Leaders, Take Care of Yourselves

June 10, 2024

Every day, we all have a lot on our plates. This is particularly true for leaders like us. We're not just ticking off our 'to-do' lists but also shaping and driving strategies for our organizations, managing budget issues, handling personnel challenges, mentoring, dealing with crises, and staying abreast of technology. It's a lot to handle, and we understand the pressure.

Moreover, many of us in leadership roles share a common trait: we're typical Type A personalities.

A type A personality is a term that describes someone who is ambitious, competitive, achievement-oriented, and impatient. People with type A personalities are highly organized, proactive, and workaholics. They often have high levels of stress and anxiety. They are motivated by challenges and goals and seek recognition and rewards for their performance. Some advantages of having a type A personality are being driven, determined, and efficient. Some of the disadvantages are being prone to burnoutfrustration, and health issues.

Sound familiar? I am smiling as I write this because I see a lot of myself in the definition of a Type A personality. Note that I highlighted a few items of the downside of being a Type A personality:

Workaholic. Stress. Anxiety. Burnout. Frustration and Health Issues

Leaders typically work more hours daily than they are getting paid for. They get home and keep looking at their cell phones, checking emails, and not getting needed downtime. Weekends are no better. It becomes an extension of the workweek. The lines between work time and downtime are blurred. And I don’t care if you think it is a badge of honor to work 24/7, but it isn’t. Working hard is OK. But not at the expense of burnout, excessive stress, and health-related issues stemming from said stress. You are no good to your troops if you, the leader, are not at your very best spiritually and physically. I’m not saying you must be the Dahli Lama and a Decathlete all rolled into one package, but you must approach your well-being just like a business strategy. What is the goal? How do you get there? What is the ROI for pursuing this business strategy? So let’s talk about this.

What is the goal?

The goal of pursuing your well-being is both personal and professional. Taking care of yourself physically and spiritually leads to a longer life with fewer health issues. Professionally, you can handle the daily stresses of being a leader better. You make better decisions and manage crises because you have maximized the weapons at your disposal – Your body and your emotional well-being.

How do you get there?

This is the crux of my article—the “how” you get there. First, you must manage your time, email, and calendar rigorously. As CSO at Microsoft, I was enthusiastic about learning the best time, email, and calendar productivity methods to maximize my day. I took these courses from experts and applied them to my daily activities. I also read books on this topic, one of the best being “Organized for Success by Stephanie Winston.” I love this book because the author interviewed dozens of leaders, including Bill Gates, to get their take on maximizing their day and managing their calendars. It is worth reading for sure.

You can invest in productivity training for you and your team and be careful about applying the principles you learn. You must be able to say “no” to meetings where you don’t need to be there. 

Cut down one-hour meetings to 30 minutes. Just because an hour is allotted doesn’t mean you must take an hour.

I once had a boss who, even though the agenda was done way before the 90 minutes allotted for our staff meetings, would keep everyone there until the 90 minutes were over. Talk about a time suck. I once knew a VP at Microsoft who cut down his 1:1s with his direct reports to 20 minutes. He found out that his folks came prepared to discuss the most pertinent issues regarding their teams, with no fluff, and all within 20 minutes. He bought back a lot of time with that strategy. Yes, there will be days when you can’t help it, and you will have back-to-backs from when you get into the office until you leave. But whatever is in your control to handle regarding meetings, control it. Buy yourself time. Ah, yes, speaking of time.

It would be best if you carved out time in your workweek for strategy. Many leaders are so busy attending meetings and trying to finish their work that they don’t have time to think about strategy. Strategy is the lifeblood of any organization, and this is what leaders are mainly being paid to do – develop strategies that will take the business to the next level and keep it competitive. You add to your stress if you know you should strategize but are too busy running around to meetings and putting out fires.

I used to dedicate every Friday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m. to strategy. It was just me, my computer, and my mind in my office. I wouldn’t take any meetings or calls during that time unless my boss needed me or WWIII had started. That time was sacred to me, and because of that, I felt I could fulfill my duties as a strategic leader.

Next, could you do something for yourself? I don’t care if it’s working out, doing cold plunges, meditation, prayer, taking walks, etc. Don’t get caught in the trap of being in the office all day, taking the work home with you, and letting the weekends go by with you thinking primarily about work. Your downtime is your downtime. Again, I understand the occasional crisis. But those are anomalies. I used to work out in the mornings before work. It got my head straight, and I could sweat out the stresses of the workplace. I didn’t write emails after work hours or on the weekends unless necessary. I put a clear delineation between work and home. You should, too.

Even today, though retired, I have a morning routine that includes prayer, meditation, a cold plunge, and journaling, all before I look at one email. I am in a better, more relaxed state of mind when opening emails. Try it. It will do wonders for your spirits, emotions, and physical well-being. 

What is the ROI?

This speaks for itself. More time to think, strategize, and do only the most essential tasks for your day. No wasted time. No fluff. Do not feel anxious because you have lost control of your calendar and know you don’t have the time to formulate a strategy.

Also, it improves mental and physical well-being. Destressing and establishing a clear line of demarcation between work and home improves your outlook on work and life. You will be better prepared for the daily stresses of your job and effectively deal with crises without getting burned out and with clarity of mind.

You are the leader, and your troops are counting on you. Take the time to care for yourself—your mind, body, and spirit. Your troops and organizations will thank you for it, and you will be a better leader.

About the Author

Mike Howard | President of Howard Consulting Services

Mike Howard currently is President of Howard Consulting Services, LLC, a security consulting and mentoring firm based out of Las Vegas Nevada. Howard is the former Chief Security Officer (CSO) for Microsoft Corporation and held global responsibility for vital security functions including operations, investigations, risk mitigation, crisis management, executive protection, security technology, strategy, intelligence, and employee awareness. Mike was the CSO of Microsoft for 16 years. Mike speaks regularly as a subject matter expert on security and leadership while using his extensive security background to help drive industry innovation.

He spent 22 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, finishing as a Chief of Station. Mike also worked in the CIA’s Office of Security and served on the security staff of the Director of Central Intelligence. He worked in the Counterterrorism Center, ran global programs, and served in assignments around the world. Mike’s first book, “The Art or Ronin Leadership,” is available now.