I don’t work Fridays. As far as vocational activity goes, on a Friday, you can stick it.
Today (Friday) as I was riding my bike along the waterfront to catch up with a mate for coffee, I noticed that the tide was so high, it was covering the jetty. As I looked at it, this thought came to mind, “What do you do, when that which is meant to be a support and service to others gets sunk?” As I pondered on this a little more I began to think about the importance of self-care, particularly for those in leadership. I use the word ‘leadership’ here to describe those whose ‘metron’ of responsibility (ability to respond) and authority is bigger than themselves. In essence, those that are not simply responsible for themselves, but also carry some responsibility, in some way for the lives and welfare of others. Obviously, in a general sense this is true of all of us (we exist in relationship) but there are some people whose vocation or role demands more than others. In actuality and function, this can be everything from being a mother to a president.
The reason why I’ve gone into some detail about my definition of leadership is because this is precisely where, when it comes to self care, things can go horribly wrong. The very fact that leadership involves responsibility for others, puts leaders in a vulnerable position when it comes to even ‘basic’ self-care. It can be very easy for leaders to take responsibility for others first and then take responsibility for themselves second. This behaviour can even be a pathological trait (i.e. Codependency) that presents to others as ‘noble sacrifice’. Quite simply, it is a matter of priority.
This is the order it should be in:
- Look after yourself
- Look after others
- Love yourself
- Love others
We get it wrong for all sorts of reasons:
- Family of origin traditions
- Misunderstood religious teaching
- Codependency issues
- Personality (HSP’s, Empaths, Burden-bearers, etc)
- Boundary issues… and more
My experience of burning out was probably a combination of family tradition (don’t say NO, dont talk about your feelings), religious tradition (don’t say NO, guilt- driven striving, etc), codependency, personality traits and vocational choices. After burning out twice in my life, I’m starting to learn some things.
- Be willing to receive help and support
- Exercise healthy limits and boundaries
- Know who you are (accept yourself) and who you are not
- Look after yourself physically, emotionally & mentally
- Have fun and laugh a lot
- Connect in relationship
- Manage stress
So we’ve established the fact that first and foremost we need to take responsibility for ourselves. The second part, ‘taking responsibility for others’ also deserves some attention. We’ve got some ‘messed up’ notions around this idea of taking responsibility for others. Some examples might be an employer micro-managing his or her employees or a mother or father enabling their ‘entitled, adult – child’. Here are some suggestions for leaders:
- Remember that people (unless they are infants) are firstly responsible for themselves
- Be an example first, not a controller.
- Know your limits (the borders of your metron)
- Give people room to be themselves
- Don’t rescue people. Let them suffer the consequences of their own irresponsibility (this is part of the growth process).
- Learn to empathise and exercise compassion without taking on others’ problems as your own.
- Nip attitudinal diseases (i.e. over-familiarity, gossip, entitlement, etc) in the bud. Have those conversations or confrontations that you need to have so that the culture you are responsible for is engineered towards a positive, non-toxic end. This nurtures ‘growth’ orientation amongst those under your influence and less stress for you.
It has become somewhat ‘hip’ and fashionable to talk about mental health nowadays. Some people are talking about it as though it’s a new phenomena, which it clearly isn’t. That being said, some of the stigma and shame around mental health that existed in earlier years has diminished amongst the general populace and some people are finally starting to ‘grow a brain’ in this area. I remember as a young man in my late teens suffering immensely with crippling depression and anxiety. I had some good leaders in my life that helped me get free from this stuff, but there were also some people (including leaders) who were actually a major hindrance. This hindrance often came in the form of shame, adding insult to injury. It was probably largely a product of ignorance and ego.
There is simply no excuse to be uninformed in this area. Leaders, learn how to look after yourselves, learn about what you are and are not responsible for. Yes you have responsibilities. But:
You have a responsibility to be an example first. An example of
For the sake of yourself and others, look after yourself.
Nick offers clinical supervision and counselling in the Perth CBD, Rockingham and Online. He is an exceptionally skilled and compassionate counsellor and psychotherapist with over 20 years’ professional experience. He is also an active member of the Australian Counselling Association. Nick has a substantial background in both private practice and the community health and education sectors. He specialises in supporting young people, individual adults, couples and families. Nick particularly enjoys relationship and marriage counselling, assisting couples overcome relationship barriers to gain greater intimacy.