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?