This blog is part of our Expert Commentary series, bringing you insights into some of the unspoken challenges people face in the workplace, from experts with lived experience. The series explores a range of topics and perspectives to highlight the ways inclusive and compassionate leadership practices can benefit everyone.
‘I feel like I’m on a never-ending cycle of stress, alcohol, not sleeping and anxiety meds and I don’t know how to stop it.’
‘It’s really lonely at the top. I didn’t expect that.’
‘I don’t know how to say no, even to things I really don’t want to do.’
These three comments are variations of what my clients and friends share with me with depressing regularity.
And I know exactly how they feel because I used to feel the same.
It took many years for me to realise the importance of prioritising my wellbeing. Extreme stress and anxiety that resulted in burnout, the unexpected deaths of too many loved ones and a life-threatening melanoma all contributed to my realisation that life is short, and I really did want it to be a good one.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to care for ourselves first.
A lot of livelihoods rely on us. This means we need to put ourselves first. Because if we don’t, we can’t be our best selves for others. That includes your kids, partner, other family members and friends, as well as the people you lead at work.
As leaders, we want to lead. And we can’t do this well if we are exhausted, overwhelmed or stressed. However, committing to putting ourselves first and prioritising our wellbeing can be quite confronting. As women, we are so often taught to serve others first. And, after all, isn’t that what good leaders do? Serve others?
Self-care isn’t selfish. Yet when we face increased pressures with work and life, it can be hard to prioritise ourselves. We recharge our phones every day, so why don’t we do the same with our minds and bodies?
When we do put ourselves first and prioritise our wellbeing, we reap many rewards:
We are happier
This sounds like a no-brainer, but the benefits of being happy are seriously underestimated by many people. As well as being less stressed and less likely to be absent from work, happy people are more successful. This is, in part, because happiness has been linked to greater creativity, which is important for problem-solving, innovation, and finding new ways of doing things.
We are healthier
I know I don’t need to tell you how important it is to look after your health. However, many of us have missed regular medical checks or appointments over the last two years. When we are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, we feel better about ourselves, live longer, and are more capable of managing stress. Unsurprisingly, we take less sick leave, fewer medical costs and are more productive. We also have less impact on our colleagues, as the ripple effects from absences are reduced.
We are more human
When we’re not feeling our best, it’s easy to come across as grumpy, abrupt and impatient with our colleagues. Given that the workforce today is based on relationships, this can have a detrimental impact. When we prioritise our wellbeing, we are far more likely to show up with authenticity, vulnerability and empathy.
We energise our co-workers
When we feel energised and invigorated, we pass these feelings on to the people around us. Some people are energising because they give off positive vibes, others because they create genuine connections. For example, they listen to understand when having a conversation. If you give off positive energy, your people are more likely to feel engaged at work, leading to greater productivity. Don’t be like my friend Tanya’s boss, who she describes as an energy vampire! Tanya quit a job she loved because her boss’ negativity and total lack of self-awareness sucked her dry until she had nothing left to give.
We communicate with conviction
Communicating with conviction is the cornerstone of trusted leadership. When we feel good about ourselves, we are less afraid to be authentic, which earns loyalty and trust. We communicate with clarity, confidence, and compassion, which motivates, educates, and inspires those around us.
We create cultures of belonging
When we are fully connected to ourselves, we are more likely to feel that we belong. And belongingness is the driving force of human behaviour. Our sense of belonging to a social or work community provides a sense of security that makes our brains happy and helps keep us safe.
So, what can you do today to prioritise yourself? To recharge your personal battery? And to give yourself more energy so you can be the leader you want to be? Take steps to prioritise your wellbeing, and you will truly reap the rewards.
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About Mel Kettle
Mel Kettle is an internationally recognised expert in fully connected leadership and communication. With more than two decades of experience, Mel is a valuable asset to leaders and teams that want to achieve real connection and sustained engagement. She is the host of the podcast This Connected Life and the author of two books, best-selling Fully Connected and The Social Association. Visit www.melkettle.com