What are you willing to sacrifice to get things done at work? Your health? Your family? Your joy? Most leaders I know are quite willing to set aside all three in order to be successful at the office. What they don’t realize, however, is the connection between personal self-care and professional effectiveness. We can’t sustain one without the other for very long. This Provision makes that case and then offers three simple strategies for improving our health and well-being. Sound intriguing? Read on!
I’ve just spent the past three days in Boston, attending the third annual McLean / Harvard Medical School Coaching in Medicine & Leadership conference organized by the Institute of Coaching. The list of speakers and facilitators was really quite spectacular: it reads like a Who’s Who in the world of positive psychology, emotional intelligence, constructive development, and professional coaching. I encourage you to review the list, since you might want to delve more deeply into their work and writing.
Having attended all three of these conferences, it is fast becoming one of my favorites. What is interesting to note is the connection made by the Conference between Medicine and Leadership. At first, putting those two words together left me scratching my head. What does Medicine have to do with Leadership, and vice-versa? Here is how the Conference brochure describes the connection:
Over the past 25 years coaching has emerged as a competency dedicated to helping people change, develop, and meet personal and professional goals, while building motivation, self-efficacy, resilience, and the capacity for further development. Coaches now serve a $1.5 billion market annually. Fewer than 20% of professional coaches are from the mental health or medical fields. The most mature market segment is executive coaching for leadership in organizations, while the application of coaching in health care is at an early stage. In both areas, the research literature while small, is growing rapidly.
The third annual McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School Coaching conference is led by the new Institute of Coaching — www.instituteofcoaching.org — and serves physicians, health care providers, executive coaches, and coaches in health care by exploring the theory, research, and practice of coaching. This energizing and groundbreaking event features lectures by world leaders in adult development, leadership, coaching, and coaching research, combined with coaching exercises and demonstrations. Special offerings include separate tracks for coaching skills practice in health care and leadership, three-hour experiential workshops, and a pianist / psychiatrist who will share George Gershwin’s story of life transformation.
I now see the connection as being even more closely tied and interrelated. It’s not just that coaching is being used in these two domains to help people and organizations realize their full potential. It is also that these two domains • personal health and leadership effectiveness • are integrally related. You cannot have one without the other. And it goes even deeper than that.
On the most obvious level, leaders need to be in good health in order to do what they do. I have a friend who heads up a small landscaping company. About 6 weeks ago he fell off a roof, breaking his neck in 4 places and cracking a bunch of ribs. Fortunately, he is not paralyzed and should recover fully. But talk about cramping one’s style! He spent 10 days in the hospital, in intensive care, and could not begin to think about the business for another 10 days after that.
His personal health problems fast became a company leadership problem. There literally were not enough hands to go around. His staff managed to keep things going, but not without significant and stressful adjustments.
That is, of course, an extreme example of the connection between medicine and leadership, but the story makes the point. Falling off a roof is bad for business. A health coach might have helped my friend to arrange his time on the roof differently, so as to prevent the accident; a leadership coach might have assisted him to arrange his business differently, in order to better handle the aftershocks of the catastrophe.
But it’s not just catastrophes that are bad for business. So are all the preventable, chronic conditions that people suffer with today in the modern world. Obesity is bad for business. So are diabetes, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, heart disease, asthma, alcoholism, smoking, and cancer • to mention only a few of the most common.
Unfortunately, too many leaders put their work ahead of their health. They get sucked into the performance momentum trap, being unable to slow down, get off the treadmill, and take any time for themselves. “There’s just so much to do!” is the often-heard complaint, and ends up taking its toll on both personal health and family relationships.
Chronic conditions are not always preventable, of course, let alone curable. But we can push the odds in our favor. I have written before about my experience of losing 65 pounds back in 1998. What prompted that was a heart scare that I now frame as a panic attack. Fortunately, the scare sent me to the doctor. After examining my heart and general health, the doctor observed that there was nothing wrong with me that losing weight and getting in shape wouldn’t address.
“I want you back in six months,” he said, “if you haven’t done that, and if your cholesterol and blood pressure haven’t come down, I’m putting you on medication for both.”
That was enough to get me started. Six months later I went back 65 pounds lighter. All of my health and medical markers were in normal or even optimal ranges. My energy had peaked and I was ready to run my first marathon in almost 15 years. “What did you do?” he inquired incredulously. “I just did what you told me to do,” I replied, “I lost weight and got in shape.” “None of my patients do what I tell them to do!” he exclaimed. It was a delightful moment of great satisfaction and success.
In a few weeks, I will be running my fortieth marathon (my annual leading of the 4:45 pace team in Baltimore). Running has been integrated in my lifestyle such that it doesn’t get neglected when things get busy. And it all started back in 1998. I sat myself down after that visit to the doctor and reflected on the core coaching question: “Now what?” Now that I have lost the weight, where do I go from here? Such reflection led not only to 40 marathons but also to my work as a leadership and life coach. I wanted to keep up the good work and I wanted to share it with others.
I wish every leader, every person, would take the time to reflect on how our practices can be more life-giving and health-promoting. Were we to do that, I think the world would be in much better shape. Instead of our work having us, we would have our work • and that makes all the difference in the world.
Do you understand the distinction? When our work has us, we do what we have to do without much thought or consideration as to impact on either our health and well-being or the health and well-being of those we work with and those we love. When we have our work, on the other hand, we are much more mindful, choiceful, and joyful about how we get things done.
Those three dynamics are three simple strategies for improving our health and well-being as well as our leadership effectiveness. Consider each in turn:
- Mindful. Mindfulness is the nonjudgmental awareness of and attention to what is going on in the present moment. It is about observing what is actually happening rather than imagining what we think is happening. As leaders push themselves and their people to work ridiculously long hours with frequent, high-stakes deadlines, they usually size things up this way: “It’s not that bad, and it will end soon.” Often, neither one ends up to be the case.Mindfulness asks larger questions. “How do I feel?” “When was the last time I worked out?” “What have I been eating?” “Am I nodding off in meetings?” “How well do I listen to what people are saying?” “How much sleep have I been getting?” “When was the last time I went home at a reasonable hour?” “When was the last time I took work home from the office?” “How do I start my days?” “How do I end my days?” “When was the last time I felt surprised?” Mindfulness is about gaining an accurate understanding of what happening in the present moment.
- Choiceful. If mindfulness is about apprehension, choicefulness is about calculation. Now that I see what is happening, how do I choose to be? Too many leaders operate on autopilot. They are reactive and thoughtless when it comes to how they go about their days. Great leaders are proactive and thoughtful. We become “reflective practitioners,” to borrow a phrase from Donald Sch•n, able to not only reflect on action, after the fact, but also to be able to reflect in action, in the moment.Choiceful leaders have a definite sense of how we want to be, and we make sure that our choices contribute not only to business success but also to health and well-being. That is, in fact, a primary consideration when it comes to the choices we make. Instead of cracking the whip to get things done, we choose to do things in more healthy and life-giving ways.
- Joyful. Joy is the hallmark of healthy leadership. People enjoy being in our presence and working with us. They say good things about us behind our backs. Instead of viewing work as a duty or even as a necessary evil, something we would rather not be doing, healthy leaders view work as one more opportunity to celebrate and enhance the gift of life. It is part of the great continuum, enhancing life through both its outputs and through the experience of working together.The joy of work is not experienced in isolation from other joys. It is impossible to be at our best at work only to be at our worst at home, and vice-versa. The two go hand in hand. Reflective leaders see and choose opportunities to make all of life more wonderful.
Mindfulness, choicefulness, and joyfulness contribute to both leadership effective and general well-being. These two are not mutually exclusive. We live in a both-and world, and that’s never more true than when it comes to these two essential aspects of the leadership tasks.
Coaching Inquiries: How do you view your work? How could it become more fulfilling and joyful? What is really happening in whatever setting you work? How could you become more fearless and aware of those observations? Who could you talk with about the things that would make life more wonderful? What choices do you want to make? How could you do things differently, starting today?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thank you for your message on hope. It was just what I needed to read this week. We had the disappointing news this week that a home we had hoped to purchase (and to which our belongings are scheduled to be delivered next week!) will not work out. But hope tells us that there is something even better for us and that the details will work out.
I look forward with hope to seeing how this all turns out, thankful that we have a house to live in right now and friends with strong backs who can help us move our belongings out of storage when we do find a home. I also lived and worked in Chicago in 1991 and saw hope alive and in action in the people there. Even those with no home at all and no belongings to store had the courage to face each day and greet me with a smile. It was and is a great place that taught me so much, just as your Provisions do. Thanks for the reminder!
I really appreciated Kate’s reminder about the power of music. I am on my way to a Tom Petty concert tonight with my husband. Although Tom Petty isn’t at the top of my music list, my husband loves him. It is fun to watch him move into that space where his enthusiasm and energy is sky high. I will appreciate watching my husband enjoy.
I just started reading Provisions again, after taking something of a sabbatical. I am really enjoying them. I was really glad to see that Kate was still writing. I’m really enjoying her Coaching Kitchen articles. Thanks!
As a fellow coach, I can really feel Kate’s good energy come through in her writing. Keep them coming!
I started reading Evocative Coaching and can say only “Wow!” What a wonderful addition to the literature on appreciative inquiry and coaching!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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