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Self-Care in the Pursuit of Servant Leadership

6 Sep. 2017 Posted by aadams

Michael McCafferty, FEI Senior Account Manager

Even before Robert Greenleaf’s The Servant as Leader (1970) first popularized the phrase “servant leadership,” managers and supervisors of all levels aimed to balance exercising power with the growth and development of others. As generally understood, a true servant leader empowers those they supervise to make decisions while removing organizational and procedural obstacles to improved performance. The servant leader focuses on the success of those they lead, thereby serving the mission of the organization.

As management strategies go, this is a noble ambition. It can be rewarding on both personal and professional levels, yielding improved organizational performance, enhanced professional development and phenomenal employee engagement scores. But it can also be very draining for the leader who does not take care of his or her own needs.

Leaders who don’t practice good self-care are susceptible to reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration and eventual burnout. A leader who is not regularly taking time to care for themselves might:

  • Feel more irritable or impatient with employees
  • Feel less hopeful about meeting goals
  • Become increasingly critical of employees’ work
  • Feel vague aches and pains (headaches or backaches, for instance)
  • Find it hard to finish projects
  • Feel overwhelmed and unsatisfied or bored at the same time
  • Have a hard time remembering things or experience impaired concentration
  • Procrastinate
  • Use alcohol, food, shopping or drugs to “feel better”

Consider the instructions given to passengers before a flight takes off: “In case of a loss in cabin pressure, air masks will drop from the ceiling. Place your own mask over your face before helping a child or another passenger.”

Many parents say their instinct would be to put the mask on their child first. Unfortunately, that might lead to lost consciousness from lack of oxygen. If they’re unconscious, they can’t help anyone—including themselves. Similarly, even the best-intentioned leader who constantly puts the needs of their employees before their own self-care will sooner or later find themselves feeling tired, resentful, frustrated and ineffective.

The good news is, it’s pretty easy to recharge:

Get enough sleep. Most adults need seven-to-nine hours of sleep every night. If you’re not getting enough, your health will suffer.

Exercise. Now exercise again. Regular exercise is one of the best (and cheapest) stress busters you can engage in. Twenty or more minutes of moderate to vigorous activity three times a week could change your life.

Eat real food. Fruits and vegetables, especially fresh and organic produce, are packed full of nutrients and amino acids that help us rebuild our bodies and fight the effects of stress.

Spend time every day on a renewal activity. Sit quietly and daydream, or meditate. Or pray. Laugh. Listen to music you love. Read something inspiring. Write in a journal. Keep a list of things for which you’re grateful.

How are you feeling now?

If you’d like more information or want to talk about other ideas for how to take better care of yourself, contact your employee assistance program (EAP). Don’t have an EAP? Let us help.


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