Leadership Practice #2: The Practice of Self Love

I asked my client what his top three values were. He said: “Work and family.”

Eyebrows raised, I waited for the third. It didn’t come.

He said, “That’s it. That’s my life. Work and family. Right now, in that order. I live in a constant state of guilt. When I’m at work, I feel like I should be at home. When I’m reading my daughter a bed-time story, my mind is on the work piled up that will take me to midnight. I feel like 10% of my life is actually mine.”

Tears welled up.

He was playing a high stakes game. If he didn’t deliver at work, there wouldn’t be a job. No job, no money, and that puts family life at risk. And the more time he spent at work, the less time he spent with family, the more unhappy his wife became. High stakes indeed: job and marriage on the line.

And there was a third, hidden game at stake: Health.

I asked my client, “Where is Self on your list of values?”

He stared back at me blankly.

“It’s not. I mean, I’M not. I don’t feature on the priority list.”

The weight of this insight filled the room.

“What do I do?” he asked.

This was my counsel:

The first thing is to re-order your values.  Consider what your life looks like now, with Work and Family only. (Burnout and guilt). Now put Self at the top, then Family and Work. What does that look like? (energy, satisfaction, connection).

This is following the principle of Self First. This is quite different to Selfish. Selfish is doing something for yourself in spite of others. Self First is doing something for yourself so there is more of you to give.

There’s an old saying, ‘you cannot drink from an empty well.’ Self First is about filling your well. You want to fill your well to overflowing, so others can have what flows over. You’ll never be short of happiness or energy when you fill your own well first.

100% of my leadership clients need to improve their self care. No exceptions, not ever, in twenty years.

It breaks my heart! It is a weird kind of social virus that has us self-sacrifice at the altar of work and family. Why do we see our own life and health as less important?

The practice of Self Love means we take breaks. We rest. We talk nicely to ourselves. We forgive ourselves daily for not yet being perfect, for being perfectly imperfect.

We are much nicer and more influential leaders when we practice self love.

What are your values? How are they ordered? Is this serving you well or not? What self love practices can you adopt today to fill your well?