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Why we should practice self-care as leaders

By Anne Houston, facilitator at the Social Enterprise Academy.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

Oh, would some power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us…

Robert Burns, 1786

Some insightful words from the Scottish poet but what do these words potentially tell us about ourselves as leaders? How do we find the ‘gift’ of seeing ourselves clearly and what impact would that have on ourselves and the people we lead?

Understanding ourselves is tricky. Frankly, we can all be slightly delusional and have a quite opaque view of who we are.

So what do we need to think about doing differently?

Think about the power of vulnerability

In her book ‘Daring Greatly’ Brené Brown talks most eloquently about this crucial quality in a leader. Opening yourself up to truly acknowledging yourself is both liberating and transformational. Not only for you as a leader but also in the message it sends to those you lead. Of course, this can be uncomfortable but can also lead to the greatest insight and change.

Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process

Opening ourselves up to feedback is at the heart of a self-aware leader. Not just in a formal way but in creating an ongoing culture of feedback where it is expected that we open up to receiving an honest and real picture of ourselves and the impact we have on those around us. How else would we really know?

Authentic engagement

A leader who ‘pretends’ to seek and accept feedback is disingenuous and can create distrust in people around them. Engaging with people in an authentic and honest way builds a strong culture of trusting relationships. Dr Steve Covey’s Emotional Bank Account tells us that authentic leaders make the time to invest in relationships at a human level.

If we take the time to engage authentically and build a strong culture of feedback we will begin to get a clearer picture of our strengths and limitations.

Strengths and limitations

These are of course, usually closely linked as Daniel Ofman identified in his Core Qualities Model. For example, our tendency to micromanage may be led by our strong attention to detail. However, the key is what we do with this information. Instead of berating ourselves about our weaknesses,, we need to celebrate and maximise our strengths and focus on what is important to us as leaders.


What are we role modelling for those around us? As leaders, it should be evident to all around us, what we value by what we do. For example, sending a message that we value our own well-being as a key tool in our personal and professional development. In the early days of the pandemic we were told – ‘Be Kind’.  How many leaders translated that into being kind to themselves? In these particularly challenging times, self-care takes on even greater importance in creating an empathetic, insightful and compassionate leader who themselves demonstrate the positive consequences that self-care can have on performance in terms of focus, energy and passion.

Permission to practice self-care

This means focussing on what’s important to us and sending a clear message that this is what we expect from people around us. Giving individuals permission to practice self-care starts with the leader giving themselves permission too.

Reflect and rebalance

As leaders, we still spend too much time ‘doing’ and not enough time ‘thinking’. Until we take the time to think, and reflect, fully, we will not be able to identify the changes that we need to make as leaders. Creating a regular pause to ask ourselves and others the powerful and insightful questions that need to be asked, will be key to rebalancing our priorities and taking time to focus on the important things as individuals and organisations.

If you’ve found this article and the activities helpful, you might be interested in the workshop Authentic Leadership: modelling self-awareness and self-care.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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