SELF – CARE IS VITAL FOR LEADERS – HERES HOW TO DO IT
Leadership roles are taxing – mentally and physically – and it’s easy to get locked into unhealthy behaviour
patterns. It often takes a crisis – getting fired, being made redundant, a significant illness or a global pandemic – to force you to stop, reflect and challenge how you should do things.
So rather than waiting for a crisis to impact you, take the time to identify the traps that can trip you up and what you can do about them.
There are five traps to be alert to:
1. Ambition trap – for leaders who are used to success and always doing well, it can be addictive. They don’t know how to step back from striving for it, and when the pressure at work rises, their solution is to
work harder and keep going. If this is you, you worry that you’ll no longer succeed if you take your foot off the accelerator.
2. Expectation trap – for leaders who continually strive to live up to the expectations placed on them by those around them, admitting they are struggling and over-worked seems impossible. They are so focused on doing what they should do that they never get around to doing what they could do. When the pressure gets too much, they hide the impact and never share how they are feeling. If this is you, you worry that people will think less of you if you admit you are tired and struggling.
3. Busyness trap – it was Socrates who said, ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life’. Leaders who are caught up being busy and always ‘on’ struggle to say ‘no’, to slow down or to switch off. When the pressure gets too much, they are likely to explode as they are already close to burnout. Work comes first, and you see being busy as part of who you are. If this is you, you will likely regularly sacrifice time with family and loved ones and your health for work. Be aware, this isn’t a sustainable approach, and eventually, your body will force you to stop.
4. Translation trap – many leaders have worked hard to get to their position, yet once they get there, they aren’t as happy as they thought they’d be. They feel lost in translation – they wanted the role, and
now they have it, it doesn’t fulfil or inspire them. If this is you, you feel you have lost your way, and your purpose is missing. At the same time, you worry that if you change direction you’ll make the wrong decision, or you fear you don’t know how to change because you think what you currently do is all you can do.
5. Self-care trap – many leaders run their lives on adrenalin, not taking enough time to care for their minds, bodies, and spirits. They forget that putting their self-care needs first is a critical act of leadership.
If this is you, you are likely to feel rundown, tired and over-worked, and you say to yourself, ‘I’ll get on to this tomorrow’, but tomorrow never comes. One day you’ll wake up and find that exhaustion, adrenal
fatigue or some other health issue has stopped you in your tracks.
Recognise the Warning Signs
These traps are not single and isolated; indeed, they frequently overlap. Falling into one (or many) can lead to social isolation, poor health, negative impacts on team members, and deteriorating social and family relationships. Over time, it will impact your career and broader life outcomes. You could be heading towards burnout with each of these traps, so watch out for the warning signs.
The signs include feeling ineffective and more negative, having reduced energy, motivation, and efficiency, and being more frustrated and irritable. When burnout hits, people often turn to unhealthy crutches such as drinking, eating poorly, and relying on substances and other harmful mechanisms to get them through the day.
Know your Boundaries
Switching off takes discipline, so you need to set boundaries with yourself about how you work. If you consistently work long into the evening and answer emails late at night, you create a pattern of behaviour for yourself and those around you.
It’s always easy to be ‘on’, so use technology to help you switch ‘off’. Have your phone automatically switch to ‘do not disturb’ and turn off social media push notifications and email alerts at set times.
Also, set boundaries with your team. Agree on the protocols about how you will handle calls and emails outside set work hours.
Establish Healthy Routines
Find time each day for you and have a mixture of connection and reflection. You need alone time where you can process and reflect on your day. You also need time to connect with family, friends or even a furry friend or nature. We recharge when we spend time with animals and in the outdoors.
Most importantly, get enough sleep, exercise, eat well and meditate. All these practices impact your mood and the ability to cope with what’s going on around you.
Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert and the author of three books, including her latest ‘Bad Boss: What to do if you work for one, manage one or are one’. www.michellegibbings.com.