Every week, I talk to my good friend in London who says:
“Lonnie, if you don’t take care of yourself, then how can you expect to take care of others?”
No truer words have been spoken.
As an executive, there are pressures from your board investors and the teams you lead and work with. You juggle so many responsibilities it sometimes feels like you’re giving half-ass effort to it all and just getting by. Plus, you need to measure your energy throughout the day to save enough for your family and friends.
Working hard and working long hours is relative to any position in any company, but there’s no doubt that as an executive, you take it ALL on—you care about every single facet of the business. On any given day you get the good and the bad.
As the leader, you are expected to be a bastion of strength and it’s difficult to honestly share your struggles without your team getting the wrong impression.
Last year, I got the opportunity to listen to a Tim Cook interview live at an event I attended. In that conversation, Tim was asked what his biggest surprise was when he took over leadership of Apple after Steve Jobs. He shared it was the “incredible heat shield” that Steve provided for all of his leaders. Tim didn’t realize how much comes at you until he was in the executive seat. Although he had the desire to take it all on, he physically and emotionally couldn’t. While everything was important to him, he had to prioritize the things that were most important. If he didn’t do that, there was no way he could handle the demands. He needed a way to release the pressure valve.
So, as my good friend from London would ask, “How are you taking care of yourself?”
I meet with very talented and confident executives and leaders who struggle to make time for themselves. So, you’re not alone. But, it’s imperative that you find ways to make this time because it is essential to bring your best to every interaction, your organization and your people—inside and outside the office.
When I have my weekly coaching calls with executives from start-ups to the largest brands, I start each conversation with the same question: “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” This is the baseline of our work, and once we check in and create a plan for that, we work on the other business items together—culture, exec team dynamics or whatever the particular challenges and opportunities are for that executive.
Just like every athlete needs a good coach, I try to give back to the executives I coach in the way I was mentored the last 30 years of my professional life. I’m inspired every single day to inspire other people and get them unstuck. And, many join me in the mountains of Park City, Utah, to get away from it all for a few days. It’s a great way to work together to get unstuck.
Here’s what I learned to get the break you need:
Put on your oxygen mask before helping others
We know airlines have had their fair share of troubles recently, but they certainly got this one right. If you don’t take care to renew, recharge and revitalize yourself, YOU won’t be available to lead others. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself, it’s necessary before you can take care of others.
Schedule your vacation and gain perspective
Did you know that more than half of U.S. workers who get paid vacation won’t use it all this year? It’s worse for many chief executives. Learn a lesson from my former CFO (and his wife) and schedule your vacation time. In fact, his wife actually called to tell me that they were planning this and she needed my support to make sure he actually did it. He and his wife planned a 2-week vacation more than two years in advance to build a church in Peru. Our CFO’s wife told me, “I’m holding you responsible” to preserve this time. And I took my role seriously. I wrote on his whiteboard in big red letters the date of the vacation (April 6, 2016, the date is etched in my memory even now) and would periodically check in with him to ensure he knew this was non-negotiable—he was going to take this time no matter what was going on with the business.
And the time away is good for business, too. I love Richard Branson’s philosophy on taking a vacation:
“Maintaining focus on having fun isn’t just about rest and recuperation: When you go on vacation, your routine is interrupted; the places you go and the new people you meet can inspire you in unexpected ways.”
Lead by example
Not only are you taking care of your body and mind when you prioritize your own self-care, you are sending an important message to your team—you expect them to do the same. Many organizations are now mandating that employees take their vacation time. When people take their vacation time and fully unplug from the office while they’re out, they come back happier, more productive and inspired. And, when word gets out that your organization values the journey of work-life balance, you will be in the enviable position of picking from the best of the best to join your team.
Connect with other executives
I have always had mentors who were great at reminding me to pay attention to my own well-being. My brilliant London-based mentor also asks, “Where are you today? How did you show up in the world today?” He doesn’t want to know my physical location, he wants to know where I’m at emotionally and what I’m doing to take care of myself. Find a colleague who you can have a breakfast meeting with every other week; someone who knows what it’s like to walk a mile in your shoes. You both will be better for it. This is the key to sustained success. Again, just like every good athlete they have the best coaches and in some cases many coaches from the head coach, to a strength coach, to a pitching coach, etc.
Break out of the four walls or you’ll become those four walls
Even though I’ve long since dropped the habit of my daily 3pm Peanut M&Ms break, the concept of getting up and outside of your office throughout the day still serves me well. When I find myself stuck or trying to avoid a project, I know it’s time to get outside of my four office walls. Not only does it give me a chance to interact with my people, it clears my mind and recharges me to take on the rest of the day with more vigor. Since starting Red Shoes Living, I opt for a much healthier bike ride up the mountain instead of popping M&Ms. Change your view and look up!
If your answer isn’t what you want it to be then at least prioritize your care.
It’s my job and responsibility to work with companies, leaders and individuals to help them become the best versions of themselves as an executive or mid-level manager. If you need someone to help you get there, give me a call.