Sustainable Leaders Look After Number One
Sustainable leaders look after number one. It might sound selfish, and it can certainly be misunderstood, but if we look after ourselves, we are available to look after others.
Unfortunately, burnout is a massive problem for leaders. It can be driven by many things. Perhaps in a drive for success or wealth, we sacrifice not only those around us but also ourselves. But even if we have an altruistic view of life, serving those around us, there is a danger in not looking after ourselves.
“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment,” said leadership guru Stephen Covey. I think those are wise words. In the hustle and bustle of a busy commercial world, it’s easy to run too fast, do too much, create unrealistic expectations and ultimately hit a wall. It’s a genuine tragedy to see well-meaning, capable people, literally unable to function, because they’ve worked too hard for too long.
At the core of looking after ourselves is an understanding that we are a triune being, body soul and spirit. We live in a body, have a soul which is our mind, will and emotions, and, I believe, we are spirit. These three parts of us are interdependent. Usually, we know what to do, and what not to do; how to look after ourselves, what to eat, what not to eat, to exercise and to sleep. Yet we do not give these things due priority, we give ourselves second best, and therefore, in my opinion, give others our second best.
When our body is being looked after we have more energy and are capable of doing more with less. Our soul, that’s our mind, will, and emotions, also need sto be looked after. Christopher Germer said self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give it to others. Perhaps we need to give ourselves a little more kindness a little more grace, and a little more attention. Investing in our soul, feeding our mind, fully enjoying recreation and relationships helps complete us. That leaves is in a more sustainable state able to give out as we have taken in, filling our reservoirs first.
I’ll assume all know the principle foundations of health, but sometimes we would be wise to work these things into diaries as a priority; eat well, sleep well, and exercise regularly. Our brains are incredible, yet under stress we operate further down the brainstem towards the fight and flight, reactive, survival driven, instinctual part of ourselves. The higher thought processes of the frontal cortex, the creativity, the ideas, only come when we are in a more relaxed state. That is why we have great ideas in the shower or when we’re on holiday. Imagine if we functioned at that level all the time? Imagine how creative we would be; how effective, how productive?
Tara Brach said, “Stepping out of the busyness, stopping our endless pursuit of getting somewhere else, is perhaps the most beautiful offering we can make to our spirit.” So perhaps looking after #1 is not selfish but productive and sustainable. Perhaps it would make us better leaders.