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Why Leaders Need to Take Time to Look After Themselves

Working without playing is a recipe for burnout.
We usually congratulate the person who is the last to leave the office and who works weekends and holidays. Often, however, this person is the first to fall in the attrition war at work.
Leadership requires long hours and great effort, but rest and relaxation are just as essential as hard work. Getters often feel like every minute of every day has to be filled with work, but that's just not a healthy way to live. Because more doesn't always mean better, a leader must learn to draw a hard line in the sand when asked to take on unlimited responsibility. Learning to say “no” is a matter of self-preservation.
Related: How to Protect Your "Yes" (and Own Your "No")
Leaders need to take time for themselves, and they shouldn't apologize or feel guilty for doing so. We are sons, daughters, mothers and fathers before we are professionals, and it is important not to neglect the parts of our lives that make us most human.
Not accepting “white space” can lead to an acute drop in productivity as well as the quality of the work produced. Stress causes mental blocks that hinder creativity. It also increases the likelihood of careless mistakes.
From misspellings to missed details in a contract, mistakes caused by a lack of focus are usually preventable. When the brain is not released from excessive stress and functioning at its maximum potential, confusion and distress mar work and even the most mundane tasks become difficult.
Stress can also cause physical disorders. Headaches and high blood pressure are common in the professional world. Overeating, which is a response to stress, is another strain on the body caused by overworking. Because mind and body are so intertwined, when one suffers, so does the other.
Metaphysics teaches that what the mind harbors, the body manifests, and so it is imperative that every leader prioritizes mental and physical health as part of a daily routine.
To neutralize work stress, sometimes you have to forget about it and compartmentalize it. Disconnect the brain and exercise the body. Physical exertion increases the body's serotonin levels, which improves mood and memory and decreases hunger and depression. When your body and your brain feel good, you behave well. Your productivity, efficiency, and attitude are each significantly better when you take care of yourself.
When you can get to your "happy place" more frequently, you're less likely to fidget unnecessarily. Plus, when people around you don't have to worry about throwing you off with a careless word or thoughtless act, your workplace and home life become more tranquil.
Because of this increased positivity, your behavior and overall performance will also improve. This funnel of beneficial outcomes is amplified by integrating R&R into the rigor of the workday.
A leader who prioritizes downtime, relaxation, and self-care discovers an increase in well-being general and multiple dimensions of performance.
While we know work-life balance is a myth, work-life integration and prioritization requires the most time and attention. Agile leaders treat these principles with the same respect as the technical components of their work.
Knowing that they don't have to choose between a difficult work life, family, or self-care to succeed, leaders create a life that is close to their hearts and that reflects their highest priorities. By learning to relax and restart, the most effective leaders ensure that their lives don't feel like the gloom of zero-sum games.
I knew a partner at a large law firm who worked very hard as a young associate, which paved the way for a successful and rewarding career. Work was clearly a priority for him. He got there early and most nights stayed late. He often took work home and on weekends as well.
Not only that, he would also take on big projects outside of work that were unrelated to his main specialization. In addition, he has served on numerous corporate and not-for-profit boards. One day I noticed he looked a little slow and asked him if he was okay.
The legal partner said that despite all the work he had done over the past 40 years, of all the value he had brought to others, of all the personal and professional success he had shown, he had not taken the time to truly enjoy his life.
Even the occasional round of golf and weekend getaways didn't feel like rest, he said, adding that his mental, emotional and physical health suffered because he chose not to incorporate regular rest and relaxation in his daily routine.
To my surprise, he mentioned wanting to make an immediate and significant change in his work-life priorities. He wanted a better quality of life. It never occurred to me that such an accomplished person could feel anything other than joy and enormous pride. However, it taught me that no one, not even the most successful leaders, can be effective without incorporating rest and relaxation into their life.
Journal Questions

When do you take the time to unplug during the week?
Create a list of 10 favorite activities that generate excitement and improve your ability to unplug and relax.
Describe your pace of work. Do you know when to stop, reassess, and recharge?
How has this principle helped you better understand your role as a leader? How will mastering it allow you to cultivate greater effectiveness?
How will you use the previous strategies to advance your commitment to unplug and relax?

Leadership Challenge
Create a work week schedule that includes time to relax and unwind.
When do you schedule “me time”? What are you planning to do? Plug in time-to-play blocks that complement time-to-work blocks. Now see how this new beat feels. After a week, assess your physical and mental state. Did it feel good to have time to indulge yourself?
Related: 4 tips to recover your weekends, admitted workaholics

Karima Mariama-Arthur, Ready for Excellence, published 2018 Palgrave Macmillan, reproduced with permission from SCSC