At the incredibly overwhelming pace that we run our lives and businesses, sustaining our best self is both critical and extremely hard. And, here’s what I know – from research and from direct experience – the ability to lead your team well is highly dependent on your ability to renew yourself. In other words, self-care is no longer a nice to have, but a must have.
The link between a leader’s energy, presence, and performance is clear and proven.
Renewal is built on habits of mind, body, and behavior. This skill set is relevant in any field, especially among leaders who face emotionally and physically taxing challenges every day, day after day, year after year.
In Resonant Leadership, authors Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee say, “When leaders sacrifice too much for too long – and reap too little – they can become trapped in what we call the Sacrifice Syndrome. The constant small crises, heavy responsibilities, and perpetual need to influence people can be a heavy burden, so much so that we find ourselves trapped in the Sacrifice Syndrome and slip into internal disquiet, unrest, and distress.”1
This matches closely – too close for comfort – with my own experience of leading and working with leaders across the board. This is really hard work. Not only do you want to be great at the “what” of what you do (providing the best patient care, legal counsel, operational growth, etc.), you also give of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes spiritually to a vision or group of people that really matters to you.
Yet even though the demands on your time are great, self-care and renewal are unfortunately not optional: they are a key responsibility of all leaders to ensure against burn out. Not only that, a leader’s ability to continually renew his/her energy, mindset, and emotional equilibrium play a critical factor in the work environment s/he creates for others.
To be clear, we are either contributing to a positive, healthy, and thriving team culture, or we are feeding a dissonant, disengaged, unhealthy one.
An organization’s culture – “the way things get done around here,” or the values, norms and behaviors an organization prizes – is highly correlated to a leader’s ability to renew and sustain him/herself, especially in times of stress (i.e., always!).
If we’re in Sacrifice Syndrome for too long, the results are not only harmful for our own health and well being, but also for our teams. As we go into an extended Sacrifice Syndrome and a crisis occurs, we no longer have the reserves to operate from our healthiest, most emotionally intelligent state of mind. We can become ineffective or unsustainable quickly. Our cognitive and decision making abilities diminish, our creative capacity to see all solutions shrinks, our collaboration and influence skills suffer. In essence, fight or flight mode becomes real and there is little we can do about it. This is also known as the “amygdala hijack”2 – it takes us clear out.
However, if we’re aware of and working to build in renewal all the time, through mindfulness, compassion, hope, and gratitude, we can generate the resonant relationships that help us lead at our best and build the positive cultures around us we all deeply want.
Renewal for Self = Positive Culture for your Team/Organization
This isn’t about work-life balance. Instead, it’s about all those big and small choices you make to keep your energy up, like resting when you need to rest, considering the conversations that “feed” your spirit and those that drain you, reducing the amount of “doing” and spending more time “being.” It’s about becoming ever more aware of all those small moments and choices that restore you, then doing them. The path to renewal will be personal to you. Please honor it.
If renewal became part of your job, what would you do differently?
What would an escape out of Sacrifice Syndrome make possible for your life, your team, your organization?
Quick: how can you replenish yourself right now?
- Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. Resonant Leadership. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing. 2005
- Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books. 1995