Call it What You Want - Leaders Need Self-Care Too

“Mark, I know we’re supposed to coach on my leadership philosophy today, but I was hoping we could talk about how unmotivated I’ve been lately.”

“Mark, I’m feeling really hypocritical trying to inspire my team when I’m feeling completely burnt out. How can I talk the talk if I’m not walking the walk?”

The comments above are real, shared by my leadership coaching clients and reflective of the way more of my coaching sessions have begun over the past year. As leaders open up and share what’s really going on, many confide that they’re simply burnt out or overwhelmed. When “unmotivated,” “stressed out,” or other descriptors of overwhelm emerge during coaching, I often turn to the topic of self-care to explore how well my client is focusing on their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. More often than not, we uncover a void in one or more areas that is serving as a primary source of discontent.

A recent survey found that since the start of COVID-19, 85% saw a decline in their general well-being and 89% saw a decline in their workplace well-being.[i] The causes were many, ranging from increased work demands to home-life struggles. Interestingly however, 22% actually saw their general well-being improve and 20% saw their workplace well-being improve[1]. How? Through self-care practices such as better sleep, more family time, better diet & exercise routines, and better boundaries, amongst others. 

 Why then do so many leaders shun self-care practices such as those above? The reasons are many but a recent article by leadership coach and teacher, Dr. Palena Neale sounded like she had talked with some of my clients.[ii] Dr. Neale finds that many see self-care as a sign of weakness, something ‘real leaders’ shouldn’t need. Others conjure up ‘woo-woo’ images of cross-legged meditation sessions with candles and incense, and some surrender to their hectic lives proclaiming they just don’t have time in their busy schedules to look out for themselves. 

 When it comes to solutions, the simplest ideas are often the most effective. Some leaders learn to accept the need for self-care by simply calling it something else: “Getting myself squared away” seems to work for a few of the military leaders I coach. Starting small can also help leaders introduce self-care back into their lives. When a client recently shared that she tried and failed at mediation because 30 minutes was too long, I asked her about trying it for just five minutes. Once shown research demonstrating that even five minutes a day of mindful meditation or focused breathing could help, she was motivated to give it a try. Starting small can work in many other areas too, including:

The results have been impressive for many. One client started meditating regularly and another began practicing yoga. Yet another focused on getting seven hours a sleep a night instead of the three to four she had been, and quickly saw her energy levels and motivation rise.

 Leaders who take care of themselves are much better able to take care of those whom they lead. If ‘getting yourself squared away’ is what you need to call it, so be it. Start finding ways to take care of yourself and see how fast it happens!


[1] “Percentages refer to the number of respondents who made clear references to the general sentiments, trends, and themes, and do not add up to 100%.”




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