Leadership Self-Care: Nurturing the Core
Small changes yield results
By Troy D. Bage, PT, DPT, MBA
“Mastering others is strength; mastering oneself is true power” — Lao Tsu.
There continues to be a push and pull relationship between those who think self-care is vital to a leader’s success and those who believe it is a bunch of hooey.
It usually comes down to misconceptions about what self-care is, how it should be applied, and the benefits that can be gained.1 A Combined Sections Meeting poster presentation study of 285 physical therapists showed 82.4% of physical therapists surveyed showed signs of burnout and 67.8% reported work as their greatest source of burnout.2 Leaders typically experience higher levels of stress and strain and have longer work hours. It is vital they take measures to prepare themselves to lead teams in an effective manner.
Self-care is simply just an investment that will improve productivity, efficiency, and happiness. When framed that way, most leaders can get behind investing in themselves. I will outline a few simple ways you can use self-care to improve your work and your life.
1. Master Your Circles
There is an old principle from Stephan Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People3 called the circle of influence in the circle of concern. Picture two circles, one inside of the other. The smaller circle is your circle of influence, these are areas you can directly impact. The larger circle is your circle of concern, this is for the entire universe of items you worry about. When the space between these two circles is large, you are spending too much time worrying about things you can’t control. This creates a feeling of helplessness and a lack of control over your destiny. Focusing on the areas you can influence will allow you to increase the size of that circle and allow you to control more of your outcomes. Most simply, you can choose not to worry about things you are unable to influence and in turn, channel all your energy and resources to creating greater influence.
2. Multi-Tasking Does Not Make You More Efficient
Harvard Business Review outlined the myth of multitasking. It showed that individuals are up to 33% more efficient doing single task, focused activities over the course of the day versus multitasking on many tasks throughout the day.4 This is even more relevant when leading people. Meetings and crucial conversations are never a place for multitasking. Imagine how much more efficient you would be if you were not constantly stopping what you were doing to check your email or take a “got a minute” meeting (note: they never take a minute). This takes a high level of discipline and rigor, but it will pay off in a big way.
1. Deepen Your Self Awareness
This is an area that I have seen leaders at all levels struggle with. It takes a concerted effort and a desire to understand yourself and be successful in this area more deeply. There are numerous ways leaders can gain greater self-awareness. There are personality profile tools like the DISC, Enneagram, or Myers-Briggs. These allow you to step out and see yourself in a more objective manner. Another way to deepen your self-awareness is to ask for feedback from your supervisor, peers, and direct reports. Not only will you gain valuable insight into how others perceive you, but you will also be making a big deposit by letting them know you care about what they think.
2. Make the Time
Too many leaders allow work to leave holes in their life. These holes can come in the form of sacrifices to their physical and mental health, family, friends, and other important areas. Most people in leadership positions have missed a key family event, allowed stress to get to unhealthy levels, or had their physical health suffer because they “did not have time” to exercise or eat right. This comes down to prioritization. Leaders must prioritize the areas of their life that are most important and empower those around them to take on some of the responsibilities. This will allow the leader to be present for themselves and their families and create opportunities for professional growth for their team.
Self-care is such an individualized process and each person’s needs are different, just like their values. The items above are just some simple examples of how we can make investments in ourselves and those around us to help us be happier, healthier, and better leaders. Getting past the excuses of “I don’t have time,” “I don’t need self-care,” and “it won’t work for me” are a crucial first step. As Plato said, the first and best victory is to conquer self.
1Neale P. “‘Serious’ Leaders Need Self-Care, Too.” Harvard Business Review. Publishing October 22, 2020.
2Elgelid S. Burnout in Physical Therapists.” CSM 2020 Platform Poster Presentation
3Covey S. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Shuster; 1989
4Ignatius A. “The Multitasking Paradox.” Harvard Business Review. Published October 2013.