Prioritize your self-care for the betterment of yourself and your team.
Turbulence, though often unpleasant, is an unavoidable part of life. For organizational leaders, such turmoil can feel particularly overwhelming, with so many relying on the sound decision making and cool-headed responses expected of an organizational pillar.
But what if the pillar is shaking a bit? It is well known that professionals experience many challenges throughout their careers. Much has been written about what such challenges mean for the rank and file and what methods leaders can adopt to care for their teams when difficulties arise.
Indeed, a great leader is attuned to such circumstances and knows that supporting their team through challenging times must be a priority. What many people overlook is that even as leaders provide that support for their teams, they also experience many of the same challenges themselves.
A no-win situation
Leaders tend to possess great resiliency, often fostered through experience. I can attest to that personally.
I lived through martial law while growing up in Poland before moving to the US early in my career. Prior to joining the International Coaching Federation, I experienced three different career paths, all of which helped broaden my perspectives and mold me into the leader I am today.
From performing economic research for the US Department of Agriculture to serving the Council of State Governments, every experience on my path to leadership further strengthened my resilience, allowing me numerous opportunities to face challenges head-on, uncover the most efficient way to navigate difficult situations, and build my resiliency by overcoming those obstacles.
But even if leaders do possess remarkable resilience, the well is not bottomless. For me, that became a frustrating reality amid a particularly busy period of travel during which I was constantly on a plane.
Due to last-minute schedule changes, I found myself out of the office for three weeks, bringing me to three different continents, without a break or downtime.
I was incredibly involved in my work at each destination during the local working hours, only to come back to the hotel and work on many emails, messages, and projects that needed my attention—all while ignoring that I needed to rest.
As those drains on my energy took their toll, I was no longer delivering my best work on any front. That led to even deeper frustration and an inability to meet my usual standards.
My team needed more direction because we were working on preparations for an important event. It felt as though the more exhausted and overwhelmed I grew, the more anxious my team became. By neglecting my needs in the name of being there for my team and getting the work done, I had in fact put us all in a no-win situation.
It begged the question: Who is taking care of the leaders while they care for everyone else?
Sustaining long-term resilience
Being a good leader requires more than hard work and a strong vision for the organization; it also demands empathy, strength, and willingness to go the extra mile.
It is fortunate then that we as leaders can draw upon the resilience we have cultivated over time to deliver on those needs for our teams. Our capacity to remain calm while facing great pressures enables us to manage complex challenges and support our teams in their times of greatest need so that they can pivot as smoothly as possible without overtaxing valuable members of the organization.
But when we rely on our own resilience for a prolonged period, even the strongest among us eventually run out of gas.
Leaders bear responsibility for self-care
All too often, we discount caring for ourselves while prioritizing our employees' well-being. But what we sometimes forget is that looking after our own well-being is much like, as they say before flights, putting on one's own oxygen mask before helping the person in the next seat.
We cannot sufficiently support our teams if we neglect our own needs. Finding a way to support and sustain our energy is not a mere indulgence but a requirement for long-term leadership success.
So, how can we perform self-care and obtain the support we need to sustain our vital role on behalf of our teams? It is up to us to manage ourselves in addition to managing our staff. For some, that may require reflecting on what traits enabled us to secure our leadership position in the first place and taking the necessary steps to ensure those traits continue to shine through.
Self-care is a necessity
For most of us, there is no one looking over our shoulders to ask: "What support do you need?" or "It looks like you may be struggling; how can we address your challenges?"
And yet, we need such attention at times. Learning to provide self-monitoring is an emerging and increasingly important skill in the leadership toolbox. We must ask those questions of ourselves.
Remember, a strong organization and a strong team must always strategize for the long haul. When the person everyone is relying on burns out, future strategies are jeopardized; but when we sustain ourselves, the entire team—and indeed, the organization—stands to gain.
You are useless to your team if your own mental well-being spirals into turmoil.
While going through that difficult period of constant travel, I realized something had to change. I had to rest and take care of myself if I were to do my best work.
Using skills I learned from my years of leadership coaching, I implemented two mechanisms that changed everything. First, I delegated authority on specific projects to my capable colleagues and let everyone know whom I had assigned to oversee the project.
Second, I created windows of time that my colleagues in the office and I were available simultaneously and let people know what those times were. I told everyone that that was the time they could expect answers from me, and if necessary, that was the time to set up a videoconference or phone call.
When I finally took responsibility for getting adequate rest on my three-week trip, I noticed how flexible my schedule and time became. By providing myself with the care I needed as an individual, I was able to be my best self for my team.
Own your resiliency
As a leader, no matter your industry, one understanding rings true across the board: You must take some matters into your own hands.
Getting bogged down by seemingly endless responsibilities, by individuals turning to you for guidance and direction, or by needing to protect the resiliency of the team is meaningless if you crumble under pressure. A few important steps can help re-establish, strengthen, and protect your resilience and in so doing ensure the team has a leader on whom they can rely.
- Put yourself in their shoes. What kind of leader would you want to work for? Be that leader, and your team will give you their all while taking some of the stress off you.
- Take a break. That may feel impossible, but you are useless to your team if your own mental well-being spirals into turmoil. Taking a small break now can prevent the need for a longer break later.
- Ask for help. You may not have the support system that your team has in you, but sometimes asking for help can solve problems you didn't think had a solution. If you encourage your team to ask for help when they need it, it's equally important that you take your own advice.
Maintaining resiliency during turbulence is difficult even for the greatest leaders. Never doubt that you have the ability to navigate and remain levelheaded during uncertain times—that makes you a strong leader. By remembering that as a leader you have the same individual needs as your employees, you will become more capable of sustaining long-term resilience.
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