Sustainable Leadership: How Self-Care Makes You a Better Leader

4 Apr ‘23
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp
Gecontroleerd door Psychologist Britt Slief
Como líder o CEO, dedicas mucho tiempo a cuidar de otras personas, pero ¿quién cuida de ti? Te contamos cómo priorizarte (eso te convertirá en mejor líder).
As a leader, it’s natural to always be thinking about others: whether your team is doing well, whether they’re working effectively, and what challenges they may be facing. But how often do you take the time to think about your own needs?


A good leader understands that self-care is essential. You can only support and inspire others when you’re feeling your best. Here’s how to make yourself a top priority.


Why you should take self-care seriously


Unfortunately, many people overlook the importance of self-care. Perhaps it’s due to the pressures of work, or they don’t realise its value, or they simply don’t know where to start.


At work, self-care often takes a backseat to other tasks and responsibilities. Even when we do get around to it, there always seems to be something more important to do.


However, research from the University of Bremen in Germany shows that self-care is a crucial factor in sustainable and healthy leadership. By taking care of yourself, you’ll have the energy and rest you need to support your team. Moreover, you’ll set an example for others in the company. When leaders prioritise self-care, it encourages everyone to do the same.


In other words, as a leader, your behaviour sets the tone for the rest of the organisation. It’s contagious and inspiring.


Leadership and mental health


Work can be good for our mental health. It provides purpose, goals, and meaningful relationships with others. However, there are plenty of situations where work also has an adverse effect on our well-being. Stress, the inability to switch off after work, and feeling unsafe in the workplace are just a few examples.


An American survey on mental health in the workplace found that around 80% of employees reported at least one work factor that negatively impacted their mental health in the past year. This can lead to absenteeism and voluntary resignations.


As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create the right conditions for your team. You need to find a balance that works for you and ensure you have the support you need.


You don’t have to put on a brave face


In a world where around one in six people are dealing with mental health challenges (according to the OECD) it’s totally normal not to feel great every day – let alone to be productive and to always work on top form.  


This applies to leaders and CEOs too. However, many leaders feel they can’t show vulnerability in the workplace, fearing they won’t be taken seriously. 


In reality, being open about your doubts and worries can make you a stronger leader. Research by Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry, shows that mental health challenges can promote these four special human qualities:


  • Realism
  • Resilience
  • Empathy
  • Creativity


Even as a leader, you don’t have to have everything figured out all the time. By sharing what’s going on with you, you’re encouraging others to do the same. And that’s important because it’s precisely this openness that creates a psychologically safe work environment where people can thrive and feel good. 


Self-care is essential for good leadership


Self-care is essential for sustainable leadership. It can help you to:


  1. Think more clearly and view situations realistically
  2. Set boundaries and manage expectations
  3. Increase your self-confidence and sense of self-worth
  4. Cope better with stressful or complex situations
  5. Be more productive and focus better (responding to your needs has a positive effect on your concentration)


As a leader, focusing on your personal leadership will set the foundation for how you lead others.


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How can you find a good balance?


So, how can you prioritise your own mental health and strengthen your personal leadership? 


  1. Learn to recognise your boundaries (and accept them)

Just like everyone else, as a leader, you also have physical and mental boundaries. Those moments where your metaphorical cup is so full that even the smallest drop could make it overflow. 


This means that it’s important to learn to recognise your own boundaries and accept them. When your cup is full and you realise that you’re no longer acting from a place of peace and confidence, it’s time to take a step back. Remember to take action before it gets to that point.


  1. Don’t do it all alone (ask for help)

Whatever the situation is, you’re never alone. This means it helps to seek support from the people around you. 


As a leader, it can be nice to voice your thoughts and feelings to someone in the same role. A colleague can help you to navigate your challenges (and vice versa). 


And don’t hesitate to express your feelings to your team as well. It helps other people to understand you and takes a load off your mind. You’re human, after all.


  1. Be aware that you’re a role model

What you do has an impact on the rest of your team (and probably also on other people around you). Know that self-care is exactly what the world needs right now and can motivate people to make healthy choices.


  1. Figure out which self-care activities make you happy

Some people are into yoga and meditation, while others are more into boxing, and some get the same effect from listening to music.


Self-care means something different to everybody. Only you can know what it means for you. Do some research and figure out what makes you feel rested and relaxed. 


Looking for some inspiration? Small Steps to Start Caring for Your Mental Health Today.


  1. Figure out what’s holding you back

There are probably things keeping you from taking time for yourself. Maybe it’s your to-do list, arrangements with other people, or housework. There’s always an excuse.


Figure out what’s holding you back and try to flip the script. How can you eliminate some of these obstacles so that you can make time for yourself? Consider incorporating new habits into your daily routine (that takes time, but it gets easier and easier over time, trust us). 


Or devote some attention to your self-care at work. For example, do a mindfulness session with your team. This won’t just help you, it’s also a great way to bond.


And remember: if you don’t feel like you have any time for yourself, that’s exactly when you need to focus more on self-care. 


As the Buddhist saying goes: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy, then you should sit for an hour.”

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