Leadership And Self-Care

Self-care as a leadership discipline is as important now as it has ever been. At the time of writing this we are in the midst of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic which has disrupted the way we live, work and socialize. It is precisely where these three areas overlap that we need strong leadership right now more than ever. 

Whether working from home or in environments that spark fear of exposure to a harmful virus, employees recently had to adjust quickly to dramatic changes in how we conduct business. The “new normal” at work influenced by social distancing and the expansion of remote work brings with it a host of new and significant stressors to our physical, emotional and mental health. 
As scientists, healthcare professionals and policy makers fight on the front lines for public health, entrepreneurs and business leaders also lead the day to day battle in the workplace. They strive to find the balance between staying safe and keeping our economic engine running. Self-care as a leadership discipline can be a powerful weapon on both fronts if we are able to address and overcome a couple of commonly held, but ill-conceived beliefs.
Myth 1: Self-Care is Self-Indulgent
In reality, self-care helps us serve others more. For some the suggestion to prioritize self-care seems like a far-fetched luxury at best and a selfish fantasy at worst. The thinking goes, “how can I afford to focus on myself? I have too many responsibilities and people that need me, and not enough time.” It is often true that the bigger the role the more self-care becomes an after-thought. What if, though, the bigger the role, the more self-care should be a priority?
In reality, self-care makes for a more meaningful life outside of work while contributing to greater performance at work. We can’t afford not to invest in our well-being. Failure to do so risks burnout, diminished performance and damage to one’s health. 
Ironically, it is not a zero sum game either, where we have to choose between us and the rest of the world. Leaders who prioritize self-care actually free up more capacity to serve others by taking care of their physical, emotional and mental well-being. It’s the proverbial oxygen mask that goes on you first. 
Role modeling this for the team also sends the message that not only is it “okay” for others to follow suit, but that it is critical to the team’s success. Leaders go first, which empowers the rest of us to also achieve more and maintain health. We can have both.
Myth 2: Productivity is More About Managing Time
In reality, productivity is more about managing energy than time. For so long we’ve been trained and even rewarded to overuse one strategy as it relates to getting more done – throw more time at it. Longer days, work-filled weekends, vacations on call…but there’s a significant cost to that approach. Time is finite so there’s only so much one can do in the realm of time management to achieve more. We will always have more tasks than time.
Energy, however, can be renewed and used more efficiently. It’s the energy we bring to the work rather than the hours alone that determine the value we create. Studies reveal diminishing returns around 50 hours of work per week where at some point more is not better and may in fact have a neutral or negative impact on output. Not only does sleep deprivation hinder cognition, but it also weakens our immune system, which is even more critical today than ever. 
Purposeful attention to renewal of our energy across multiple dimensions will not only yield more productivity but will also do so in a more sustainable and healthy way. If we embrace self-care as a priority and aim to manage our energy rather than simply manage time, we can be more focused and productive while remaining safe and as heathy as ever. 
Where do you start on the path for better self-care?
  1. Assess where you are. Check out this link for a quick status check and downloadable guide for tips on upping your self-care game: .
  2. Check out this article for a deeper dive on managing your energy across four dimensions, or listen to this podcast for more insight on the why and how of self-care. 
  3. Schedule time for you. What’s one thing you know you should do more of for your own well-being, but you have put it off? Time block it and do it. 
  4. Discuss the topic with your team and show your interest in their overall well-being. 
“We must never be too busy to take time to sharpen the saw.”        -Dr. Stephen Covey