Nearly all leaders carry the burden of being a North Star. In fact, we are mirrors through which others will reflect upon themselves (behavior, mind, and body). We are a barometer against which others will compare internal values, ethics, morals, and dreams. At times, we will serve as a compass that will guide towards an individual and/ or collective vision.
Ultimately, leaders have great influence over the choices peers and employees will make in terms of their contributions and career trajectory. How we care for ourselves will be directly related to how we serve others, which in turn, will impact employee experience, the corporate culture, reputation, and bottom line.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, leaders who prioritize self-care, particularly in the form of striking a work-life balance, often exhibit an employee-centric mindset. On the contrary, those who do not prioritize self-care may unknowingly struggle with being self-observant and over-indulgent, ultimately lending to challenges in their ability to influence.
Think about the parent-child relationship within a family system. When the caregiver is neglectful in terms of prioritizing self-care, their ability to be effective becomes diminished.
Believe it or not, effective leaders are no different. In fact, they are ultimately very conscientious and mindful of how they are perceived. They also know how to strike a balance between self-care and managing the expectations of others.
Relationships, personal space, home life, school, work, community, and leisure are central components of being human. Managing the unique (and often competing) demands associated with each is nothing less than an ongoing challenge.
Due to the work environment having dramatically shifted in recent years, a belief that companies should prioritize work-life balance in order to help manage these competing demands has become a central value held by much of the contemporary workforce. In fact, today’s employees are not only seeking meaning and purpose, but they also want their talents and strengths to be utilized in companies whose mission and culture reflect and reinforce their personal values, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report.
Therefore, today’s leaders must be tuned in to what is important to their employees, communicating with clarity, their stance on the meaning of work-life balance, even in work settings where employees do not have the option to work from home.
One of the most challenging aspects of modeling great leadership is committing to an ongoing journey of self-discovery. This means that central to our growth is the continuous process of seeking and integrating feedback. We must accept that how we view ourselves will not always be congruent with how we are perceived by others.
So, who is right and why does it matter in leadership?
The answer is simple. The job of a great leader is not to be right. The job of a great leader is to build a bridge between how we see ourselves and how we are perceived by others, leveraging opportunities to refine expectations against performance.
Great leaders wear their shortcomings on their sleeves like a badge of honor, holding themselves and their teams appropriately accountable.
By reflecting openly on poor decisions and experiences where we’ve missed expectations, we create developmental opportunities from which we will learn and do better. In other words, to be a good role model means to be a great failure, simply by exposing and transforming our vulnerabilities into one of our greatest assets.
We accept and own that we are not always our best selves. We have suffered from Imposter Syndrome, have lacked sleep, made poor nutritional choices, and have known well the churn and burn lifestyle… and likely along the way, it has impacted both personal and professional relationships.
Communication and relationships
Great leaders prioritize relationships and employee experience. They naturally create space for employees to feel seen, valued and heard, while also providing honest feedback and support.
Interestingly, Gallup’s data suggests that employees are more productive and engaged when dialogues with leaders include topics of stress and realistic performance expectations. Further, they are 2.8 times more likely to be engaged when leaders are creating space to also discuss goals and successes.
With this in mind, we demonstrate excellent communication ability when we listen more than speak, ask clarifying questions, and present ourselves as genuinely interested both in the speaker and their perspective. Remember that we do not only listen with our ears, great leaders also listen with their eyes and body.
We demonstrate attending behaviors that include maintaining good eye contact and physically leaning in to the speaker. These behaviors speak louder than words, conveying our genuine interest, curiosity, and care.
It is equally important that we recognize when we need to create boundaries in our personal and professional lives. While often difficult for leaders (especially because we care), if we fail to recognize the importance of prioritizing personal and professional relationships and/or time, we may send the message that we live to work, versus working to live.
If it is important to you, then protect it. What a great demonstration of work-life priorities.
Authenticity, humility and transparency
Leaders can set the tone for the importance of self-care by taking a deep look inward. Demonstrating authenticity, humility and transparency through personal narratives, professional communication and appropriate behavior in the workplace helps others see how we thrive, despite our shortcomings.
People tend to believe that we somehow leave parts of ourselves at home when we go to work or leave parts of ourselves at work when we go home. We must keep in mind that we are one person with a wide variety of responsibilities and stakeholders that span different areas of our lives… and the lives of others.
Asking for help, support and guidance is a key strength of great leaders. Rather than repressing feelings about our home or work life each day, it is essential that we accept that we only have so much to give. If we cannot let go, then our issues become barriers to those who look to us for guidance.
No leader is a superhero. Knowing one’s limits; however, just may be a superpower.
Self-care: mind and body
At the cornerstone of leadership is self-care. Tending to our bodily regulatory needs for sleep, nourishment and managing any physical and/or mental health and family-related issues is a critical component of self-care. We seek professional help when needed and are conscious of behavioral patterns of at-risk others in our work communities. We appropriately offer support as needed.
Just be you
The good news…to be a leader is to be human and therefore, imperfect. Accepting yourself as you really are, while recognizing that your self-care will shine the brightest light upon others, as they look to see themselves in you, means that you hold a very special role…to be the example for a healthy work-life balance.
John Kutac is the CEO of Compatmatch, the data-driven business that can use algorithms and data to connect people, from roommates to mentors and mentees.