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Self-Care for Leaders

It’s tough to be a leader right now. Both leaders and their teams come face-to-face with challenges, many of them difficult to navigate. The way leaders show up for their teams and customers matters now more than ever. It’s imperative that leaders show up every day as the best versions of themselves.

Teams need calm, confident, decisive, optimistic, and energetic leadership every day, but leaders are human too. They have a limited amount of energy and capacity, and respecting personal limits is vital to success.

A leader’s priority in leading is not vision, strategy or communication, but self-care. Frequent fliers will remember hearing this at the beginning of every flight: in the case of emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. This same principle applies to leadership.

Effective leaders understand that they are no good to anyone if they don’t take care of themselves. Every person has limits to how much energy they can reasonably expend without consequence, and replenishing energy stores is vital to effective leadership.

In the absence of proper self-care, leadership capabilities suffer. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on effective self-care for leaders.

Engage in Regular Reflection

Self-care begins with self-awareness. Too many people are living in denial with no idea how much the stress of the past 6 months has impacted them. They’ve kept their heads down, moving forward without taking time for self-reflection. This lack of awareness makes it far too easy to become oblivious to mistakes and the negative impact on teams.

Effective reflection helps us see things outside of the emotion of the moment. It helps us learn from successes and mistakes, providing an opportunity to learn and better understand ourselves. Through reflection we can better-identify our triggers, moments in which we are most susceptible to undesirable responses like being impatient, easily irritated, unnecessarily argumentative, or increasingly critical. It can also help us develop strategies to formulate better responses going forward.

Take Care of Your Body

Rest, diet, and exercise are critical elements of self-care, yet these are the first things that fall to the wayside during a crisis. When under stress it’s easy to forget that physical well-being impacts effectiveness at work. Ignoring sleep and exercise negatively impacts team interactions, the ability to problem-solve, the energy brought to work and other areas.

Taking care of our bodies allows us to show up to work as our best selves, and failing to do so catches up with us eventually, negatively impacting leadership and results.

Practice Gratitude

Daily work easily causes stress and overwhelm, leading many to obsess over problems without the ability to find a solution. Creativity becomes stifled by lack of hope for future change, and pulling out of that negative cycle can be difficult. Getting unstuck requires counteracting negativity, and practicing gratitude is a powerful way to do that.

Focusing on the positive and being grateful for progress can make a world of difference in our outlook. Studies have shown that intentional gratitude releases stress, promotes optimism, increases energy, creates enthusiasm, strengthens the immune system and enhances interpersonal skills. Try implementing the practice of gratitude as part of your morning or evening routine.

The challenges facing leaders are daunting right now. While being intentional about self-care won’t eliminate those challenges, it enables you to bring your best resources every day to overcome them.

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