Why Leaders Must Prioritize Health and Wellness

Prioritize Your Health

Leaders are especially vulnerable to stress. Often leaders put others first and sacrifice their own wellbeing in the process. That’s not a recipe for long-term success and often results in failure.

Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.

After reading her book, The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership, I asked her about her research and experience in leadership health and fitness.

 

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” –Antoine De Saint Exupery

 

Your Health and Your Leadership

When did you realize that prioritizing health was linked to leadership?

Leadership is fundamentally about being able to set a vision and persist over the long run as you lead yourself and others to take on big challenges and work toward the finish line, so it seems like making health a priority would be a no-brainer, right? I mean, it’s pretty obvious that taking care of ourselves affects our energy levels and stamina in the long run.

However, in my experience, this is the one aspect of personal excellence that leaders are most likely to struggle with—and this is true across industries, types of organizations, and roles. As the work piles up, self-care often takes a back seat to other more “pressing” priorities, which almost never leads to good outcomes in the long run.

 

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” -Booker T. Washington

 

More often than not, leaders who don’t prioritize their health either become unbearable to work with because they they’re dehydrated, or tired, or stressed, or “hangry”—or they start to get sick. I’ve worked with people who’ve developed diabetes, pre-diabetes, and even heart disease because they’ve put work ahead of their health. I’ve also known people who’ve gained or lost too much weight because of work and even someone who eventually had an aneurism. I’m not saying that there weren’t other factors that played a role in some of these cases, but all of these examples are of people who put work ahead of self-care, and I think they (and their teams and organizations) suffered for it.

After seeing this pattern of behavior and outcomes over and over again, it became clear to me that managing your health is a key component of being an effective human being and a successful leader.

Copyright Kate Haley Photography Copyright Kate Haley Photography

 

 

“Tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today.” –Malcolm X

 

The Dangers of Putting Work Ahead of Self

Why do you think so many people miss this important link (leadership / wellness) to their detriment?

I think putting work ahead of self-care actually comes from a good place—a desire to put forth our best effort and do as much good as possible, and people can be very effective in the short run by working this way (I’ve definitely had moments, for example, where I’ve sacrificed sleep in order to meet a big deadline).

The problem arises when we consistently put “achievement” ahead of our health and wellness, which simply isn’t sustainable in the long run—and I think The New Alpha gives people permission to re-prioritize their health and wellness, even if it means perhaps being slightly less effective on a few short-term tasks.

 

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” –Winston Churchill

 

4 Steps to Improve Your Health Today

Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

Your Personal Leadership Identity

You have a personal leadership identity that has the potential to influence and motivate others. Achieving results and driving others to a common vision are within your reach when you focus on that uniqueness.

What you need is to think about your differentiators.

One of the reasons I study leaders and various leadership styles is because each of us can learn something from the greats while moving toward our own uniqueness.

And that’s why Danielle Harlan’s book, The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership, appealed to me. She packed this book with advice on how to become the best version of yourself and to use your influence for good.

Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.

I recently asked her about her new research, focusing specifically on her concepts of a personal leadership identity.

 

“Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a meaningful impact in the world.” –Danielle Harlan

 

Your Unique Identity

What is a Personal Leadership Identity?

danielle harlanPersonal Leadership Identity (PLI) is the unique combination of qualities and talents that make you unique and distinctive as an individual and that you can easily and naturally draw upon in order to enhance your leadership effectiveness.

The example that I share in The New Alpha is about a new manager who struggled as a “stern and commanding” leader (which matched the “image” that he had in his mind of how good leaders should act) but had a breakthrough when he identified his PLI, which was actually the total opposite of this. As soon as he found his “real” self, his leadership effectiveness increased dramatically.

The big idea here is that many of us have this “cookie cutter” image of the “type” of person who makes a good leader, but the reality is that each of us is at our most powerful, and our most impactful, when we allow the best aspects of who we are naturally to guide our leadership “style.”

Knowing your PLI is also really helpful in terms of creating a vision and plan for our lives—based on who we actually are, rather than who we think we should be.

 

“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” -Warren Bennis

 

Make Work the Pursuit of the Meaningful

How can you use it to determine whether you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision?

At its best, your career should be a professional manifestation of your Personal Leadership Identity…if there’s general alignment between your PLI and what you’re doing or where you’re headed, then you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision. If not, then it might be time to think about how to change or adapt your role to better suit your PLI, or to make a career pivot.

 

“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” –Victor Hugo

 

This is, of course, much easier said than done, and many of us put off the hard work of aligning our life and career to our Personal Leadership Identity because it’s a big task and we’re busy. However, not addressing this disconnect only results in deep misalignment and unhappiness in the long run. In these cases, instead of work being an opportunity to pursue what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, it becomes a chore that we must do in order to survive, pay our rent or mortgage, etc.

 

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

 

How to Define Your Personal Leadership Identity

What’s the best way to define your Personal Leadership Identity?

Chapter 6 in The New Alpha book spells out a step-by-step processing for doing this, but the gist is that our Personal Leadership Identity doesn’t usually come to us out of thin air; rather we uncover it by reflecting on our life and experiences and by identifying the values, strengths, skills, passions, and ideal conditions that have facilitated our best and most enjoyable successes.The New Alpha

For example, if you ask me what qualities I bring to the table as a leader, I might say that I’m intelligent, empathetic, and gritty. However, if you ask me to reflect on my best successes as a human being—those where I achieved something AND enjoyed doing it, and then asked me to analyze these accomplishments in terms of what they tell me about the aspects of my personality that I could draw upon in order to be a good leader, I might find intelligence, empathy, and grit in there—but I might find other more unexpected qualities too—like love, curiosity, and a sense of humor.

This retrospective and holistic approach often yields more interesting aspects of our PLI than we might come up with by simply “naming” our best qualities or relying on other people to tell us what we’re good at.

 

“By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”-Danielle Harlan

 

Do you have an example or story of someone who understood this concept and how it changed their future or perspective?