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

What Type of Leader Are You?

Know Thyself

The ancient Greeks had a saying, “Know thyself.”  Carved above the entrance to the main temple at Delphi, ancient philosophers including Socrates and Plato taught the importance of introspection.

If you aspire to make an impact, to lead others, or to create change, these are two words that should be an important part of your personal development. Understanding your own leadership style is critically important.

 

“The final mystery is oneself.” –Oscar Wilde

 

What’s Your Primary Style? Take Our Quiz Below

We all have a default style of leadership. You may be an autocratic leader. That means that you are more of a commander than a persuader. Or you may be more of a delegator, hiring others to handle tasks and trusting them to get it done right.

We can change our style. The combination of self-awareness and self-discipline give us the ability to change our style depending on the situation we face. We may have a default style, but all of us can learn to adjust and take on a different style when needed.

 

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” -Winston Churchill

 

There is no perfect ideal style. But there is an ideal style of leadership for each situation. In other words, you may need motivation in one area of your life. Motivational leadership may provide what you need to get going at the gym. “You can do it!” may motivate you. Find yourself in a crisis and that may not fly. Instead you need someone telling you what to do, in detail, with little room for alternatives.

 

“Know thyself.” -Ancient Greek Proverb

 

Knowing someone else’s primary style is as important as knowing your own. I once worked for a woman who was completely hands-off, allowing me a great deal of freedom. Another wanted to provide commands and a checklist for me to report on. If you want to get a high rating at performance time, you need to know your boss’ style. And if someone works for you, it’s even more important. You can increase the odds of success if you choose the leader who best fits a situation.

 

Leadership Style

So what is your leadership style? Take our leadership test and find out. Have people you work with take it. And it matters at home, too, so have your significant other take it. You will increase your self-awareness and begin to “Know thyself.”