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Make sure you look after yourself.

Much of what I write about in these posts is about your responsibility as a leader to look after your people.  What I probably don’t write enough about is the importance of self-care; making sure you look after yourself. As a leader it can be easy to neglect yourself in the drive to make sure your people are cared for.

When I talk about self-care I am talking about making time to look after and develop your mind, body and craft. One of the most important things you can do for all three areas is to make quality sleep a priority. Too often the importance of sleep is ignored or referred to as “over rated”. In fact some leaders feel it is a badge of honor to only get 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night. Chronic sleep debt however, is directly linked to all aspects of our physical and mental health, to poor decision making and to impulse control issues. I highly recommend reading Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, and then talking with your people about the importance of sleep.

In combination with making sleep a priority you need to make nutrition and physical activity a priority. In addition to reading Why We Sleep be sure to read Why We Get Sick by Benjamin Bikman PhD. Dr. Jason Fung MD also has some great books that are readily available through Amazon and other book sellers.  The research suggests that Type 2 diabetes is curable and preventable and that Alzheimer’s disease is about 98% preventable.  Physical activity does not mean you have to spend 2 hours a day at the gym. All the fitness and health experts talk about the power of walking, so find opportunities every day to walk. You can workout effectively in just 20 to 30 minutes a day with limited space and equipment utilizing body weight exercises and resistance bands.

Sleep, nutrition and activity all impact both the mind and the body. They also influence your craft, as a healthy leader is a more effective leader. Breathing is another often over looked aspect of our health and our ability to manage stress.  To understand the power of breathing properly I suggest reading Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. I had read other good books on the power of proper breathing, but it was this book that caused me to take action and change some things in my life including taping my mouth shut at night to force myself to nasal breath while I sleep.

Reading just 10 minutes a day will also help your mind and craft and allow you to read at least 10 to 12 non-fiction books every years, including the three I have recommended in this post.  Mindfulness also is a topic worth exploring as it can benefit mind, body and craft. On the topic of craft be sure you are a student of leadership as well as a practitioner of leadership. Your people do not expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be striving to be the leader they need and deserve.

I write this post not as a judgment of anyone else, but as a reflection of my personal experience. In the last 8½ years of my career with the Calgary Police Service I had the privilege of leading a group of highly skilled and motivated trainers. They loved teaching, learning, and challenging the status quo and made it fun to come to work every day. I did my best to ensure they got professional development training, support and time off, which was challenging with our demanding schedule. While I worked out every day and continued to read, learn and grow I neglected my sleep and got into some poor nutritional habits. I also worked way too many hours. As a result my weight continued to climb to the point where I was fat when I retired, I snored badly when I did sleep and developed moderate sleep apnea (diagnosed after I retired) and was like pre-diabetic. In reflection, I would have been a better leader, husband and father if I had made self-care a bigger priority.

I appreciate that this may seem like a lot of ‘stuff’ to be added to your already full schedule. Think long term. Think of this as a journey. Think daily incremental improvements. Start wherever you are at and have some self-compassion. Continually ask yourself two questions:

    1. What’s Important Now?
    2. What’s the smallest change that could make the biggest difference?

When you make self-care a priority it will positively impact every area of your life, including your leadership abilities.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey.

Brian Willis

Register yourself, and your team for the Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop to get everyone on the same page regarding leadership and culture. If you are interested in hosting a live Dare to Be Great workshop reach out to me at