Taking Care: A Leadership Competency

I once heard David Ulrich speak about leadership and the need for leaders to invest in themselves. He offered several examples. The most interesting and powerful to me was the need for leaders to take care of themselves emotionally and physically.

We are living in times when organizations are doing more with less and workers are concerned about losing their jobs. Anxiety about the economy and fear of the unknown are fueling employee stress. I was talking to someone recently who indicated that with changes in his company’s leadership, employees were being urged to adopt a 24-7 mindset and always be accessible to their clients. I asked him if the management team was “leading by example”. The response was: “Hardly, they may work long hours Monday to Friday, but they take their weekends off.”

That is hardly what Ulrich meant when he talked about leaders taking care of themselves. That was just one of the many competencies for the leadership model he offered. He also talked about the need for leaders to assure that their moral compass was intact. Leaders also have to assure that they are taking care of the organizations and those organizations’ assets that have been placed into their care.

Leaders who are not aware of the stresses that their employees are feeling and the employees’ need to deal with these stresses run the risk of appearing indifferent. This perceived indifference may add to employees’ stress. This, I’m afraid, is what my acquaintance was experiencing.

The moral compass of the enlightened leader takes care that the message that he or she is sending is not contradictory. Enlightened leaders model the behavior they expect from the employees. Taking time off on weekends and for vacations to rest, relax and reflect is reasonable behavior. However, expecting employees to be tuned in and turned on 24/7 when you’re not is contradictory.

The moral compass of the enlightened leader sets realistic expectations. It’s not realistic to expect that people have no time to disengage, refresh, unplug and look inward on a regular basis. That includes taking a break from the electronics that consume their time.

The moral compass of the enlightened leader looks at the bottom line and the economic costs associated with employee morale and stress. When employees are under stress they are not engaged and productivity suffers. Even in difficult economic times, turnover can increase especially among top producers and high potential employees. Dissatisfied employees can impact customer satisfaction and profits decrease. Stress affects employees’ health and absenteeism and healthcare costs increase.

Establishing a regular routine to take care of oneself can be simple. Here is a list of “Zen Things” I came across:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Do it slowly and deliberately.
3. Do it completely.
4. Do less.
5. Put space between things.
6. Develop rituals.
7. Designate time for certain things.
8. Devote time to sitting.
9. Smile and serve others.
10. Make cleaning and cooking become meditation.
11. Think about what is necessary.
12. Live simply

There are many things individuals can do to take time to rest, relax and reflect. The challenge is creating a culture in organizations that values and provides the opportunity to do so for the health of the workers and the organization.


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