The Secret to Strong Leadership is Self-Care

Things are intense right now—and they’ve been this way for months. Intense times call for your A-Game leadership. Or, as one of my startup CEO clients said to me last week, “It’s Jedi time.”

How can you show up as the leader you want to be at this time?

Protect the asset

You’re the asset. Think of yourself as an athlete and do the right kind of self-care. Get enough sleep, eat for efficiency and not, as you may be tempted to, for comfort. Move your body every day and get vigorous activity in if you can do that safely.

Now more than ever you need a strong routine. This will help you manage your mood and your energy and be most productive. Routines are powerful because, once you set them up, you can do them without thinking. And just having a set of habits you repeat every day will give you structure and ritual, helping you get into the mental state to be your best.

Related read: Building to Last: Mental Health is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Your routine doesn’t have to be elaborate. As Stanford behavioral scientist BJ Fogg suggests, start with tiny habits.

Also, think systematically. Divide your day into four parts: morning, noon, night and bedtime. Figure out the centerpiece of your routine in each of those segments. Your morning may consist of meditation or a workout or cooking breakfast for you and your kids. You could go for a 15-minute walk every day at noon. You might decide to have an evening with your children and spouse about what you are all grateful for, and you can read something pleasant before you go to bed.

Choose what works for you and start practicing it.  As one of my clients—a CEO of a professional service firm—told me: “I was so busy getting my people situated and making sure they were okay that I neglected reconfiguring my own routine.”

Stay focused

In all of the chaos of this crisis, it’s natural to get distracted. Success as a leader is being able to stay focused.  When you turn your attention to the most important things—whether that’s to re-forecast your business for the rest of the year, galvanize the team or make decisions on cost reductions—you will be able to tune out the other voices that clutter your mind so that you can make progress on the high priority items.

One key part of being able to focus is to manage your emotions. There are plenty of things going on in your life and the business which can make you anxious or frustrated. That’s natural.

“Success as a leader is being able to stay focused.”

Rather than react, plan for unexpected things to happen. When they do, tune into these feelings and choose a response based on the data you’re getting and what your goal is.

If you’re trying to re-negotiate your lease, for example, and the landlord is holding a hard line, your reaction may be to explode or shut down and go silent. If you give yourself a moment to pause, you’ll see a few things more clearly: the goal is to get the lease reduction, and those reactions won’t help.

Sitting with your emotions and then re-focusing on the outcome you want will help you calm down. This in turn will allow you to think more creatively and resourcefully about how to influence the landlord on this topic.

Act decisively

There’s a lot of missing information and uncertainty in this current environment. Once you and your team agree on a course of action, put together a quick execution plan, decide on a timeframe, and go. You may decide to course correct, but your team will feel reassured when they see you thinking things through and acting with confidence.

“You can’t control much of what’s going on around you, but you can absolutely control your mindset and your behaviors to show up as the leader you want to be.”

Keeping your team aligned once you decide to act requires a strong coordination of efforts. It’s not enough to assume that things are being handled or to leave some elements of the plan vague. It’s critical in this environment to ensure that people understand the context and the plan, have clear roles, and that they understand the timeframes. That way they can work together without any wasted effort.

You can’t control much of what’s going on around you, but you can absolutely control your mindset and your behaviors to show up as the leader you want to be.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Forbes. It was also re-published on November 6, 2020.

More leadership advice

Alisa Cohn
Alisa Cohn
Executive Coach

Alisa Cohn is the author of "From Start-up to Grown-up," and an executive coach who works with startup executives to help them develop the leadership skills they need to scale their companies successfully. She has worked with companies from very early stage to Fortune 50. Her clients include Venmo, Foursquare, Facebook, Google, Cisco and Dell. Click here to pre-order "From Start-up to Grown-up"
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