Leaders should practice self-care to maintain quality leadership ability.

Many leaders give of themselves continuously, until they have nothing left to give.  They start out like a balloon full of air—vibrant, resilient, quickly bouncing back when hit with challenges or adversity—but each challenge takes a little air out of them.  They begin to deflate slowly, until one day they find themselves deflated, no longer capable of bouncing back from the various challenges they face.  

We have observed this pattern with many leaders over the years. Consistently, we see instances of burnout, dissatisfaction and fatigue.  Leaders, many who were once rising stars, begin to lose their sense of purpose and feeling as if they are trapped on a hamster wheel: running at a frenetic pace, but going nowhere. 

Fortunately, the story for leaders doesn’t have to end this way.  We have found that the most resilient and effective leaders recognize the importance of self-care and renewal, finding ways to regularly “re-inflate their balloon.”  They continually engage in experiences to personally grow and transform.  How do they do this? We find that it is often through being mindful, having high levels of emotional intelligence and making their personal well-being a priority.

Simply put, being mindful is about being fully present in the moment.  Rather than obsessively ruminating about what has happened in the past or worrying incessantly about what might happen in the future, leaders who are mindful practice techniques that enhance their ability to notice and appreciate what is happening in the present.  This enables them to make decisions from a place of clarity and strength, as well as to connect in a more meaningful way with colleagues and clients.

Emotionally intelligent leaders have a strong sense of who they are, what their values are and what their highest purpose is.  Because they are clear on their own personal and professional vision, they are better able to align their strengths with the vision of their organization.  But not only are they self-aware, emotionally intelligent leaders are also socially-aware.  This is demonstrated by a genuine understanding of, and care for others.  As a result, they help their employees discover their own personal visions and values, as well as help them see the meaning and purpose behind their organizational roles, leading to a greater sense of engagement and commitment to the organization. 

Finally, leaders who prioritize their own well-being are healthier and more resilient.  This focus on self-care enables them to sustain their effectiveness over time, despite the numerous challenges they face in fulfilling their leadership role.  While the idea of placing a priority on self-focus may seem selfish to some, those who make their personal well-being a priority recognize that they are better able to serve others.  And through their behavior, they also serve as examples to their workforce to live a life of balance.  

Training and education around personal growth and transformation for leaders is an essential ingredient, not only for individual leader success, but also for organizational success. Organizations that support training and education for their leaders in the areas of mindfulness, emotional intelligence and well-being have more resilient and effective workforces.  Shared experiences around these topics can be particularly helpful to build community among employees and help to bridge the gap between millennials and seasoned leaders.  Discussions around these topics bring current and emerging leaders together and enables organizations to thrive, innovate and flourish.

Michelle T. Patella (michelle.patella@zenithpointe.com) is the Founder & CEO of ZenithPointe, a leadership consulting firm that offers multi-faceted off-site immersion experiences for emerging leaders. She holds a Master of Science in Positive Organization Development & Change from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.  

Melvin L. Smith, Ph.D. (melvin.smith@case.edu) is a Professor of Organizational Behavior and Faculty Director of Executive Education at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.  He has done work for a number of Columbus organizations including Express, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and the Ohio Federation of Independent Colleges.