A very common statement we hear from leaders is that they just don’t have time to invest in truly taking care of themselves. With high demands, hectic travel schedules and back to back meetings, the thought of taking an hour or more each day to invest in healthy practices doesn’t seem possible. Many leaders come to us when they have reached the point of burnout or are very close to it. They have placed their own health and wellness on the back burner in order to climb the corporate ladder or build a business of their own. Unfortunately, many of these individuals are now facing the possibility that they may have to completely step away from this career that they have worked so hard to achieve. With companies spending $500 billion annually on executive burnout, leaders are having to take a hard look at whether their daily practices are helping them burn bright…..or burn out.
The good news is, there is a global shift in valuing self-care. There are more resources, education and efforts around better nutrition, more movement and better emotional health. Here are a few of the most common pitfalls leaders face in their own vitality and ways you can make small changes today.
Executive Challenge – "I don’t understand how nutrition affects my leadership performance"
Many executives have built their eating patterns around their daily demands and travel schedule. This can often present in skipping breakfast (or worse, only having coffee for breakfast); eating out for most meals; grabbing whatever food might be closest because they don’t have time for lunch; or saving their entire caloric intake for dinner with a huge meal in the evening. These patterns, though appearing to add to efficiency, actually greatly diminish the overall productivity of the executive. The Center for Creative Leadership revealed that the brain is a blood-hungry, glucose-hungry, and oxygen-hungry organ. Because of this, the food that executives use to fuel their body affects everything from brain function and working memory to the ability to manage complex learning tasks and reduce the risk of neurodegeneration. The size of your dinner may even impact your sleep! Many of our executives describe the “3:00 p.m. crash.” They find themselves reaching for caffeine and sugar just so they can combat those tired feelings and finish out their day.
Here are three simple ways you can immediately impact your leadership performance with nutrition.
- Eat a good breakfast. A solid breakfast fuels you with sustained energy throughout the day and should include healthy fats and protein.
- Try smoothies. You can put a variety of healthy fruits and veggies into a smoothie and make it taste delicious. Smoothies are the ultimate fast food.
- Find farm to table restaurants. Our leaders spend a lot of time eating out. Farm to table restaurants are usually highly conscious about serving organic, in season meat and produce. They are more careful about the ingredients placed in their food and you will be able to find more healthy choices. Farm to table is becoming more popular with options in most major cities! You can locate the best farm to table restaurants where you live and where you travel at: http://www.americanfarmtotable.com.
Executive Challenge – “I don’t have time in my day for exercise and I spend most of my day sitting”
We’ve all heard the new adage, “sitting is the new smoking.” But how and why does sitting too long affect your health? Studies have linked excessive sitting with being overweight and obese, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, and premature death. Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.
For leaders, this paradigm means even more than managing their health. Leaders are expected to be poised, agile, dynamic and confident. As leaders spend much of their time at a desk or hunched over their phone, their posture is often suffering. If they aren’t prioritizing movement in their busy day, they could be setting themselves up for performance issues in addition to the health issues mentioned above.
A study conducted by New Balance revealed the connection between movement and leadership performance. Participants reported that the more they moved, the more energy they had, the more engaged they were and the more focused and intrinsically motivated they became. Here are some simple ways to incorporate movement:
- Connected EC clients prioritize movement throughout their day based on their needs. They focus on the health of their joints, tissues and muscles building a solid foundation and posture. This allows them to lead from a place of confidence and power.
- Are you setting some time each hour to get up out of your seat and walk? Our leaders love walking meetings and simple stretches they can do in their office or hotel room.
- We also teach our leaders about primal movement patterns such as squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, twisting and bending. These are the movements humans utilize every day and are important for overall physical health.
Executive Challenge – “With all of the pressure I’m under, I seem to have trouble managing my emotions. I lash out at others under times of stress.”
At Connected EC, we recognize that emotional wellbeing drastically influences leaders' vitality and success. Leaders often feel alone at the top and disconnected from their employees. They are constantly multi-tasking but perhaps never really living in each moment. In many of our workshops, we have leaders experience a short 2-minute meditation. Our coaches often receive the comment that, “that is the first time I’ve actually sat still in years.”
According to Harvard Business School, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the single most important factor in predicting success; twice as important as IQ and technical skills combined! There are many workshops these days around improving EQ but high levels of EQ can only exist if we have a healthy emotional state. Connected EC leaders learn mindfulness practices like meditation to increase their EQ. Meditation enhances the qualities companies need most from their knowledge workers: increased brain-wave activity, enhanced intuition, better concentration, and the alleviation of the kinds of aches and pains that plague executives most. By increasing mindfulness through consistent meditation practice, our leaders find they are much better at assessing each situation with a curious, calm and empathetic response. Try a meditation app like Calm and start with just a few minutes each day.
Help yourself before helping others
When you are receiving a safety briefing on any airline during travel, the flight attendant advises that in an emergency situation, you should first place the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. Connected EC leaders operate from this principal of caring for themselves first so that they have the long-term capability to care for their teams and organizations. For leaders to remain vital and visionary, mind and body health are imperative to their own personal success and that of their organizations. As a leader, you set the tone in your organization. It’s time to ask yourself whether your daily practices are leading you on the path to vitality or burnout.