Self-Care: An Essential Skill for Leaders

Managing stress is a challenge for many people; however, a considerable amount of professional responsibility is placed upon leaders, often resulting in burnout and fatigue. Leaders who live under immense pressure are more vulnerable to chronic stress as many are saddled with busy schedules, long work hours, and major responsibilities.

According to the Harvard Business Review, business leaders in the United States work an average of 72 hours per week. Many of us, including corporate and organizational leaders, take pride in our work ethic, pulling all-nighters and burning the midnight oil.

Poor management of stress minimizes one’s capacity to lead and delegate, making it difficult to be an effective leader. Working long hours without proper recovery can diminish one’s physical and emotional energy and undermine productivity, resulting in monetary loss for the company. Failure to address these stressors may lead to harmful consequences for the individual and may trickle down to team members, potentially weakening the workforce.

Busy executives are inclined to believe that they don’t have time for self-care. However, not only is self-care essential for managing stress and preventing burnout, it is also a strategy for achievement and performance that can benefit the organization as a whole. By developing and practicing daily rituals and activities that replenish energy and support overall wellness, leaders can continue to sustain high performance and productivity while simultaneously motivating their teams to do the same.

Self-Care Interventions

By incorporating self-care practices, leaders can remain perseverant while sustaining their health, energy, and vitality in the service of their mission, particularly amidst difficult and uncertain times. The practices of energy renewal and mindfulness have been well researched and are known to lessen the occurrence of chronic stress, fatigue, and burnout.

Energy renewal

Building our capacity to perform in high-stress environments requires the skillful management of human energy. From this perspective, human energy is our greatest asset. I believe human energy is the currency of productivity and high performance. When we overuse our energy, the less of it we have. For this reason, it is important to balance our energy output with intermittent energy renewal.

Performance psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr proposes developing and practicing rituals that support our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual capacities in order to sustain high performance without burning out or sacrificing health.

To that end, I advise leaders to think about managing their energy as opposed to managing their time. It may not be feasible for many busy leaders to reduce their work hours, but they can often better manage how they use their energy.

Busy leaders and others at risk of workplace burnout should take frequent breaks and use that time for energy-building practices such as brief periods of exercise; the consumption of nutrient-dense, high-protein or high-fat snacks; and deep breathing exercises.

By engaging in daily rituals and activities that support energy and overall wellness, leaders can continue to sustain their high performance and productivity.


Mindfulness is an English translation deriving from a Sanskrit term that means awareness or attention. Although mindfulness derives from Buddhist teachings, it can be used alone as a therapeutic modality unrelated to religious underpinnings. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for transforming stress and conserving vital energy.

Very simply, mindfulness has been defined as the “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” An intention of mindfulness is to witness and observe one’s current emotional and physical state without criticism or judgment, which is referred to as present state awareness.

I encourage mindfulness as a daily practice to lessen stress and develop personal awareness. Busy people who are constantly on the go may benefit from mindfulness because it helps to shift patterned behaviors by creating awareness. Without mindfulness, we may continue to operate in a state of chronic stress without even realizing it. This is a problem because we must be aware of the stress in our lives in order to manage it effectively. Even if we do recognize stress, we must also condition the mind to respond in a controlled way when stressful situations happen.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote, “between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Perhaps the more space we create, the greater our awareness and ability to choose in the moment. Mindfulness creates the space that allows one to choose differently amidst stress. So, rather than reacting to certain situations from a place of being on autopilot, we learn to respond with more thoughtfulness.

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