care we do, and, if our own cups are empty, how can we fill another’s? What does self-care for leaders look like? 

Wellbeing in the workplace is so important because healthy workers thrive – and this is good for everyone! Good leaders focus on the needs of others, often this is part of their values system. They motivate and inspire others and keep the team going when times get rough. They have to build the team, manage the relationships, develop people, deal with communication issues, create positive change and see the big picture – all before they even start their own job. 

When your own cup is full this is easy – you have plenty of time to give to others, you can be curious and collaborative, but, when your cup is empty, you might want to withdraw and/or feel overwhelmed. So how do you keep your leadership cup full? 

Maintain your energy

Clients often tell me that the most rewarding part of their role is people management, but it can also be the most draining. Why? It requires skills such as empathy, listening, delegation, strengths-based coaching – all of which need energy. And you’ll probably need to combine many of these skills to deal with the situation at hand. You need reserves of energy for when your people need you and so you need to proactively keep energy levels topped up. This is why self-care for leaders is so critical. Start with considering your boundaries. 

  • When was the last time I said no to something? Time is a nonrenewable resource. When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else. Be strategic with what you agree to do.
  • Am I trying to be the best at all things? Perfection is not obtainable, and striving to be the best is often self-defeating. Meet expectations and exceed them when tactically smart to do so.
  • Have I allowed myself to let go of things I do not have to keep? For some leaders I work with, letting go and effective delegation can sometimes be challenging. Ask yourself: What can someone else do 80% as well as I can?

As a leader, you feel you need to be all things to all people, all the time, but you’re human. Close down your emails when you need to. Let people know you’re taking a break. They’ll respect you for it.

Self-reflect on things that didn’t go so well

Leadership is a lifelong marathon of learning. It’s kind of like parenting: you make the most informed decision you can at the time. But when situations don’t go the way you want, it can be scary. You find yourself dreading similar situations in the future because you don’t feel confident handling them. As we commit to self-care for leaders, then self-reflection is the key to getting through this fear, because unless you know what exactly went wrong, how can you develop the required skills to cope better in the future? 

  • Did I take the time to reflect on today’s events? Reflection is a powerful tool that allows you to cognitively reframe experiences from a more positive and productive perspective. Don’t remember and reflect at the same time – you’ll miss important details, such as how you felt towards yourself and others and what everyone said. Write down key information as quickly as possible so you can look over it later with a free mind.
  • What did I learn and what am I grateful for today? Experiences alone are not the best teacher; evaluated experiences are. Give yourself actionable conclusions – analysis is great, but how will it help when you face a similar situation? Reflection gives us the space to learn from experiences at a time when we are not so emotionally attached.

Mindful leadership

Mindfulness is, of course, good for everyone, but as part of a strategy for self-care for leaders, it’s especially important because it helps generate ‘headspace.’ What is headspace? It’s a state of having a pliable mind, warmed up like a muscle, with easy access to stored information and memories and open to new experiences. It’s about living in the moment and experiencing it with confidence, with lots of energy stored up ready to use. These qualities are, of course, essential to effective leadership, particularly decision-making and people management.

  • What small thing can I do today that will bring me joy? Consider what you love to do, and include that in your daily routine. What brings you joy often recharges your energies.
  • Have I taken a moment to just breathe today? I don’t know about you, but I find practising the art of the pause extremely powerful. A pause is a moment when you are not thinking about things that stress you. Maybe you don’t think at all. Just breathe.

Mindfulness requires practice. Some days you won’t feel like it – when your mind is racing at a thousand miles an hour, you won’t feel like taking time out to simply ‘be in the moment.’ This is normal and natural. To help you begin, just commit to taking five minutes out or even two minutes. In time, you’ll look forward to it.

Practice kindness

Kindness goes in two ways. If you are not kind to yourself, it’s less likely that you will be kind to others. Kindness is often subtle and can be misinterpreted. It comes from a position of strength — it is not a weakness. The more you spread kindness, the more likely you are to receive it. And honestly, kindness is the foundation of self-care for leaders (and everyone else!)

  • Did I show appreciation and gratitude, share a compliment, and be sure to thank others today? We all like to be recognised, don’t we? It can be something small like a note or letting someone overhear you praising them. 
  • Was I kind to myself today? Be aware of your mindset and how you speak to yourself. Our inner voices can be the most critical and this can take us on a downward spiral into imposter syndrome and believing we are not worthy of success. Challenge those negative thoughts with two questions: Is it true? And is it helpful? 
  • When was the last time I acknowledged something I did well? I have found that most driven, successful professionals are hardest on themselves. Taking the time to acknowledge what you did and celebrate your success well fuels motivation and inspiration – for you and for your team. 

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