You know how busy you get ascending that ladder of success – the constant swirl of activity focused on the business, your team, your department, results and outcomes. Time for yourself? Ah, we’ll try to work that in later. And that later never happens.
In the mid-1990’s I landed my first VP role, overseeing 2800 employees in two states. For the first several months after the promotion, it was a mad dash of 80 hour work weeks and frenetic scrambling to make everything happen. Then two firsts occurred in my life: my very first 360 assessment followed by a sick leave.
The 360 feedback from my direct report team was cosmic two-by-four whack number one: you are an amazing leader but you make us exhausted and frustrated in trying to keep up with you. Teach us what you know, show us the way and then let us make it happen. What an epiphany – I had been so busy doing, trying to make my post-promotion mark, that I had forgotten “to be” and to lead, not perpetually do.
The second cosmic two-by-four whack quickly followed. That neck pain I’d been ignoring for months became jack-hammer unbearable and produced a new problem – the inability to grasp anything in my hands. Using a keyboard wasn’t possible nor was feeding myself (not an unreasonable antidote, I figured, for failing to maintain a regular exercise program…who had time for that?!). The neurosurgeon declared my herniated disk the largest he had ever seen (always the over-achiever!). Surgery – and recovery time – was the only solution.
The gift of feedback from my team coupled with the sick leave were humbling yet liberating personal and professional events. I learned the value of setting the tone and direction for my team but then stepping aside so they had ownership, responsibility and accountability – as well as the glow of success and the insights from failure.
I learned the value of self-care. A Harvard Business Review article on the “corporate athlete” totally resonated with me and influenced my thinking about relaxing. The gist of the article was to train for work like an athlete trains for their sport, focusing on one’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health. To that end, I worked with both a nutritionist and a personal trainer to develop eating and exercise programs that worked for me. I adopted hobbies, reading, volunteering and other activities that enriched my mind and my soul.
At work, I created an engaging office environment with beautiful black-and-white photography on the walls, a desktop Zen sand garden, a small gurgling fountain and a small pile of toys close at hand. I learned to not ignore the early warning signs of stress. I took quick walks around the office, using that time to refocus and connect with others.
It took not one, but two, cosmic two-by-fours to capture my attention and get me focused on taking care of myself so I can more effectively nurture others. This quote from Ann Richards, former governor of Texas, keeps me on track: “If you think taking care of yourself is selfish, change your mind. If you don’t, you’re simply ducking your responsibilities.”
Schedule time for you…starting today!
This post initially appeared on Random Acts of Leadership. Art by C. Gregory