Self Care As an Executive Leader

      During several executive leadership team coaching sessions over the past month the topic of leadership fatigue and self-care has been a prominent topic. 

      We have been hearing things like: 

      “We have been so focused on ensuring our teams are safe and trying to provide emotional support to those who are struggling with the various impacts of the pandemic, that we are feeling very tired.” 

      “It’s so frustrating to lead with so much uncertainty. Trying to reassure our teams and our customers when we don’t know what is going to happen in the future is starting to feel exhausting.” 

      “It feels like we are coming down off the high of leading through the initial stages of the pandemic really well and now with no end in sight we are starting to feel tired and deflated.” 

      “I feel so bad that I lost my cool with an employee today. I have been so mindful of how I want to show up each day, but today a few things got to me and I just didn’t have anything left in the tank when [the employee] decided to complain about something.” 

      One executive team shared all the amazing ways they have been navigating this pandemic.

      They have experienced growth in their customer base, continued with capital projects and implemented some great activities focused on employee wellbeing

      All very positive things! And yet it was evident that there were some very tired leaders around the table. 

      We asked the question of this team, ”What are you doing to take care of yourselves?”  Dead silence! 


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      Leaders and Stress 

      We have all heard analogies around taking care of ourselves first before we can take care of others but how can we quantify that and how many of us really take that seriously? 

      recent study found that the stress of leader can spread through the organization, affecting many areas of the business including employee engagement. 

      93% of employees don’t believe a stressed leader can effectively manage a team, and over 89% feeling disengaged from work under a stressful management style.  

      "Companies often focus on fixing individual employees to help them be less stressed and therefore more engaged.

      Yet, our study found that employee engagement was better predicted by the leader's ability to manage stress than the employee's current stress level," said Kenneth Matos, psychologist and Vice President of Research for Life Meets Work, which conducted the study. "A leader's inability to manage stress ripples through the entire organization in a negative way."  


      Biology Says that Leader’s Self-Care and Mindfulness Matters 

      Several of the leaders on the executive teams we spoke with have talked about mindfulness and what a positive impact it has had on them, their organizations, and their family life. 

       In the times of stress our amygdala is firing on all cylinders. Our focus becomes narrow and our thinking unproductive: Often this can lead to thinking about the worst-case scenarios or denying the threat and losing access to both the creative and analytical parts of our brains.

      This in turn can impair our ability to empathize with, really listen to and relate to others, which are the exact skills leaders need in times of crisis. 

      Mindfulness and meditation can help during times like this by reducing anxiety and calming down the amygdala thereby increasing our ability to think creatively and empathetically.  

      “You start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.” - Steve Jobs on his experience with meditation 

      One leader shared that spending just 5 minutes at the beginning of the day being mindful of how he wants to show up has had a tremendous impact on how his day unfolds.

      “I used to think I had to sit in meditation for an hour each morning to get the full benefit. I don’t have an extra hour in the morning, so I just didn’t do anything. Then I decided to try just 5 minutes each morning and am amazed at the results!” 

      Lolly Daskal shares some additional benefits in this great article. I love this one, Lead from within: Meditation is a secret weapon. If you want to be a better and more successful leader, cultivate it as a daily practice. 


      Practical and Quick Ways to Up Your Self-Care and Have an Immediate Impact 

      We all have activities we do on a daily basis, habits that we would never think about not doing…like brushing our teeth! Make mindfulness and self-care one of those habits you would never think about not doing! 

      • Create a mindfulness routine that takes place first thing in the morningMornings set the tone for your day. They are the precursor for your mood and your morning mood impacts your day. Instead of waking up in reactive mode, checking emails, the news, social media, etc. stop. Take 5 minutes of your mornings and dedicate it to meditationwriting your intentions, reading your personal vision statement, doing some yoga or gentle stretching, etc. Apps like Insight Timer or Headspace have guided audio meditations that can help you with your routine.  Set your timer for 5 minutes and become absorbed in the activity of your choice with no distractions. 
      • Start meetings with a minute of meditation. Most people come to meetings with much more on their mind than the topic of the meeting. Effective communication between teams, hammering out ideas and striving for the same goal is the key to problem solving and innovation. Being distracted can block this creative interaction and keep people disconnected. One thing that can motivate a stronger connection is mindfulness meditation: noticing our own emotions, increasing our ability to listen and be open to new ideas. Try starting your next meeting or team call with an invitation to be focused and present: 
        • Set a timer for 1 minute and ask everyone to close their eyes and just breathe. This may seem challenging at first, but our clients have shared the incredibly positive impact this has had on the effectiveness, focus and creativity in their meetings. (Note: Silently counting your breath can help keep your mind from wandering)  
        • Ask a question like: Share one word to describe how you are feeling right now? or, What do you need to let go of for now in order to be fully present for this meeting? This provides an opportunity for people to be real and share what’s really going on. It helps people be heard and there is no need to solve anything, sometimes just speaking it out loud can clear the mind.
      • Stop periodically throughout the day and just breathe. When you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, take a moment to breathe and just observe your thoughts. Did you leave the present and go down the rabbit hole of worrying? Sit down (or stand.), close your eyes and focus on your breath, notice the movement of your chest and belly, notice the noises you hear around you, feel all the sensations that are running through your body, think about the layout of the room you are in…what is behind you? In front of you? On either side of youNow open your eyes and come back to the present. Are you feeling calmer? Becoming more focused? Reconnecting with how you want to show up as a leader? 
      • Make it a practice at leadership meetings to ask people to share what they are doing as a regular self-care activity. We did this activity with an exec team recently. Not only did we learned a lot about each other, it also led to laughter, fun and interesting conversations which helped set the tone for a very productive and focused meeting. Asking this question can help create a greater personal bond and emphasizes to the team that a focus on self-care is not just a ‘nice to do’ but an essential leadership attribute. 

      When we are in a calm and more focused state, we are more able to see the opportunities and possibilities that are opening up in front of us. We are able to more fully serve the people we are here to serve and impact them in a positive way. 

      I love this quote…

      Unconscious perceptions govern many of the most important decisions we make and have a profound effect on the lives of many people in many ways.... Unconscious patterns can play out in ways that are so subtle they ar (6)-1

      We would love to hear what you are doing for regular self-care and the impact it is having on your leadership! 

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