Self Care: A Necessary Requirement for BOLD Leaders

Self-care. Many of us have heard that term so many times, we don’t attach any particular significance to it anymore.

Yet, in the wake of a global pandemic and the tumultuous times that have become our “new normal,” self-care is more important than ever before – for leaders, for those we lead, and for every single person in the world.

Self-Care Is Like a Healing Balm for the Soul

Unless we are dutifully mindful of ourselves, we can become ensnared in an “I have to do it all” mantra at work…and overly engaged with the digital world. We act – and react – to the world around us at a frenzied pace, often short circuiting and depleting ourselves.

Most of us have been in that frantic, frenetic and furious hamster wheel at times. And we discover we’re running as fast as we can – but getting nowhere.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

-Anne Lamott

Unplugging from it all – taking time for ourselves – is a healing balm for our bodies – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Working remote? Back in the office? A little bit of both? Take a few minutes out to explore how a few simple self-care strategies can help us lead with greater ease, clarity, and confidence.

Just What is Self-Care?

Amy Jen Su summed up self-care in Harvard Business Review: “self-care is your relationship and connection to self.…it means that you’re attuned to and understand what you need to be your most constructive, effective, and authentic self.”  Self-care is more than just physically taking care of ourselves. It means maintaining and enhancing our whole being.

Really, self-care is about so much more than physical health. Su notes we need to pay attention to more of our whole selves – our emotions, relationships, and our mind. “Self-care flows from an intention to stay connected to oneself and one’s overall mission.”

Not practicing self-care and living with stress depletes us. Researchers David B. Ross, Julie A. Exposito and Tom Kennedy wrote in Stress and Its Relationship to Leadership and a Healthy Workplace Culture, that leaders under stress for an extended time can experience negative consequences, such as inability to make decisions, making emotionally based decisions, or lack of listening.

We must get over the idea that self-care is selfish. It isn’t. How can we be there for anyone else if we are not there for ourselves? And we must stop saying that we don’t have time for self-care. We do.

“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax.”

― Matt Haig

Achieve More as a Leader With Self Care

Erin Urban wrote in Forbes of a senior executive who discovered that when he let life pull him to the breaking point, it hurt his career. “You cannot give what you do not have,” he shared. “Fortunately, it didn’t take long to realize that investing in self-care allows me to achieve more as a leader.”

Here are some practical, actionable strategies to weave self-care into your workday – whether you’re working remote or back in the office – or a little bit of both…

A few simple suggestions by Erin Urban can start us on a self-care mission:

  1. Set boundaries. Learn to say no.
  2. Ditch the perfectionist attitude.
  3. Leverage the power of delegation.

Following those suggestions, Urban says to take time to refuel ourselves…

  1. Do one thing that will bring joy and recharge those batteries.
  2. Just breathe…become aware of the breath.
  3. Go outside, be at one with nature, take a walk.
  4. Practice gratitude and kindness.

Strengthen Leadership Through Effective Self-Care

The National Conference for College Women Student Leaders offers practical tips to strengthen leadership through self-care. Topping their suggestion? Getting rid of the notion that we can do it all.

And, perhaps just as important, learn to delegate. Delegating challenges our teams and gives us some free time to refresh and refocus…a win-win. Make sure self-care is a part of this extra time.

While a focus on the “we” is crucial to impactful leadership, “me” time is vital too. Try to take a brief time each evening, to relax and refuel. It can be as simple as just closing your eyes and concentrating on your breathing.

We can also emphasize gratitude – it is a gift that keeps on giving – the more gratitude we have, the more goodness comes our way.

This one is really important, especially in our new era of Zoom calls & a new, more intense digital connection. We must consciously choose to disconnect from the 24-7 digital world of news and social media and work responsibilities. Bask in the solitude, allowing your body the ultimate self-care it so deserves.

It is so important to take time for yourself and find clarity:

“The most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.”

-Diane Von Furstenberg

Solitude indeed is a golden gift. In the silence, we nourish ourselves. We learn about ourselves. We discover things that may have gone overlooked in the noise of everyday life.

Spending time in the silence allows us to return to our work refreshed, restored, having treated our complete selves to the ultimate self-care therapy: solitude.

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The Value of Worthiness in Leadership

We have all experienced the same agonizing conflict within ourselves: are we good enough?

How confident are we in ourselves and in our abilities – or does self-doubt cloud our vision?

Even Sheryl Sandberg Struggled with Self-Doubt

Sheryl Sandberg admitted to having self-doubt, but listening to Dr. Peggy McIntosh inspired her to reach beyond her personal misgivings. McIntosh offered that self-doubt is not an accurate reflection of a person’s potential.

Sandberg says that from that point on, she told herself: “I don’t have to feel so confident, but I have to take my seat at the table anyway.”

If we doubt ourselves and our self-worth, how can we effectively lead and inspire others?

Now more than ever, our world needs strong, courageous, BOLD leaders who are not only rooted in a sense of their own self-worth – but who can see the value in all those they lead.

Self-doubt and a lack of self-worth can sabotage any leader, because with these blocks they hold themselves back from being and doing all that they can. This thereby prevents them from experiencing higher levels of impact and fulfillment.

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”

— Jim Rohn

How Can Leaders Overcome Self-Doubt?

We don’t, says Margie Warrell, writing in Forbes. “What we do is learn how to reclaim the power it has held over us.”

All of us have had the “I don’t think I can do that” battle within ourselves. At times, however, a little self-doubt can serve us well as we go through this journey called life. But as with anything, if we let our doubts direct our lives, then we miss out on the successes and the fulfillment that might have been achieved.

Warrell shares her own experiences with self-doubt. Yearning to write a book, instead of tackling the job, she mentally rehearsed all the reasons she couldn’t: she never studied writing, couldn’t remember where apostrophes went, and was a busy mom to four children under the age of 7.

It was her husband who asked her the motivating question: “Why don’t you give yourself permission to write an imperfect book?”

So she did. And she learned to reclaim the power her doubt held over her. She suggests some great ways to accomplish that:

  1. Embrace doubt as part of being human
  2. Doubt your doubts (they’re not the truth)
  3. Make your goal larger than your fear
  4. Build a ladder of smaller, manageable goals first

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

― William Shakespeare

Many Leaders Secretly Harbor Self-Doubt

Publicly, many leaders are charismatic, results-driven, motivational, inspire success in others…and a host of other valuable traits.

But deep within, anxieties lurk, says Maryanne Mooney, writing in YPO. In coaching sessions, many leaders admit to harboring self-doubts secretly and suffering from anxious thoughts about their ability to continually succeed.  This has certainly been the case with many of the leaders I have worked with, as well.

She cites an example: A young CEO in a global tech business is wildly successful. Yet he admits to anxieties, fearing he may not be the person to take the company forward. He asks himself if he has what it takes or if someone else might do a better job. Many of us can relate to that.

Mooney defines self-belief:

“Self-belief is an unassuming, calm, accurate understanding of one’s wherewithal to meet current and future challenges.”

She compares it to a tree battered by a storm: although it sways in a storm, its deep roots anchor it firmly in the ground.

And so it is with a BOLD, worthy leader: Believing in ourselves allows our leadership abilities to shine through despite the storms of life. Self-belief boosts our confidence and increases our resiliency to meet current challenges – and the inevitable future ones.

“Your business growth is tied to your personal growth. There is no business strategy that can make up for a lack of worthiness in the leader of that business.”

– Eleanor Beaton

Vulnerable leadership is more than going it alone

Are You Worthy of Your Leadership?

But what about the concept of worthiness in leadership? Simply because someone heads up an organization doesn’t designate them a true leader. So much more constitutes a leader other than just a title: honesty, humility, courageousness, a willingness to think outside the box, resilience, and many other solid traits make up a true, bold leader.

Bryan Evje writing in Inc. cites a few questions we can ask ourselves in determining our true worthiness in our leadership roles. A few are:

  1. Are we leading for our own personal gains, or for a shared purpose?
  2. In times of uncertainty or fears, how do we respond?
  3. Do we lead others to be the best they can be?

Evje cites poet David Whyte who understood the value of fear: “It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with: it is the mother of the thing you fear.”

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How do we typically respond when we encounter a complex situation to which we haven’t yet discovered an answer?
  • When a crisis hits, how do we usually respond? Why is that?
  • Is our leadership style the same in a routine situation as it is in a crisis mode? If not, what’s different?

Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them.

How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.
-Judy Blume

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Inclusion Isn’t Just Another Leadership Buzzword. It’s Essential.

Now, perhaps more than at any other time in our world’s history, inclusive leaders aren’t just “good for business” – they’re essential to create thriving organizations where everyone feels valued.

“Inclusive leadership is about recognizing and valuing diversity or difference, and valuing people, recognizing them for their skills, experience and talent, and treating them equally and fairly – irrespective of their ethnic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, belief, or of any disability they may have.” 

-Moorvia Gooden

Inclusion. However much it’s been used particularly recently, it’s not just a buzzword. It’s a value to be lived and expanded throughout the organization.

And it shouldn’t be simply glossed over as a “nice-to-have”, fluffy concept. Not only does inclusion have immense positive value in our world, but it’s an important business strategy, too. Study after study reveals the enhanced performance of employees when they feel included, valued, and respected.

A Harvard Business Review article by Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido cites the benefits of inclusivity as a business practice.

Teams with Inclusive Leaders Report Many Benefits:

-17% higher performance

-Teams are 29% more likely to behave in a collaborative manner

-20% report more high-quality decisions

Inclusion even improves employee absenteeism rates, too, which is an obvious benefit to organizations large and small. And the list of positives goes on and on…

Given all these benefits, BOLD leaders recognize the importance of inclusive leadership. After all, doesn’t everyone yearn to be included? It’s a human need to feel a part of something. When we were kids, most of us wanted to feel like we ‘fit in.’

It’s no different for us as adults. When we feel included, we feel valued. We feel like we have something unique to bring to the table. It also helps us to see the value others bring, too.

Yet, a study in Harvard Business Review explained that even though businesses spend nearly 8 billion dollars annually on inclusion and diversity trainings, 40% of employees say they still feel isolated at work.

So, what’s needed?  Effective inclusive leadership.

Effective Leaders Must Be Inclusive

Inclusive leaders embrace diversity, encourage collaboration between all employees, and manifest a sense of caring about everyone. It’s a commitment to the belief that everyone is unique and has something to offer.

What traits make up an inclusive leader? An article in Harvard Business Review cited six behaviors that are characteristic of inclusive leaders:

  1. Cultural intelligence
  2. Humility
  3. Interest in others
  4. Outward Commitment
  5. Display an awareness of biases
  6. Focus on team cohesion

The article also cited specific responses by employees praising inclusive leaders such as:

“[This leader] will openly ask about information that she is not aware of. She demonstrates a humble unpretentious work manner. This puts others at ease, enabling them to speak out and voice their opinions, which she values.”

“[This leader] has taken the time to learn the ropes (common words, idioms, customs, likes/dislikes) and the cultural pillars.”

The non-inclusive leader was also noted by employees:

“[This leader] can have very set ideas on specific topics. Sometimes it is difficult to get an alternative view across. There is a risk that his team may hold back from bringing forward challenging and alternative points of view.”

As a BOLD leader, where do you see yourself? (Be really honest.)

The Path to Becoming an Inclusive Leader

Listening to constructive criticism can be challenging for some, but effective leaders realize the importance of knowing how their employees perceive them.

When looking to ensure an inclusive work environment, Juliet Bourke and Andrea Espedido write in Harvard Business Review that forming a diverse advisory board is helpful. Composed of peers a leader is comfortable speaking with, important day-to-day feedback on just how inclusive a leader is can be discussed. A leader can learn if their inclusion efforts are effective.

Bourke and Espedido also suggest leaders share their stories on the road to inclusion: by letting others know what they’ve learned, it can be a role model to help others as well.

Placing themselves in uncomfortable situations is also an effective way for leaders to learn inclusive tactics. Sitting in with a diverse group, hearing comments and answering questions can be a valuable learning tool.

“Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.”

-Doris Kearns Goodwin

Why Become an Inclusive Leader?

According to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends research, 78% of people believe inclusion and diversity provides a competitive advantage. Research also showed 69% of executives felt diversity & inclusion to be important issues.

Ryan Jennings, writing in Inc. cites reasons for becoming an inclusive leader:

  1. The diversity of our workforce is increasing
  2. Diverse companies outperform competition
  3. Our world is connected by technology, which can unite a global workforce
  4. Diversity unleashes the creative flow, encouraging innovation

Studies consistently highlight the benefits of inclusion in the workplace. It’s a win-win situation:  employees feel better, perform their tasks more efficiently, absenteeism decreases, productivity increases. With an increasingly diverse workforce – whether racial, ethnic, age or gender differences – inclusivity just makes sense.

As a BOLD leader, are you promoting and embracing an inclusive workforce? The outcome of your organization depends on it…

“A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.”

— Sundar Pichai

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Finding Our New Normal – In Leadership & In Life

“My new normal is to continually get used to new normals.”

The “new normal.”

Everyone is talking about it.

But does any sense of “normal” even exist anymore?

Perhaps the deeper, more important question might be:

How do we begin to accelerate in life and work – while staying intentional about what we focus on and why?

Leaders Are Facing Historic, Unprecedented Times

2020 has been described as unprecedented in our recent history, filled with tumultuous events and widespread uncertainty. Understandably, many of us are wondering exactly how we can move forward in the face of what seems to be continued instability.

“The future is not what we thought it would be only a few short months ago,” asserts a recent McKinsey & Company article.

With our visions of the future changing so much – and so fast – many of us are asking how to start moving forward again while remaining aligned with key values and true to our authentic cores.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer – and we may even find that personally (and professionally) the elusive answer shifts as rapidly as these extraordinary times.

Some suggestions gleaned from reading McKinsey authors Kevin Sneader and Shubham Singhal:

  • Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking (or hoping) that things will magically return to normal. We can never go back to the “old” normal.
  • Emphasize best practices encompassing collaboration, flexibility, inclusion, and accountability – all particularly crucial in today’s times.
  • Focus on leadership and strong alliances with strategic partners to start architecting a stronger future today.

Easy Does It, One Step at a Time

In our own lives, perhaps the best advice I can share is to simply keep going forward, one gentle step at a time, at a pace that feels comfortable for you and yet also slightly uncomfortable (so that you are also in the learning zone).

Many of us have been finding these last few months have been an ideal time to get grounded and to reflect on what in our lives is working well…and what is not.

For me, this process has not always been easy – in fact, it’s been downright painful at times. We can all probably relate on some level.

It’s often said that change never feels great during the process – only once it’s done. Yet change is an essential part of growth in our lives – as leaders and as human beings.

3 Practical Tips to Keep Moving Forward in Leadership (& Life)

  1. Re-evaluate your values. Now is a great time to think about what matters most. We might consider how our values have changed in response to everything that’s been happening on a global, collective level. Contemplate how your own values have shifted from what they were a year ago, or even as recent as six months prior.
  2. Stay agile to flex with the times. Given the rapidly evolving, very tumultuous times we all find ourselves living in, it’s easy to feel stuck when it comes to moving forward with our goals. Try organizing your vision – and when you do, look out for these common goal-setting mistakes. Just because the outlook for the future has changed doesn’t mean we can’t still pursue our ambitions.
  3. Be inspired by others. Scroll through social media or any major news network, and it can quickly become a challenge to find any good news. Yet, we have a powerful choice to make. Choose to seek out (and be motivated) by the good that is present all around us. So many people are overcoming seemingly insurmountable adversities every single day in innovative, creative ways.

Together, we can move forward & rise above – one BOLD baby step at a time. Because in the words of the infamous quote:

If not now, when? If not me, then who?

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For More Impactful Leadership, Slow Down & Breathe

We think too much. We work too much. We’re stressed out too much.

And we know it.

Yet, few of us make a conscious effort to give ourselves a break. It seems we’re in constant overdrive and don’t know how to slow down our hectic pace.

The Path to Impactful Leadership Starts with the Breath

According to Deepak Chopra, author and alternative medicine guru, on average, 41 thoughts are pouring through our minds each minute. All the over-thinking and over-doing causes the body to be continually in a fight-or-flight mode, resulting in a myriad of health concerns.

“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being.”

-Eckhart Tolle

How can we stop thinking so much? There is a simple way…

By consciously focusing on our breathing. By taking deep breaths and practicing controlled breathing, our bodies respond in a variety of beneficial ways.

And just as importantly, conscious breathing assists us in practicing mindfulness, when we make the most of the present moment. This, in turn, allows us to become more effective leaders, too.

We Don’t Know How to Breathe Effectively

In a director article aptly called Breathe Your Way to Better Leadership, Nilfer Atik writes that in our business lives, breathing takes a back seat to monitoring profits and losses.

But we can change that, according to Atik. How? By focusing on our breathing, we can:

-Improve concentration

-Increase productivity

-Spark creativity

-Manage demands more effectively

Richard Russell, consultant respiratory physician at Lymington New Forest Hospital, says we don’t breathe “naturally.”

“As babies, we naturally take deep breaths from our abdomens. As we get older, periods of stress cause our central nervous systems to operate in the sympathetic mode. This means that our natural ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, which causes us to take shorter, sharper breaths.”

As a result, we over-breathe and take in too little oxygen to nourish our bodies, resulting in fatigue, depression, and even panic attacks, according to Russell.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

-Amit Ray

CEO of TLEX Institute Johann Berlin assists companies in training restorative techniques to employees. His experience shows that leaders who take time out from their busy days to replenish and restore themselves are more successful and effective.

One technique Berlin cites as making that meaningful difference: conscious breathing.

“Even one deep, conscious breath can serve as the mini-meditation that we need to slow down and reduce tension,” Berlin explains. Taking that pause to enjoy several deep breaths lays the foundation for us to move into our tasks with a fresh energy and even a newfound enthusiasm.

Many experts offer their own breathing exercises. Alan Dolan, known as a ‘breath guru,” teaches his own technique of conscious breathing. Berlin’s can be found here; choose what works, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Whichever technique we choose to integrate into our lives, taking the time for conscious breathing will help us to reduce stress and become more mindful – a win-win situation for our bodies – and our careers. 

Mindfulness: Connecting & Accepting the Present Moment

We can’t hide stress from our bodies – or our employees. Our bodies let us know by high blood pressure, weight gain, panic attacks and a host of other maladies that stress has taken over.

Marissa Levin, founder and CEO of Successful Culture, notes that when leaders are stressed, good employees will flee for the sake of their own health and well-being.

It seems their employees know it – and feel it, according to Harvard research. And when leaders are unable to manage their stress constructively, more than half of their workforce views their leadership as ineffective – and even harmful.

Harvard research also showed that leaders can manage stress by practicing mindfulness, by being focused on the present moment and by being aware. Three areas that can help leaders to be more present are:

  1. Metacognition – observe from a distance what is taking place around us. This helps to become more aware of our reactions to situations.
  2. Allowing – observe what is happening without judging or criticizing anyone – or ourselves.
  3. Curiosity – strong leaders possess deep curiosity, a willingness to learn about all situations.

A mindful leader has self-awareness, transmuting instant reactions into thoughtful responses.

When a triggering incident occurs in the workplace, a mindful leader does not react. He or she takes a few moments to observe and assess the situation, and then responds appropriately. Those few moments of quiet awareness diffuse highly charged situations and help set the tone for more meaningful dialogue.

“Breathing deeply and releasing fear will help get you where you want to be.”

-Iyanla Vanzant

An effective response starts with something as simple as one deep breath. During this time of world-wide upheaval, now more than ever it’s time to take the opportunity to demonstrate courage, vision, and strength in leadership so that we can rise above – and inspire others to do the same.

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