Any of us who have ventured into the world of self-leadership from coaching, mentoring or reading/listening to self-help resources knows that it requires a great deal of intentionality, pre- planning, and wise choices on a moment-by-moment basis. After all, self-leadership is a discipline followed by a decision that only we can make for ourselves. We can blame no one else if we take a pass and let life slip by. It requires a mindset focused on growth rather than one based on the belief that we are who we are and can’t change (see Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck).
Typically, most of us who are committed to self-leadership focus on principles like growing in emotional maturity, skills training and career development, achieving our personal definition of professional and financial success, skills and educational advancement, fostering a strong personal work ethic, and establishing a high performing team culture. Those of us who work on this have benefited greatly. However, I have been fascinated recently by two resources that outline what it takes to lead happy and successful lives: The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, and From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur Brooks.
Both of these resources are a result of sound research. However, they cite two areas that are not typically attributed to self-leadership as primary areas of emphasis. They are personal relationships and personal wellness. Personal wellness was not a surprise, but the benefits of intentional eating, regular exercise, stress management, proper rest, avoiding smoking and managing our individual recommendations from our healthcare professionals was for me: up to ten additional years of life! Wow! That is certainly compelling, and makes me want to step up my game on daily exercise and proper rest. One of the themes throughout these works is that leaders, may I use the term “strivers” that Brooks frequently uses, are often the least focused on these two areas.
Now, the biggest surprise: Relationships. The area that has the greatest return on investment in living a good life is intentional relationships. This is the most important focus in self-leadership. We can achieve great professional success; but, without “real” relationships (vs. “deal” relationships), we fall short of leading ourselves to the point of gaining personal happiness and a purposeful sense of well-being. Yet, for leaders, especially those who have the greatest organizational responsibility, this is typically the area that gets crowded out. It manifests itself in our divorce rates, our personal priorities, our estranged family members…especially children…our drug and alcohol consumption. You name it. Prioritizing work over intentionally making time for cultivating relationships is the nemesis of leaders and self-leadership.
So, let’s pay attention to these studies. We can be the exceptions. If you need convincing any further, take the time to read or listen to the resources. Evaluate your real values. Make some goals that align with them. Enjoy the dopamine surge from time spent with those you love. According to the research, it’s definitely worth it.