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The importance of self-care for leaders 

  • 5 Min Read

Self-care is essential for any leader in any organization. But it is rare, even in these days of wellbeing and EAP programmes. It is vital, regardless of your HR role in strategy, operations, driving change, or influencing and shaping culture. And for other leaders with whom you collaborate and who you could influence to look […]

Anna Eliatamby
Director of Healthy Leadership, CIC
Co-author with Grazia Lomonte of Healing-Self Care for Leaders and their Teams

Self-care is essential for any leader in any organization. But it is rare, even in these days of wellbeing and EAP programmes. It is vital, regardless of your HR role in strategy, operations, driving change, or influencing and shaping culture. And for other leaders with whom you collaborate and who you could influence to look after themselves.  

What is it? 

It includes looking after yourself by being aware, having self-control and being self-reliant in maintaining your wellbeing, mental health, and physical health. Doing this will enable you to look after yourself and maintain your health as much as possible.  

Positive mental health includes full psychological functioning, i.e., the ability and capacity to flourish, being able to cope with stressful situations and a positive sense of wellbeing. It encompasses mood and outlook, drive and motivation, cognitions, social self, mind-body connections and adaptability and resilience.  

Why is self-care important? 

It should be inherent for individuals and organisations. A basic right. It is a vital component of people’s lives as individuals, leaders, and employees. Regardless of our role in an organisation, we always function more effectively if we look after our mental health and physical health.  

Good self-care leads to increased health. It buffers work strain and demand. Problem-solving capabilities and belonging augment. Feeling isolated decreases. Positive self-regard prevents exhaustion and enables productivity and efficacy at work.  

A leader who takes good care of themselves will then be able to more easily influence others to consider their self-care. Modelling healthy behaviours has a positive impact on the wellbeing of others. Being centred and confident also helps.  

Looking after yourself allows you to cope with the stresses of work and the negative impacts that could occur. There are adverse impacts on cognitive abilities (thinking, memory, attention, decision-making), social abilities, and physical aspects when someone does not manage their stress and their response to uncertainty.  

How do you develop and maintain it?  

Leaders often are reluctant to look at and question themselves. Having reached a senior level, it can be easy to assume that you are fine in terms of how you look after yourself and how you lead. Even with the most effective leaders, there is always room for change. The first step is to be open, willing to self-reflect and self-appraise.  

Pause and think about how much attention you pay to your mental health and physical health. When was the last time you had a health check?  

Good self-care requires good coping in these areas: health and wellbeing, relationships, practical matters, and leadership qualities. Consider your life coping skills in maintaining your health and wellbeing. Which ones are helpful, and which are not? How much attention do you pay to your past and its influences on daily life? What roles do your beliefs and faith have?  

How much do your personal and work relationships help you? (The quality of relationships is a good predictor of how someone will cope with stress.) How well do you manage practical matters such as personal finance, place to live, transport, recreation? How do you cope with global uncertainties, e.g. the economy? 

To what extent does your leadership style support your self-care? (A democratic and transformational style benefits the leader and others’ wellbeing. A toxic approach is detrimental to all concerned.) How do you grow your leadership qualities? How willing are you to be brave and follow your values and purpose? What is the effect of compromises that you have had to make?  

Think about how willing you are to change and remain open to self-care? What will motivate you? 

Stop and answer these questions. If this seems too much or you sense inner resistance, then start by allocating twenty minutes a day to pause and do nothing, except relax and breathe.  

Once you have explored, then build a self-care plan you will follow. Include actions to take if you regress. Always do checks that what you have selected is beneficial. Perhaps double-check with a trusted person. Start with one or two adaptations. Embed them first, then add some more.  

Helping others with their self-care 

This will depend on your role in that person’s work life. Ensure that you have the trust and permission to have this discussion. If there is resistance, then it may not be possible, even if you have personally acknowledged how important self-care is.  

As a HR leader, you can also ensure that the spirit of the importance of self-care is very much part of how leaders work with employees, not just when there are problems. For example, how does self-care feature in your leadership programmes and appraisal systems? 

Self-care should be front and centre in our lives as leaders. What is the first step you will take, as a leader, to honour your own self-care needs?  

Anna Eliatamby is Director of Healthy Leadership, CIC and co-author with Grazia Lomonte of Healing-Self Care for Leaders and their Teams (published April 2024). 

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