No one would disagree that business today is more fast-paced, complex, and all-encompassing than ever before. And as leaders, it can often feel as though we are required to give more of ourselves than we seemingly have to give.
So today, I’m going to make a case for why you need to be more selfish. I know that might sound controversial. And truth be told, if my mom were still here she’d be giving me “the look” right now and saying, “Kevin” in a way that can only mean one thing – “I raised you better than that! How can you tell these people to be selfish?”
Here’s the thing; this is not about being selfish in the traditional sense of the word. I’m not talking about caring only for yourself, being self-centered and egotistical. I mean selfish in the sense of being more self-renewing and practicing radical self-care. And there’s a big difference.
There is so much pressure on leaders today to produce results; sometimes with little or no attention to the cost. We are overworked, over-stimulated, and overwhelmed by the pace and expectations of our roles. Many times the leaders I work with are in the constant struggle to give, give, and give some more.
They sacrifice too much for too long, many times without regard or recognition of the cost to them. They can become trapped in what Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee call “The Sacrifice Syndrome,” in their book, “Resonant Leadership.”
They lose their ability to relate and connect to others because they become so focused only on producing results. That leads to them feeling cut off from others, and from support that they almost certainly need. These leaders become unable to manage the constant crises and chronic stress of their roles without giving in to fear, anxiety, and anger.
“Leadership is an active role; ‘lead’ is a verb. But the leader who tries to do it all is headed for burnout, and in a powerful hurry.” – Bill Owens
A resilient leader – one who spends time in renewal – is a leader who is able to motivate herself and others, see possibilities in challenges, be more optimistic, and is able to create powerful, positive relationships that improve their organizational climate.
Renewing oneself is a holistic process involving mind, body, heart, and spirit. So let’s look at some things you can begin doing right now to help you become more resilient in the face of challenges, and create more resonant connections with your teams.
- Renew yourself physically. Listen, this one is so obvious, and yet so often overlooked. We keep pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion, and the lie we tell ourselves is, “I don’t have time to exercise, eat right, and take better care of my body.” You don’t have time NOT to.
Saying you don’t have time to take care of your body is like saying you’re too busy driving to stop for gas. Sooner or later, it’s going to catch up to you. What daily habits do you have for taking care of your body? I’ve made this an indispensable part of my day. Is it easy? No. I have to fight through my own resistance almost every day. But when I do it, I always find that I have more energy to get through my days – days that can typically stretch well into the night.
You may have to go to bed a little earlier and get up a little earlier. Maybe go to the gym at lunch or immediately after work. I don’t know what your schedule looks like, but I can tell you without some form of movement built into your day, you will not have the levels of energy required to be an effective leader. Create a schedule! If it’s on your calendar, you are far more likely to give it your attention and treat is as essential.
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn
- Renew yourself mentally. Do you spend any time in silence? Our brains are literally over-stimulated from the moment we rise to the time we hit the pillow, and it’s having detrimental effects on our ability to think, create, and process information. How often do you spend time in a contemplative setting, either in meditation or some other form of introspection?
Studies have shown a definitive connection between people who spend time in reflective, contemplative practices and their ability to respond more effectively to the inevitable challenges of life. In fact, one definitive study showed that by simply adding 30 minutes of meditation to your daily practices, participants literally reshaped their brains and saw stunning results.
I’ve written about this previously, but it’s worth reinforcing. Participants in the study increased the size of their hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory – while simultaneously decreasing the size of the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. I don’t know about you, but anything that can produce that kind of result is sure to become a staple of my daily regimen. And it is.
- Renew yourself emotionally. This one just might be the most challenging of the three. We tend to know very little about our emotions and emotional states. Certainly we feel and experience them. But what do we really know about how to manage them more effectively while still being fully engaged?
This is where the real practice begins. We need to become awake and aware of how our emotions impact us. What are my hot buttons? When do I notice myself feeling triggered over a situation? What types of situations/people/challenges tend to bring out our best or worst? Becoming more self-aware takes time and effort, and it’s one of the most important things you can to do sustain yourself and propel your leadership to another level.
By monitoring your emotions – learning what inspires you, what renews you, what drains you – you can develop a roadmap to becoming more resilient, less reactive, and far more capable of navigating those times when conflict and challenge are unavoidable.
So there it is. That’s only 3 reasons to practice self-care. There are many more, certainly. Start somewhere. Start now. Every day is another opportunity to learn, grow, and become more.
If you’re reading this right now and thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time” or “I don’t know how to do these things” then you need to make the time. Now. Learning to be more “selfish” (practicing radical self-care) is the shortest path to a stronger body, stronger mind, stronger emotions, and better leadership. Period.