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

Look and Feel Better Once and For All

Have you struggled to lose weight or stay fit?

Do you dream about being locked overnight in a delicatessen?

How do you sustain success?

What can you learn about goal setting when trying to stay in shape?

 

Finally In Shape

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ken Blanchard, one of my favorite authors and speakers about his recent personal transformation, losing weight and getting in shape.  Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world.  He is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies. He is also the author or coauthor of fifty books that have sold more than 20 million copies, including the iconic The One Minute Manager®.

Ken recently wrote about his weight loss in a new book, Fit At Last.

 

“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard

 

An Early Relationship With Food

 

fit_at_last_covWhen you were young, you describe your life as fairly centered around food.  What impact did that relationship with food have on you?

Controlling my weight has always been a battle.  My mother, like many other mothers, nurtured her family with food.  If we were happy, we ate; if we were sad, we ate; if we were worried, we ate. When you grow up that way, it becomes second nature—that’s where “comfort food” got its name.  I used to have dreams of being locked overnight inside our local Jewish delicatessen.  I can smell a piece of cheesecake a mile away!  And at times I’ve been my own worst enemy—I believed that if I worked hard during the day, I could eat anything I wanted at night.  My wife Margie used to call that a “lousy belief.”

 

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Ken Blanchard

 

Everyone who has struggled with weight has experienced the ups and downs.  You’ve lost weight before.  What happened?

Many times when I would have some success at getting fit, there would be a point where I would get complacent—then I’d forget about my original commitment, get distracted, and shift to other priorities.

 

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re commited to something, you accept no excuses – only results.” –Ken Blanchard

 

Sustainable Goal Setting

 

What makes a goal sustainable?

A goal is sustainable when you have a few people in your life who help you stay committed to your commitment—they hold you accountable, praise your progress, and redirect your efforts when you get off course. In my experience, most goals are hard to sustain without a support system.

 

“A goal is sustainable when you have people who help you stay committed.” -Ken Blanchard

 

What role does individual personality or behavior style have on personal fitness?

10 Ways to Reduce Stress

This is a guest post by Charu Chandra, an aspiring leader, entrepreneur, and blogger. Charu blogs about the beneficial effects of yoga and strength training and other things fitness-related at strongyogi.com.

 

A good leader is expected to always remain in control of his emotions.

But like it or not, things don’t always go according to plan, and leaders, even good ones, are prone to emotional outbursts. And if stress is not recognized and corrected early, it usually snowballs into bigger problems.

So, it is imperative that a leader remains calm at all times. As you may have experienced, situations only tend to get worse when approached with stress.

10 ways to reduce stress in your life

1) Tidy up your workspace/room.

A cluttered room or workspace is a great way to build up stress. I have noticed that removing all unnecessary items from my desk (all I have on my desk is my laptop and a glass of water), making my bed every morning, etc. keeps my mind really calm.

2) Tidy up your inbox/computer/desktop.

Since we spend a lot of time on our computers and smart phones, keeping them clutter-free is as important as keeping our physical workspace clean. For example, until recently, I had close to 7,000 unread e-mails in my inbox.  So I sat down for three hours and cleaned up the entire thing. Once I was done, I felt incredibly relaxed and peaceful.  So make sure you don’t let things get out of hand in the virtual world.

3) Speak your mind.

One of the sources of stress in my life was my roommate. He used to go to bed late and would always play video games loudly late at night when I was asleep. So, the second or third time I was disturbed, I got up from bed and talked to him about this. This helped a lot as I let go of the anger in me and also because the noise stopped. So, if something needs to be said, say it.

4) Pinpoint the source of your stress.

Stress is not always general. Sometimes, specific events or people can stress you out. For example, a job interview scheduled for tomorrow may be causing you stress today. In my experience, the best way to deal with such situations is to do everything you can to address it and leave the rest to god/fate/luck.

5) Give up control.

Trying to control situations too much can cause stress. Don’t misunderstand me, leaders should always be in control of a situation but shouldn’t expect to be in control of its outcome. A good leader adapts to whatever turn a situation takes and is always ready for anything. Using the interview example from above, I do my best to prepare for it and then relax. Because I know that there will always be unexpected events no matter how well I prepare.

6) Take a break.

If you’ve been working hard on something, taking a short break to get away from it all is always a good idea. Taking a walk, playing with an animal or a baby, watching television, listening to calming music, taking a nap and exercising are all great ways to de-stress. Find out what helps you relax.