Since the pandemic era began in 2020, we’ve been hearing and reading a lot more about the importance of self-care. We all need to continue to keep ourselves safe and healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally during these strange times in whatever ways work for us.
For leaders, it is similar to the safety message at the beginning of a flight: Put on your own mask before helping someone else. Leaders must be healthy themselves in these areas before they can be effective at showing empathy or otherwise helping others.
Why is it important for you as a leader to practice self-care? Because consciously or unconsciously, you’re always setting an example for people on your team. If they perceive you as struggling with your own issues, they may not feel right asking you for help or advice. But if you exhibit a healthy, positive, caring attitude, they will feel safe turning to you when they’re in need. And people who feel psychologically safe in their work environment tend to be more committed and productive on the job because they’re less distracted and more secure.
Here are a few suggestions, based on how I practice self-care to be the best boss I can be.
Begin your day slowly. I have often written about the benefits of entering your day slowly. Some people exercise or write in a journal. I keep a few reading materials on my nightstand including a booklet of my favorite inspirational quotes that I read each morning. It only takes a few minutes and helps me start the day off with a positive perspective. Then, after breakfast, I can focus on the important things with energy to face whatever comes my way.
Get plenty of sleep. I never have a problem with this—ask anyone who has been in a day-long meeting with me! I learned about the importance of sleep from the man himself, sleep expert Dr. James B. Maas. He literally wrote the book on sleep, Sleep for Success!, a few years ago. Dr. Maas says most adults are sleep deprived, which causes lowered immunity to disease, reduced concentration and productivity, and poor quality of work. He suggests avoiding caffeine after 2:00 pm, avoiding alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and avoiding computer and phone screens within one hour of turning in. And he endorses a 15-minute power nap at midday if you can get away with it!
Take occasional wellness days—and use all your vacation time. Our company recently added a few wellness days to our holiday calendar. Now there is at least one three-day weekend in every month, including April, August, and October. We also have implemented an unlimited PTO (paid time off) policy so that people can take time away from work when they feel the need. We know everyone benefits from time off—leaders included—but people in leadership positions often don’t use all of their allotted vacation time. It is critical for leaders to set the example that taking time away from the job isn’t bad, it isn’t just okay, it’s absolutely necessary for healthy work/life balance. So take those days—you’ve earned them!
Work with a coach or other wellness expert. I’m a firm believer in the benefits of working with a coach, counselor, trainer, or other expert advisor to get the help you need. I’ve benefited from several different kinds of coaching and counseling throughout my life. My first basketball coach, Paul Ryan, taught me how to focus on my strengths. Later in my life, my fitness coach (and coauthor on Fit at Last), Tim Kearin, knew how to give me the right kind of direction and support I needed to get healthy. I’ve had various intellectual coaches over the years, including my sister, Sandy, Warren Ranshaw, and Don McCarty, who helped me with my undergrad, grad school and doctoral programs, respectively. My wife, Margie, and I started our business with encouragement from folks in the Young Presidents Organization and have kept things afloat due to other advisors who are experts on family businesses. Margie and I have also worked with several relationship coaches over the years, which greatly improved our communication—one of the biggest hurdles in a successful marriage. We celebrated our 60th anniversary in June! Get an advisor you can be honest with, meet regularly, and you’ll never regret it.
Now I hope you create a new list for yourself on ways you are going to start (or continue) practicing and modeling self-care. You owe it to your people—and to yourself—to be the best leader you can be.