I have always said there is truth in Rock-n-Roll. Popular music is just that, because it is about themes we can all relate to—like love and heartbreak, winning and losing, being lost and becoming found, and all the others of an endless array of experience and emotion. One of the bands that resonated with my experience was Journey. Formed in 1973 in San Francisco, they enjoyed significant commercial success in the late 70’s and early 80’s, which coincided with my high school years.
In “Be Good to Yourself”, Steve Perry (or Arnel Pineda if you go see them today) sings,
Runnin’ out of self-control
Gettin’ close to an overload
Up against a no-win situation
Shoulder to shoulder, push and shove
Sound like anyone you know? Maybe you? I have certainly been there. In fact, as a leader, it takes effort on my part—intentional, concerted, planned effort—to avoid that state of being. Perry goes on to sing,
I’m hangin’ up my boxin’ gloves
I’m ready for a long vacation
Be good to yourself, when nobody else will.
And there is the truth I am looking for. I need to hang up the gloves sometimes and take a break. No one is going to walk into my office and say, “Hey, I think you should get out of here for a while. I’ll take care of things while you’re gone.” Quite the opposite; most people that walk into my office need more from me, not less.
One of the problems leaders have with selfcare (there, I used the word so now we don’t have to be awkward about it) is it seems selfish. Most of the leaders I have spent time with have high expectations for their teams but even higher expectations for themselves. They rarely think they have done enough. While there are lots of things that motivate people, most leaders are not motivated by greed or self-importance; they are motivated to make things better.
Leaders naturally see problems and look for solutions. This trait can wreak havoc when the high beams get focused on themselves. Leaders see their own flaws and faults and often feel inadequate for the job at hand. We all know the saying, “blah, blah, blah, TRY HARDER.” That is the solution to everything. Try harder. So, we do. We work more and more and more, and it is never enough.
I was on a plane recently and was trying to ignore the pre-flight instructions, but I heard the bit about putting on my oxygen mask before helping others. Great idea in an emergency, but not a fitting analogy for living life. A better analogy is the pilot.
I know someone who is married to an airline pilot. It is amazing to me how much intentional effort this pilot puts into being ready to fly the plane. Apparently, when it is time for him to go to sleep everyone else in the house respects that and quiets down. He chooses not to drink, at all. He works out, eats healthily, and monitors his health. A lot revolves around him being in the best shape possible before he climbs into the pilot’s seat.
What he doesn’t do is just fly more and more and more. In fact, federal law prohibits him from spending more than a certain number of hours “on.” (Maybe we need that same law for corporate leaders…) If you fly much, you have been delayed or had a flight canceled. At least some of the time it is because the pilot and crew cannot work any more hours. Wow. They upset customers and fail to deliver on their promises rather than overwork the crew.
Is that selfish? I think not. I’m very glad he (and the FAA) take the responsibility of the lives of the people on his plane so seriously. I hope all the other pilots are like him. If that is true for him, then why wouldn’t we as leaders be as intentional about taking care of ourselves? While we may not make decisions that could result in the immediate death or injury of our people, we still have significant influence over their opportunities and how they get to live their lives.
Additionally, if we are driving ourselves to exhaustion, we are most certainly doing the same thing to our people. Most leaders won’t ask others to do what they are unwilling to do. Then they “say” they don’t expect their people to do as much as they do, but their people think they need to. If you are overworking yourself, your people will/are too.
So, what to do?
First, you must believe you are worth it. If you struggle to believe you are worth taking care of, find others who are practicing self-care and spend time with them. They will help you see that when you take care of yourself, you are better able to take care of everyone else.
Next, start small and work up, but keep at it. Take a break. Read a book – for pleasure. Schedule time to do nothing. Spend time with friends who energize you. Stop spending time with people who drain you. Meditate. Whatever recharges you and gives you a fresh outlook. This is a practice. The more you do it, the better you get.
Also, put structures in place to protect you and those you lead. At Kimray we have a “use it or lose it” vacation policy. People need to take a break, not bank the time and trade it for cash later. We also have a “no business on vacation” rule that prevents people from calling, texting, or emailing people who are out, and we also avoid those practices after hours and on weekends.
Most importantly, be part of creating a culture that values people enough to insist they take care of themselves, even if it means the organization must sacrifice (remember that delayed plane?). Steve Perry says,
When you can’t give no more
They want it all but you gotta say no
I’m turnin’ off the noise that makes me crazy
Lookin’ back with no regrets
To forgive is to forget
I want a little piece of mind to turn to
Be good to yourself, when nobody else will Truth, but I would like to make a slight adjustment to that idea. I want to be part of a community where I don’t have to be good to myself when nobody else will. I want to be part of a community where everyone takes care of each other and encourages everyone to take care of themselves. None of us can live our best life unless we all are. It is our responsibility as leaders to demonstrate what self-care looks like and practice it so we can be fit to lead and fit to lead others to be good to themselves, because that is The Kimray Way.