Taking Care of Yourself: an Underappreciated Leadership Trait

After publishing my last post on leadership, I came across an article on burnout that made me realize I left out an important leadership trait I take seriously: taking care of yourself. From Brad Stulberg:

“During my reporting, I learned that burnout — a state of physical and emotional exhaustion often followed by apathy and illness — is ubiquitous across industries. Physicians, businesspeople, artists, teachers, and athletes all have high rates of burnout. As a matter of fact, most studies show that between 40 and 50 percent of people are experiencing burnout at any given time. This is cause for great concern. As I wrote in December, research shows that burnout and underperformance go hand-in-hand. Physical (e.g., speed, strength), cognitive (e.g., alertness, focus, creativity), and emotional (e.g., patience, resilience) ability all decline. And this is to say nothing of individual human suffering and lost potential that accompanies burnout.”

While Stulberg talks about the why of burnout – harmonious passion vs. obsessive passion (worth a read) – he also shares tips on how to prevent burnout. My overarching takeaway is: take care of yourself.

Taking care of yourself is all about the rest, fuel and energy you need to perform at your best. Burned out or not, if leaders aren’t performing at their best, they’re certainly not leading their teams to their best either.

  • Rest: Getting enough sleep is critical to be able to perform at a high level. But rest also means taking a break from the constant barrage of emails and social media updates. It’s about knowing when to unplug and recharge, so you can be at your best again the next day. I know it seems impossible because you’re so needed! Look, we all have stuff that requires our attention long past (or in my case, before) traditional working hours, but sometimes the stuff we’re doing doesn’t REALLY need our attention then. The trick is knowing the difference, which then sets an example so your team also gets to know the difference.
  • Fuel: Are you giving your body the nourishment it needs to excel? Don’t worry! This does NOT require going vegan (cheeeeeeeeeese) or eating green smoothies (but who doesn’t love kale?!). It’s being honest with yourself about what foods make you able to be and lead at your best. You can still have the other stuff, but I like to call them my “sometimes foods” (e.g., fries) to remind myself that they are not something that should be eaten every day. (Pssst, I also enjoy them more when I only eat them occasionally, because I take time to savor them.)
  • Energy: To boost your energy, you have to move more. I know, seems counter intuitive, but it works! Run, walk, Zumba, spin, yoga, do the worm – doesn’t matter what it is, just move, every day. Even little things like taking the stairs more can help. I also get energy from having selective hobbies outside of my work and family (like this blog – it’s work but it’s also a creative outlet with relatively no pressure, so I find it energizing).

For a leader, these activities help them, but critically they also enable better leadership. For one thing, taking care of themselves gives leaders a better frame of mind. It also sets a positive example for their teams – which is good because you want your team performing at their best, too (duh!). Otherwise, you’re leading your teams in the wrong direction – toward burnout.

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Stephanie (Harig) Prause

Stephanie Prause is a corporate communications, sustainability communications and investor relations professional, juggling a career she thrives in with being a mom and wife. She is also passionate about staying active (as in, she’ll lose her mind otherwise). Other interests include sampling craft beers, cooking from scratch and reading voraciously (at least for about 20 minutes before she passes out mid-sentence).

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