Self-Care – Is it the Secret to Leadership Success?

Key Insights:

  • It is common for leaders to feel “burned out,” especially at this time of year.
  • Self-care is essential for leaders, even though there is a stigma around leaders taking time to care for themselves.
  • There are real, measurable benefits for leaders who engage in self-care.
  • Self-care can be safely dissociated from guilt or feelings of being “lazy.”

The year is drawing to a close, and if you are like most people, you are probably feeling a certain amount of exhaustion and stress. December is a time of culmination in many respects. A calendar year is receding into the past as we begin to look forward to the promise of a new one. The endeavors and achievements of 2019 are placed into focus as we prepare to slow down for the holidays. For many of us, this means spending time with family, resting, reflecting and rejuvenating. It’s been a big year – and one that has gone by incredibly quickly – dominated by big changes throughout the world. It’s also been a year in which peoples’ attitudes and opinions are shifting in some major ways.

More and more, people are changing their expectations about what it means to work together with others in the structure of an organization. People want more freedom and flexibility. The lines between professional and personal lives are becoming increasingly blurry. Qualities like empathy, compassion and vulnerability are critical to modern organizational culture. Engagement has become a major priority, and organizations are discovering the power of open, ongoing communication. The business landscape is changing rapidly, and leaders are the ones driving these significant, positive changes.

In terms of the big picture, the sweeping changes that have been happening reflect new, healthier attitudes about leadership and its role. Leaders are leading with more humility and authenticity, providing positive models for the leaders of the future. This is all amazing growth in the right direction, and I feel incredibly hopeful that it will continue to transform leadership in beneficial ways in the years to come. I am highly optimistic, but the hard truth is that this doesn’t mean that a leader’s job is any easier today.

In fact, you may be wondering how to continue to grow as well as sustain the great strides you have made throughout the years in such a dynamic, ever-changing world.

To me, leaders will perform at their best on all levels when they are comfortable integrating essential self-care into their lives. It is not just a “nice to have;” it’s necessary to keep up and to thrive in today’s modern organizations. Without it, leaders get burned out and are unable to provide inspiration. But when leaders practice self-care in a healthy manner, integrated fully into their lives, they benefit tremendously – and so do their teams, as well as their respective organizations.

Old-School Leadership Thinking

Self-care for leaders should not be a controversial topic, in my opinion. But because of lingering, old-school attitudes about leadership, there is still a stigma that surrounds self-care for leaders.

For some, in the old-school way of thinking, leaders are above the idea of self-care. This type of thinking says they should be tough, and maybe even a little insensitive. They should thrive under pressure, and they should always demand more of themselves. In many ways, the old-school leadership model takes the humanity away from leadership entirely, and to me, that’s a huge mistake.

Here’s what the old-school model misses: Successful leadership is all about humanity! So, when you try to take the humanity away, the whole enterprise crumbles. Leaders who show themselves to be rigid and robotic also show their people that human qualities are not desirable in the workplace. This is how negative cycles of ineffective and uncaring leadership begin and disengagement starts to take shape.

When Everyone Else Comes First

Of course, you’re probably here because you have always suspected something was wrong with the old-school model of leadership. You recognize the value of your humanity and vulnerability. And you see the people under your leadership and direction as human beings with meaningful individual lives. So, you pour yourself into the hard work of advocating for them, giving them what they need, listening, offering valuable feedback and checking in with them on a personal level.  

This is typical among modern leaders who want to bring their whole selves to the workplace. They create safe spaces where people feel valued, will bring their best and are highly engaged in delivering for the company. But this often comes at a cost: All the time, effort, sweat, tears and humanity required of modern leaders can leave them with an empty fuel tank by this time in the calendar year, if not before. Time spent resting and rejuvenating with family and friends can fill the tank, but I believe self-care is something that should be integrated into every leader’s life, year-round.

100% Guilt-Free Self-Care

I can hear the critics’ voices already – the ones that say taking time for self-care is “lazy” or that doing so shows you are not committed to the company. They may also make others feel guilty for taking time to rejuvenate their batteries, yet deep down inside they may feel some measure of guilt for not nurturing themselves.  

I see it all the time: Leaders feeling shame and guilt for desiring just a little time for themselves to recharge. It’s time we wake up to the fact that not taking this time is hurting your performance and your ability to lead. When we are under stress and feel fatigued, we do not perform well – that is the brutal truth.

Leadership is an important role, and it is only one role of many that we play in our lives. Leaders are also parents, children, community members and stewards of the planet. They deal with life and loss, sadness and laughter just like everyone else. These aspects of life are what make us human, and for leaders, these are the aspects that tend to get neglected, and when that happens, the work suffers, and leaders can become ineffective.

When leaders fail to take care of themselves, they reduce their ability to be productive. They make more mistakes, and the quality of work suffers. Naturally, these downgrades extend to employees, whose work suffers as well.

Leaders who don’t take care of themselves suffer more negative stress, which leads to a decrease in creativity, which may lead to a decline in performance as a result of this.

Stress also leaves people feeling tired and physically rigid. This leads to emotional tiredness and rigidity, too, which doesn’t bode well for the healthy flow of communication within an organization.

So, if you feel like prioritizing self-care means that you are becoming “lazy,” or you feel like it should make you feel guilty, you need to let go of these ideas. Avoiding self-care is the opposite of lazy; it is proactive, and it is done with the greater good in mind. Leaders who practice self-care don’t do it for themselves so they can get away from doing what needs to be done. They do it because they recognize that they – and their respective organizations – operate much more efficiently when self-care is prioritized.

Leaders should be prioritizing self-care as a must-do and deliver the same message on a consistent basis to their respective teams. The same logic applies to them and their performance, health and well-being. Athletes don’t feel guilty for taking necessary rest days to let their muscles rest and rebuild. The most brilliant scientists take time away from their labs to enjoy life, and their work benefits from it. But for some reason, leaders are constantly given the message that they should feel guilty about their self-care efforts.

Here’s the truth: There should be no guilt felt by leaders who maintain their lives in a healthy manner. In fact, this is a key differentiator between high-performing leaders and those who do not engage in self-care.

More Self-Care Tips and Advice

All throughout the month of December I’ll be covering the topic of self-care for leaders, so I invite you to stay tuned to this space!

Next week I’ll have some specific pieces of advice for leaders who may find it difficult to prioritize self-care. I will also cover some of the ways you can let people know about the changes you are trying to make to become a better leader and a better human being.

What are your thoughts about self-care as it relates to leadership? Have you felt guilty in the past when you have taken time for yourself? Have you found effective ways to integrate self-care into your routine?

I’d love to know what you think, so please give me a call at 1.855.871.3374 or send an email to I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

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