Every mother out there has heard this phrase before. You can’t be at your best for your family if you’re not there for yourself. We hear the same thing during flight safety instructions: “In the case of an emergency, secure your mask before placing it on someone else.” The same applies to leadership. It’s nearly impossible to be there – effectively – for your team if you’re not giving yourself attention. This is especially true among new leaders and those who get caught up in the servant leadership mindset. And by no means is there anything wrong with servant leadership. The concept is amazing! It fosters a sense of togetherness and allows for deeper connections when there’s genuine care and concern for the well-being of your team. Though like anything else, there can be too much of a good thing. And that happens when leaders tip the scales of being there more readily for their teams than themselves.

This is certainly easier said than done because in most organizational settings the unspoken expectation is that leaders are super doers vs. strategic business planners and legitimate coaches – the byproduct of the ‘do more with less’ mentality that was only heightened by the 2008 recession and hasn’t gone away over a decade later. Add to that, many leaders have a hard time building in self care – in whatever form that takes. Maybe it’s leadership training, physical activity, reading, podcasts, time with family – due to an underlying feeling of guilt and shame that accompanies the “not enough time or stuff to go around so that I can get to taking care of myself.” 

Why is that? A lot of the feedback I received over the years in talking with several (especially new) managers was: “well if I’m perceived as focusing too much on myself, then my team will think I’m not there for them and I might lose my credibility. Plus, if I don’t step in and take some of the work, where’s my value?” (This last part is a post in and of itself – more on that later). My question back was always, “What makes your title as ‘leader’ immune from engaging in activities that accelerate your growth, drive creativity, or feed a passion? You certainly expect your team to find something to enhance their development, why wouldn’t you do the same for yourself?” Every. Single. Time there was a shift. Whether verbal or non-verbal they said, “Of course! That makes sense. Why is it so different for me now that I lead a team?”

If you’re feeling stuck or in a lull with your own development, try some of these tips to reignite your energy:

  • Figure out what it is you really want. Is it as simple as a window of time that offers a momentary escape to let your mind wander? Do you want to learn a new skill that will take research and/or potentially formal training? Or do you want to give attention to a fun hobby that sparks creativity and gets you motivated?
  • Take it in small chunks. No matter what it is you really want, all it takes is 20-30 minutes a day to accomplish something. Say you block 30 mins/day to feed your soul. That’s 150 minutes/work week, 7,800 minutes/year, 3.25 work weeks or 7% of your year dedicated to your personal development. If you want to swing more, add some time to your weekend or find another 15 minutes during the week. 
  • Be intentional with your calendar. Block the time and don’t move it unless you absolutely have to. Remember, your job description doesn’t say omniscient. The ‘leader’ title doesn’t require you to know or be included in everything. If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time.

The leadership journey is a long and winding road. It will take time to build this intention into your routine, but the payoff is well worth the work. You innately know what you want, it’s just a matter of finding the courage to take a stand, find your voice, and declare it to the world. You are completely unlimited in what it is you seek. Go after it with a vengeance!