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How can you look after others if you don't look after yourself first?



I work with a number of companies that are focusing on employee wellbeing.  When I discuss this with their senior teams I ask them “who’s looking after your wellbeing?”.  The answer is often “nobody”.  My response is inevitably “That is crazy!”.


I see this all the time amongst high performing executives.  I see the destructive belief that I don't deserve to be looked after because I get paid too well.  Or the delusion that I’m too tough to burn out.  Or the fruitless sprint to the finish line only to discover that you've left your physical, social and psychological health somewhere back near the starting line.


My whole personal journey for the last 20 plus years has been to find a sustainable way of achieving high performance, one that does not require me to sacrifice my spiritual, social, physical, financial or intellectual development and wellbeing.


My professional work as an executive coach, team performance advisor and leadership teacher has helped me learn a lot on this topic, starting with why executive wellbeing matters and why it makes good business sense.


Here’s 7 reasons why executive wellbeing matters:


  1. Executive burnout and turnover is a direct cost, numbering in the millions for individual top team members.
  2. Impaired decision making and diminished leader performance result from poor wellbeing
  3. Fatigued and overstretched leaders become a bottleneck on organizational productivity
  4. Wellbeing is a proof point of an organisation that cares about its people.  If you have care for people as a value, then don't forget that the executive group is people too!
  5. Don't expect everyone else in the organisation to make progress if the executive group doesn’t value it personally. 
  6. Wellbeing delivers positive business outcomes in productivity; profit, customer satisfaction, creativity, innovation and employee engagement. 
  7. Failure to address wellbeing hurts business effectiveness


Here’s perhaps the most important point.  How can we learn to cultivate in our organisations a healthy ecosystem that allows creates sustainable performance if we don't have our senior most leaders making progress themselves?  Surely, we realize the unhelpful leadership shadow that is being cast as our bosses tell us to look after ourselves whilst personally working themselves into the ground.


A useful analogy perhaps is that looking after your own wellbeing first is the same as being on an airplane that experiences sudden loss of cabin pressure - reach out, grab a mask and ensure your own mask is tightly fitted before helping others. 


If you are a senior executive and want to make progress towards sustainable wellbeing whilst performing at your best, don't be afraid to reach out.  Not only does it make good business sense, its also true that your needs matter too.