What Does Health Have to do With Leadership?

Well, a heck of a lot if you think about it… Our health is often a outward manifestation of our habits, attitudes, and even our thoughts. And inversely, it also impacts each of those.

When we’re in poor (or even just moderately poor) health, the list of risk factors is lengthy to say the least; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease, the list goes on… Poor health can disrupt your sleep patterns and cause insomnia. It can cause low self-esteem and irritabilty. It leads to more sick days and less mindfulness. I think we would all agree that poor health is not a good thing, but what does it have to do with leadership?

I know when I have even the slightest head cold, I’m just not “in the game.” I feel like my brain is surrounded by pea soup. It takes extra effort just to put a sentence together. My movements are sluggish and it seems like I’m moving in slow motion. I’m more likely to just say “whatever” to a problem than offer any suggestions just so people will leave me alone. It’s horrible and I’m horrible when I’m sick. So my heart goes out to people that truly suffer from chronic illness because I’m a hot mess just with a little old cold!

But most of our country doesn’t suffer from chronic, unavoidable illness. We’re suffering from our own habits that have led us to have less than optimal health. And it’s affecting our leaders and our businesses. We all know the drill about it causing more sick days, higher health care costs and those kinds of issues. But still, what does this have to do with leadership?

Well, as leaders we’re often the ones that will not take a sick day (we think “they need us 24/7!”) unless we’re on our absolute deathbed. Leaders are more likely to burn the candle at both ends (see the prior sentence about them “needing us”). Leaders generally have high amounts of stress because they have the weight of the business on their shoulders. And leaders are often horrible about maintaining good health habits – eating regularly and choosing healthy foods, working out regularly, sleeping 7 – 8 hours a night, taking vacations that allow them to complete disconnect; mostly because of all those things listed above. So we’re unhealthy for some good reasons. We want to be there for our team, we’re hardworking and diligent about running our business. That’s got to stand for something, right?

But what is it costing us?

  1. Our own health.None of us wants to be the CEO that drops dead at our desk from a heart attack yet many are a ticking time-bomb health-wise.
  2. Team Morale. We want to be the example, hold down the fort, and do all that stuff that shows we are a great leader. And that is good. Except when it starts to make our team think they have to work crazy hours, not take vacations, etc. to be great leaders. Some will try to keep up. Some will give up and just “coast.” Others will find a new place to work.
  3. Productivity. When we work at that pace, and our team ends up doing that too, we eventually start losing productivity and creativity. Our brains end up just like mine with a head cold – swimming in pea soup.

So how do we become healthy leaders?

  1. Stop and take a look around you. Are your people walking zombies? Does everyone take their vacation? Are you “encouraging” long hours or are you encouraging people to seek a healthy life balance? Does your workplace encourage healthy habits?
  2. Work with your team to determine how to address any of these areas where you didn’t fair too well. Have honest, open discussions about the “true” culture of your organization (not just the one written on the wall).
  3. Create a plan with small, actionable steps.
  4. Be intentional and encourage honest feedback. If things start to slip back to the way they were, is it really okay for someone to point that out? Make a plan to keep this in front of you and your key leaders.
  5. Walk the Talk. As the leader, you are the example others will follow.

Creating a healthy workplace is valuable to you and your team. In the long run, it will increase your productivity, lower costs, and maybe even allow you a little time with your family…


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