You Lead Out of Who You Are. What Happens if Who You Are is Worn Out?
How are you feeling right now?
It’s been a wild ride of a year. And it is catching up with people. One of the things that I love about my job is the people I work with. Generally, my clients and the people I engage with are optimistic, active, creative, and self-motivated. They’ve maintained that attitude throughout this year — very much taking the “If life gives you lemons — make lemonade” approach.
But, over the last month or two, I’ve started to notice a shift. Many of my clients are starting to look and sound stressed or fatigued. Many of the other leaders I meet are too. I’m concerned.
Leaders Are Getting Worn Out
In sports and manual labor professions — there is a concept called Cumulative Trauma Disorder (CTD). CTD occurs when your muscles, tendons, joints, and nerves are consistently stressed. Over time, this leads to chronic stiffness or pain, injuries, and the breakdown of your physical systems. Cumulative stress isn’t just a physical phenomenon. It can occur psychologically and organizationally as well.
This is what I’m seeing. A wearing down of good leaders and friction on good teams. For some, this results in weariness. Others lose hope or optimism. Some find themselves becoming irritable. Poor decisions are made. Over or under reactions have consequences. It sets you and your team up for “injury” and breakdown.
You May Not Find Calm — You Need to Create It
What is it you feel you need right now? Peace? Rest? Consistency? Stability? Help? You probably won’t find those things. Instead, you’ll have to create them. As a leader, you need to own your well-being. No one else will do it for you. But a lot of other people are depending on you.
The good news is if you are well, you feel well. You work well. And so does everyone else — as well.
The Simple Ingredients of Self-Care
Your mind and your body are the primary tools you have to work with as a leader. In spite of this, many leaders ignore or even abuse their minds and their bodies. You can’t. You have to take care of yourself. Here some very simple ways to do this:
In sports or fitness, there is this concept called “proprioception.” Essentially, it is someone’s ability to be aware of and control any part of their body. It’s what gives people great balance. It’s what allows dancers, gymnasts, and martial artists to seem so in control. Some people may be born with more of it — but anyone can develop it through training. It can also be lost — with lack of use.
For most leaders, there is so much going on and so much stimulus, we are no longer really in touch with ourselves. We don’t have leadership “proprioception.” Creating quiet helps us build or recover this. The kind of quietness allows us to become aware of our thoughts and our feelings. Even to become aware of our physical bodies.
Ways to be quiet:
- Sit still, in a comfortable, quiet place for a set amount of time. Notice the thoughts and feelings that emerge — but don’t try to “hold” or stay with any. Just notice.
- Take a walk
- Contemplative prayer
Any of these can be five-minute experiences. A lot of research shows more significant benefits start as you learn to stretch this out to the 10–15 minute range. Give yourself the quick gift of quiet — on a daily basis.
Too many of us don’t sleep enough or well. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is a coercive interrogation or torture technique. It wears people out, makes them sick, breaks down willpower. Ideally, you will go to sleep early enough so that you naturally wake up around your desired wake-up time feeling refreshed. Being forced awake by an alarm is a sign that you aren’t getting the sleep you need.
Protect your sleep:
- Build a rhythm — go to bed at the same time every night
- Turn electronics off or silent (and dark) in your bedroom
- Stop exposure to blue light (screens) at least 60 minutes before you want to be asleep
- Take a hot shower or bath
- Stretch, or use a foam roller before going to bed (relieves tension that might make you uncomfortable and activates your parasympathetic system)
“Garbage in — Garbage out.” It’s difficult to outperform poor nutritional habits. There are many diets and plans out there (each more self-important than the next) — but the main thing is to pick something that is healthy and sustainable for you.
Many leaders fall into the trap of managing stress with poor eating (or drinking) habits. If you are struggling to get your nutrition where it needs to be (or you aren’t sure how to do this), it might be worth a couple of meetings with a nutritional coach of some kind.
Whatever you choose, think lifestyle and long-term. It should be easy enough and attractive enough to maintain. Personally, I maintain stricter habits during the workweek and relax on the weekends. But I definitely feel it in terms of my energy and mental sharpness if I overindulge in something unhealthy — or under indulge in what is healthy.
Move Your Body
Moving your body moves your “state of being.” This can be as simple as getting up and taking a 5-minute walk. That’s a simple choice that will impact your energy, clarity, and emotional state.
If you want to go further and follow any kind of work-out regimen (especially if combined with eating well) — you’ll find yourself feeling better and thinking better. Both of which make it easier to lead better.
You can only lead out of who you are. What happens if who you are is tired and worn out?
Many leaders feel like there is something heroic about being hard drivers, abusing their bodies and minds, and assume — they can do it forever. You can’t. You’ll break down, get sick, get depressed, or angry over something stupid.
For some of you:
- This is permission to take care of yourself. It’s not being selfish to make sure your “machine” doesn’t break down.
- This is a wake-up call. How you take care of yourself is impacting how you lead. You can’t rise above or beyond yourself.
Give yourself quiet, take care of your sleep and your body. You’ll find you are more resilient, effective, and in a better mood. This year, next year, life and its challenges may not get any easier. But they will be easier to face.
Take good care,
Originally published at https://www.christianmuntean.com on December 1, 2020.