Why Leaders Need Self-Care (Not The Bubble Bath Kind)

In the working world, the concept of self-care often gets pushed to the background, overshadowed by the more immediate demands of our busy professional lives (and frankly, treated somewhat disparagingly). If we consider wellness to be a state we want to be in, across all aspects of our lives (physical, mental, financial, etc.), self-care is the set of actions that help move us into a state of wellness.

However, as I explored in a recent conversation on the Evolve podcast with Marwa Fadol and Vicki Enns, authors of Self-Care Transformed: A Place for Meaning, Joy, and Community in the Helping Professions,true self-care is far more important than the occasional indulgence in bubble baths. It’s about understanding our boundaries and how to live and work within them, especially in a capitalist framework that constantly nudges us beyond our limits, encouraging us to “win” or “push harder.”

For leaders, taking care of our own needs first by keeping ourselves balanced and on track is the most important skill we can build. Instead of dismissing self-care as something frivolous or indulgent, we can think of self-care as a tool for optimizing our energy. Much like adding gas to the tank of a car is something necessary for driving, we need self-care practices to refuel the energy necessary for work and life.

Self-Care Isn’t What We Think

Marwa Fadol, a brilliant mind in the realm of wellness, shared insights that resonated deeply with me. She spoke about the various forms our energy takes and how each can be depleted in unique ways. It’s not just physical tiredness; our emotional, social and spiritual energies are equally crucial and can be affected.

Recognizing that depletion can show up in these different ways is the first step toward a holistic approach to self-care. In her words, “paying attention to those areas…is how we can minimize [the] impact” of burnout.

Values Are Anchors In Self-Care Too

During our discussion, I was struck by how our values deeply influence our approach to self-care. Values act like anchors, offering stability in the tumultuous seas of our professional lives. Vicki, another shining leader in the counselling field, notes in our conversation that self-care, when rooted in our values, becomes meaningful and impactful. Reflecting on Marybeth Highland’s book Permission to Be Human, I realized how values can transform our approach to wellness, moving it beyond traditional paradigms to something more inclusive and personal.

The Relational Aspect of Self-Care

What often gets overlooked in the conversation about self-care is its communal aspect. As Marwa pointed out, it’s not just about self-indulgence but about creating a supportive network around us. This is particularly relevant in today’s corporate environment, where the emphasis is often on individual performance. Acknowledging that self-care can be a group effort changes the narrative, making it a shared responsibility within our professional communities.

Focusing On Self-Awareness And Choice

In our conversation, two themes emerged as critical to the self-care journey: awareness and choice. Awareness of our own needs, boundaries, and values leads to informed choices about how we manage our well-being. This awareness brings a sense of freedom and joy, allowing us to navigate our professional and personal lives with more clarity and purpose.

4 Energy Types For Fuelling Your Wellness

Marwa introduced the concept of the wellness wheel, which encompasses our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritualneeds. We need to pay attention to each of these energy types, as we tend to emphasize or prioritize one over others.

She emphasized that while the impact of these four wellness areas will be different for each person, it’s crucial to address each one. In her experience, dealing with them in a therapy session might focus on the relationship impacts of our wellness (and our behaviour on others), we need to examine each of these wellness areas for our benefit.  Recognizing and addressing the first signs of stress in any of these areas can prevent a cascade of burnout.

Self-Care as a Shared Experience

The unexpected twist is understanding that self-care is not just an individual pursuit but a shared experience. Vicki highlighted that the communal aspect of self-care is vital in building resilient and supportive work environments. This collective approach, which could include workplace groups for wellness practices, foundations, non-profits or collectives outside of work, fosters a culture where individuals can thrive, both personally and professionally. It’s also not something we can wait to focus on after work; keeping an eye on our wellness and energy throughout the workday is important too. Take a few minutes to stand up and move, go for a walk or simply focus on your breathing: taking snack-sized moments to manage your energy can help you avoid burning out.

As I reflect on our conversation, it’s clear that self-care in the modern workplace needs a new definition. It’s not about isolating ourselves in a bubble of relaxation but about understanding the intricate balance of our professional and personal lives. It’s about recognizing that our well-being is interconnected with those around us and that our values can guide us in maintaining our boundaries.

Self-care, in its truest sense, is about making conscious choices that align with our deepest values, enabling us to navigate the complexities of our work and life with resilience and joy. It’s about creating spaces where we can be vulnerable, where we can share our challenges, and where we can collectively support each other’s well-being.

In essence, self-care is a set of intentional practices for managing and restoring our energy,  going well beyond mere self-preservation or indulgence. We need to monitor our energy across all four states and take intentional steps to restore it. And, we need to be watching for signs of burnout and fatigue in others—whether at work or home—and helping them find their own wellness and care practices.

As leaders, managers, and professionals, we have the opportunity to redefine self-care within our spheres of influence. By doing so, we pave the way for a more compassionate, resilient, and value-driven approach to work and life. Let’s embrace this holistic view of self-care, where bubble baths are just one small part of a much larger, more meaningful picture. 🌟

Picture of Carolyn Swora

Carolyn Swora

Carolyn is a leadership consultant, team coach, certified Dare To Lead™ facilitator, and two-time bestselling author. Her most recent book, Evolve: The Path to Trauma-Informed Leadership, brings new focus to an often ignored, yet critical leadership component: the nervous system. In her work with organizations, from phama to non-profits, Carolyn focuses on driving change through leadership focused on compassion and humility.

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