If we were to unpack a week in the life of the most successful global business leaders, we’d most likely find regular self-care rituals that enable them to be their best self each day. Whether it’s jogging at dawn, dinner with the family, or planned time for setting goals and reflection, intentional self-care has been shown to improve wellbeing, productivity and performance. This, in turn, affects our ability to lead and influence others.
What makes an effective leader?
There are many studies and copious business commentaries on the key characteristics of effective leaders and what sets successful CEOs apart. Leadership skills can be developed, and while there are many traits to consider, practising self-care needs to be at the top of the list.
Put your own oxygen mask on before helping others
Business leaders, especially those at the top of a hierarchy, have a strong focus on driving performance in others. This can be emotionally demanding at times. High pressure roles and sustained stress can have an impact on our wellbeing, and if not managed can lead to burnout. Self-care is a preventative measure we can all take to avoid this.
Self-care is any intentional activity we do to improve our physical, emotional and mental health. It’s not a selfish act, but rather an opportunity to fuel ourselves so that we can offer our optimal version of ourselves to others. Just like exercising our bodies for physical fitness, self-care activities build our emotional reserves and support our mental agility, mental health and levels of resilience.
Managing mental health is everyone’s business
Despite common misconceptions, mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Everyone has mental health and researchers like Corey Keyes suggest there’s a dual continuum with mental health on one axis and mental illness on another. This suggests you can have high mental health despite having a mental illness. And on the flip side, just because you don’t have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean you have high mental wellbeing.
Importantly, mental illness is a rising concern in Australia. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mental health impacts all businesses and our overall economy and livelihoods. Practicing self-care is an important proactive measure to support wellbeing and mental health of everyone. When leaders do this well, it encourages others to follow.
Day in, day out
Redefining your daily routine and prioritising time for focus and self-care could be the secret to increased success. Your mindset has a lot to do it, and this is also something you can manage intentionally. Many CEOs have shared their daily rituals and morning routines; behaviours that support their wellbeing and optimal performance at work.
Self-care isn’t always the feel-good stuff
Many leaders suffer from the ‘powering on’ mentality, wearing hard work as a badge of honour. They may be tirelessly working and forsaking personal priorities. Perhaps they haven’t checked in on themselves for a while. With the global pandemic we’re currently facing and remote working blending boundaries between work and homelife, it’s natural to lose sight of your own space and time for self-care. While this is understandable, it’s not sustainable.
Self-care doesn’t have to mean meditation or yoga practice – other less typical self-care acts like prioritising a health issue or managing your personal finances can support your emotional or physical wellbeing, as outlined here and here. Self-care is also very individual - try a few things find what energises you the most.
Leading positive employee wellbeing by example
The most effective workplace mental health and wellbeing programs are led by example. Saying the right thing is not enough – we need to be genuine and ‘walk the talk’. The boss that says, “Take a break, have some time with your family” and then proceeds to work long hours into the night will not only damage their own wellbeing and productivity, they can undermine the success of positive organisational wellbeing programs and initiatives. This behaviour can also affect employee perception of the leader’s integrity, which is a vital leadership characteristic.
Assess your own self-care with these 5 questions
If you’re finding you’re depleted of energy at the end of each day, it’s time to introduce better self-care practices. Start by reviewing the last couple of weeks of your schedule and ask:
- How many days did I feel depleted vs feeling at my best self?
- How many times have I done something to genuinely improve my wellbeing?
- How much time did I spend doing work that was not ‘business critical’?
- What am I doing or avoiding that is negatively impacting my wellbeing?
- What can I do differently in the next two weeks to prioritise self-care?
Make a plan to implement a small change in your self-care routine over the next fortnight and build from there. Then, when you feel the positive difference, share your knowledge and experience. Check in on those around you and ask them to do a self-care assessment of their own.
Your relationships are key to your team’s performance
So, you’re feeling great and kicking goals? Now you can turn your full attention to those around you. Evidence linking employee wellbeing and performance at work suggests that employee wellbeing relies on trust, which is often driven by line management leadership and relationships. Trust is also a foundation for psychological safety which is the key characteristic of high-performing teams.
When you are genuinely looking after yourself, you will have increased reserves of energy and cognitive capacity to pay attention, connect with others and make effective decisions. It’s good for you and good for business.
Mental health matters for leaders
The Oranges Toolkit’s framework is proactive and preventative – providing positive mental health and wellbeing programs and practical tools that can be applied immediately.
Each Mental Health Month in October we offer a series of public events to support positive mental health and wellbeing at work. Sign up to our newsletter and stay across our events to find out more.
Please note: If you are concerned about your mental health and need medical support, you should seek professional advice. Free call: