8 Things Health-Savvy Leaders Do Differently

What is a health-savvy leader?

In our current era of disruption, burnout and the Great Resignation, we need health-savvy leaders who make wellbeing a priority. At the heart of health-savvy leadership is bridging the false gap between wellbeing and performance. Being well and leading well are intrinsically linked.

But what does it take to bridge this gap? What do health-savvy leaders actually think and do differently? From my experience of coaching and talking to hundreds of leaders from all walks of life and from wide reading, I have identified 8 key things that health-savvy leaders do differently:

1. They recognise the relationship between ‘being well’ and ‘leading well’

Leadership development rarely includes a focus on wellbeing, self-care and healthy habits. I predict this trend will change in line with a growing body of research that clearly links wellbeing and leadership performance. Health-savvy leaders recognise this link and no longer see wellbeing as a ‘nice to have’ or something fluffy. Whilst not needing to be experts, they take an interest in the latest thinking around how health and wellbeing impacts their leadership and their organisation.

2. They have a personal wellbeing strategy

Health-savvy leaders are proactive about their wellbeing. They want to stay well and perform for the long-term but they don’t leave this to chance – they have a plan! They design a personal strategy for healthy leadership and integrate this into their professional goals and actions.

3. They look after their ‘inner battery’

Health-savvy leaders know that working smarter beats working longer and harder. They recognise the importance of having optimum energy (not too high, not too low) and to be ‘in the zone’ more of the time. They take short, revitalising recharge breaks throughout the day to restore their physical, mental, emotional and purposeful energy. They proactively create daily routines and rhythms to sustain focus, passion, deep engagement and balanced activity and rest. They know that these regular behaviours positively influence the behaviours of the people they lead.

4. They manage their self-saboteurs

Some of our most health-giving and health-depleting habits are habits of mind. Health-savvy leaders are aware of the particular ways they can self-sabotage their wellbeing and performance through their automatic patterns of thinking, feeling and responding. A common saboteur in the C-Suite is the ‘hyper-achiever’. This saboteur is dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. Of course, achieving things is a strength, but when this strength is overplayed it can lead to burnout and a lack of focus on important parts of life and work beyond the narrow goal to be ‘achieved’. Other common self-saboteurs are the controller, the pleaser and the stickler. See the work of Shirzad Chamine. Health-savvy leaders are only human, so these patterns will still show up, but they are better at spotting them and pausing before they become hijacked into a habitual response.

5. They know how to have better bad days

Health-savvy leaders don’t wait for the perfect day to start implementing healthy habits at work. They know that day will never come! They have a fall-back plan for that day when they wake up and the boiler has broke, the cat has been sick and an 8am meeting has appeared in their calendar. On these days, their contingency plan might be mini-versions of their usual habits or just a mindset of self-compassion and managing what little energy they have wisely.

6. They act in service of the whole system thriving

Health-savvy leaders may be experts in self-care, but they are not self-centered in their pursuit of wellbeing. They are not in a bubble desperately trying to feel at their best while the world around them suffers and strains at the seams. Instead, they use their position to inspire and influence positive change for the whole system in which they operate. Their wellbeing goals are in service of a thriving, flourising world and a higher-order experience of life and work – for themselves and those around them. An experience that is vibrant, hopeful, purposeful and growth-oriented.

7. They use a coaching approach in their wellbeing conversations

Health-savvy leaders care deeply about the wellbeing of their team and colleagues. They know that it is not possible or desirable to expect people to be happy and energised all the time. They do not want to encourage a culture of toxic positivity. But they do want to create a culture where it is easy for people to feel at their best and to feel supported when they feel at their worst. They discuss wellbeing in their regular one-to-ones and team meetings. Rather than feeling the need to be an expert or a rescuer, health-savvy leaders adopt a coaching approach in their conversations around wellbeing. They empower others to come up with their own solutions whilst acting as a thinking partner and supportive listener.

8. They apply adaptive wisdom

This one might be the most important of all and perhaps the least spoken of in the context of wellbeing. In a rapidly evolving world, adaptive wisdom is a master-skill. Health-savvy leaders are sensitive to their environment and act accordingly. They know that wise action to support their own wellbeing and those around them is contextual. Sometimes, the wisest choice is to pause and slow down and at others to accelerate. There is a time to accept how things are and a time to push for change. A time to strengthen boundaries and a time to loosen them. A time to direct the flow and a time to go with it. A time to give your energy generously to others and a time to retreat inwards. Health-savvy leaders know this and are sensitive to their environment and what is being called for.

A process not a destination

I’m mindful that this might all sound a bit daunting and out of reach for most of us. But as Carl Rogers put it, ‘the good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination’. None of us will embody these 8 aspects of health-savvy leadership all the time, but we can all set our inner compass towards this way of living and leading.

Are you ready to live and lead from what is best and wisest in you? What small steps can you take today that will take you closer? If you are unsure of where to start, this free health-savvy leader scorecard can help

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