Leading in Uncertain Times: Me Before You - The Case For Self-Care

Pretty much everyone you speak to agrees that strong leadership is critical in uncertain times; and these are unequivocally ‘uncertain times’. How to actually lead in uncertain times, however, is a much harder question to answer. Almost everyone will have a different perspective. It seems that there is much advice - but no tried-and-true, no guaranteed ‘how to’ for leadership success.

Perhaps the thing that resonates with most though, is the suggestion that in order to deliver on leadership and performance expectations, those at the front need to be in good shape. They need to feel healthy and strong within themselves - both bodies and minds - in order to provide competent and convincing leadership for others.

Have a think about it. When do you feel your best and most impactful? Your most resilient? Your most patient and empathetic? Most able to consider other perspectives? Most creative and innovative? Is it when you’re tired, overwhelmed, hungry, unfit, and disconnected from family and friends? Or is it when you feel rested, focused, well nourished, healthy, and connected?

As coaches we often work with clients experiencing a conflict between looking after themselves and delivering for others. In times of crisis and uncertainty, demands and expectations increase, timeframes get reduced, and it can feel like the right thing to do is to work later, sleep less, grab food on the go, and forgo exercise and social connection in order to meet those deadlines. Adrenaline means that this strategy works for a while, but when that wears off and the uncertainty remains. What then?

Working with clients to consider their whole selves and supporting them to find ways to balance their personal needs with the performance demands of their roles is crucial to long-term outcomes.

Below, Alyson, an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) shares her client Cheryl’s* journey.

How did Cheryl come to realise that she needed to put more focus on her own health and wellbeing?

Cheryl, head of the people function in a medium-sized organisation, had received feedback through an anonymous survey that her peers and direct reports were concerned for her health and wellbeing. This got her attention as she knew the impact of burning out from past experience. She had in fact noticed the signs but had been ignoring them until that point.

What was contributing to the situation Cheryl was in?

Cheryl and her team had recently been through a restructure where roles had yet to be replaced/filled. Cheryl was trying to cover these roles in addition to her own role while working out the way forward. She is a leader who cares a great deal about her people and wanted to minimise the impact the restructure/vacancies had on them. As a consequence, she ended up carrying a lot of extra responsibility and workload. In addition to this, Cheryl had undergone major surgery about a month prior to the restructure/survey and was aware she hadn’t given her body the full recommended time for recovery.

What insights enabled Cheryl to see and do things differently?

The feedback Cheryl received allowed her to see that the actions she was taking were not helping her team in the way she anticipated. Instead of helping her team by shielding them from additional work and stress, her team were feeling frustrated by the bottle neck she was creating and felt they weren’t being included or given opportunities to contribute.Cheryl was getting more and more tired and struggling to meet some of her commitments. She recognised she had stopped implementing the self-care practices she had developed from previous experience. She also noticed that she had stopped listening to the feedback her body was providing in its effort to get her to slow down.

What changes did Cheryl implement?

As an outcome of catching this moment, Cheryl was able to bring her self-care practices back to the forefront and reinstate what had worked for her before. She re-started her daily meditation and enjoying quality time with her family. She also started hearing those around her that wanted to help and was able to let go of some of the tasks and additional responsibilities that they were happy to drive and lead. She noticed how much more grounded and calmer she felt after a few weeks of doing this.

What value has Cheryl created for herself as a consequence of her increased awareness?

This experience has served to reinforce for Cheryl the importance of self-care in order to be able to give quality back to others. In other words, putting her own oxygen mask on first before supporting those around her. Cheryl also recognised the value of working through others and has appreciated that this is something she can turn the dial up on further in her current role.

Cheryl’s perspective: What role did coaching play in the value you created for yourself?

I am so thankful to have a coach in my professional working life. I find that being able to unpack what is going on and what I am experiencing with a coach very therapeutic. The depth of listening provided by my coach and the tools offered to help support whatever is going on are all very helpful and actually transformative. Together we are able to quickly ascertain what the heart of the matter is and come up with solutions. The “a-ha” moments are significant and I always leave a coaching session feeling amazing, clear and like I have a road map for the way forward. I wouldn’t be without a coach, particularly considering the current challenges we are all navigating in the workplace. In fact, I consider it an essential part of leadership growth and development.


*name has been changed to preserve anonymity. ‘Cheryl’ has consented to the sharing of this information.