Heart First: How Self-Care Enables Effective Leadership

By David Grossman

At the start of 2020, my “to do” list included further exploration of the concept of leading through change with a goal of creating a new book. I wanted to share what I’ve learned in more than three decades working with leaders across industries.  I thought my experiences would provide good examples of what works, and what doesn’t, and wanted to share those findings to help others.

And then the global pandemic happened, followed by social unrest that forced a reckoning for business leaders, employees and all of us across the country. This was the biggest level of change any of us had experienced in decades. The layers of change felt endless.

I decided at that point to invite a select group of leaders to sit down and talk about the change they were experiencing and the insights they were picking up as they went along. The results of those interviews – along with other lessons I’ve learned from advising leaders and communicators across a wide variety of organizations – resulted in the recently released leadership book, Heart First: Lasting Leader Lessons from a Year that Changed Everything.

Heart First Leadership

What does Heart First mean? I am not suggesting we abandon the hard, more “head focused” measures, particularly those related to the financial side of a business. We have to keep those measures top of mind to stay in business. Instead, it’s about putting more focus on empathy and embracing the more human nature of situations.  For some, this may be a seismic shift; others will need to avoid the tendency to drift back to pre-pandemic ways. Regardless of your place on the spectrum, I am more convinced than ever that leading with Heart First is likely to be among the most important lessons we need to take forward for organizational success.

Ready for Take Off: Take Care of Yourself First

When I reflect on these lessons, what was previously a common experience for most of us comes to mind. Although our air travel has certainly been limited recently, we can likely recall the preflight instruction that in case of emergency you should put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others. In working with leaders and in my discussions for the book, a theme has emerged that is in alignment with the airline safety instruction; as leaders, to be most effective, the importance of taking care of yourself first can’t be overstated.

Addressing your key needs first lets you be more available to those counting on you, whether that’s your direct reports, your peers, or others across the organization who need help. Taking care of YOU also helps you avoid taking out your stress or frustration on others. Creating a personal wellbeing checklist may be helpful. Whether its eating healthier, exercising, reading a great book or checking out for a couple of hours for a movie or ballgame, find what lets you disconnect and recharge. 

Benefits Accrue from Going “Counter-Culture”

Our culture supports being busy and working long hours as a hallmark of great leadership. Yet research demonstrates that while hard work is necessary for success, it should not come at the expense of addressing basic human needs for self-reflection and stress reduction.

By going “counter-culture” and adopting a commitment to self-care, the benefits can be big.  Here are my top five:

  • Reduces your stress level, which improves your health
  • Sets a positive example from the top
  • Enables personal improvement
  • Gives you more energy
  • Produces better overall results for your organization

From a personal and organizational perspective, it’s hard to argue with these kinds of outcomes. After all, let’s face it: It’s relatively easy to lead when times are good. It takes a lot more courage, grit and heart to lead during tough times. I’m convinced that a big part of that is leading with the Heart First.

What will you do today to improve your self-care, so you can lead even more effectively tomorrow?

Culpwrit Readers Get Huge 60% Discount

Heart First: Lasting Leader Lessons from a Year that Changed Everything is now available on Amazon. Through October 2021, Culpwrit readers will receive a 60% discount on a book purchase by using coupon code CULPWRIT. To receive the full discount, apply the Amazon coupon and enter in the Culpwrit promo code – additional discount applied at checkout.

David Grossman is a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A four-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Abbott, Aspen Dental, Form Technologies, Hillrom, Lockheed Martin, and Southern New Hampshire University, among others. David’s expert commentary on employee and leadership issues has been featured on “NBC Nightly News,” CBS MoneyWatch, in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes and the World Economic Forum. His leadercommunicator blog has been named the #1 Blog on Communication by Feedspot five years in a row.

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