Self Care: Taking Care of Yourself to be a Great Leader

July 27th, 2022

One of the things I have learned over time is that to be a great leader you need to be at your best. To be at your best, you need to take time to take care of yourself. Imagine if you were going into surgery and your doctor was exhausted and stressed out – would you want them to operate on you?

For most of my career I had been one of those “always on” type leaders. I would work a 10+ hour day, and then get home, spend family time, eat dinner and before bed, check my messages and respond to/address anything that had happened. When I woke up, the first thing I would do is go to my phone or computer and check my emails, texts and messages and respond to things happening. When I walked my dog, I would try to reply to emails and chat messages and ended up getting frustrated with my dog and myself. Over time this led to stress, exhaustion and burnout. At one point it got so bad I ended up at the doctor’s office with physical ailments caused by the stress. My key issue was I wasn’t giving my brain enough time to de-stress and recover. 

At this point, I decided I needed to change some habits that would allow me to be less stressed and happier, but still able to be a successful leader at work and also a good husband and parent. I made some changes that have stuck for many years and these have really helped me, so I thought I would share them with you as ideas.

  1. Set boundaries between work and home life – I have a “no work” time window that I really try to observe each day, basically from the time I leave work (whenever that is) until the next day after my morning walk.
  2. Morning walk with no devices – Each morning I take a 30-minute minimum walk with my dog, and I do not bring my phone (or I only bring it to take pictures of nature).
  3. No meetings before 10 a.m. – This allows me to have my morning walk, and time to get prepared for the day mentally and to prepare for all my meetings.
  4. Make time for sleep – Everyone has different sleep requirements to be well rested; for me it is 7 hours. If I have something that is going to keep me up late, I try to make sure I have a 7-hour window to get a good night’s sleep.
  5. Keep it medium – One season my favorite football team had a great start to the season and their coach at the time asked the media and fans to “keep it medium.” What he meant was it was okay to be excited for the current success, but not so excited that everyone would be depressed if the team began to lose games. The same is true for being a leader. Some days, several great things can happen at once and you feel like you are on top of the world. The next day, several bad things may happen at once and you can get really bummed and stressed out. One thing I do when this happens is list out a few things I am grateful for and this helps level me out emotionally. We even do this at our weekly leadership meeting as a team!
  6. Take time off and disengage – I make sure I take several vacations a year and really try not to answer emails or text messages and get pulled back into “work mode.” These breaks help me reenergize.

I haven’t been perfect at following these rules; as a leader I have to be flexible and allow for urgent and important items to override these rules, but in general I stick to them. As a result, the majority of the time, I feel good and can be at my best as a leader.

At Solution Street, we care deeply about our folks’ work/life balance and we want them to always be at their best so leading by example is one thing. In addition, we also try to organize fun events to decompress and we provide 1:1 meetings with managers for employees to talk about how things are going and what we can do to help. 

What techniques have you developed to take care of yourself as a leader? (Drop me a comment.)

If you are a great leader and want to work at a place with great values and a great environment, drop us a line!