Self-Care and Servant Leadership are Not Mutually Exclusive

Dr. Mia Cary, CEO & Change Agent, Cary Consulting

It’s true what the flight attendants tell us – the oxygen mask rule is legit. If there is an emergency while in flight we should put the oxygen mask on ourselves first, before we try to put it on our child or whomever is occupying the seat next to us. Why? Because we are better equipped to help others when we take care of ourselves first. This is practicing self-care. As with many things, this is easier said than done and easier to do on the good days then it is on the days that we are having a rough time.

We often need a tipping point of some sort that forces us to accept this guiding principle to be true. My tipping point was in my early career days with Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). I received feedback from my team of field veterinarians that made it clear that I was being a hypocrite and not walking the talk. I was telling them how important work-life balance was (what I today refer to as work-life integration) and that they should always put their family first, but I wasn’t doing it myself. Thanks to their candid feedback (cheers to radical candor and 360º evaluations!) I modified my routine and made more time in my schedule for myself and my family members. Like all of us I’m better at this on some days than others. Without question, however, I know now that the better I take care of myself then the better equipped I am to take care of and serve others. And that I have to walk the talk.

During workshops when discussing the importance of self-care I’m often confronted with, “but I’m a servant leader”. Guess what, so am I! I believe in serving others and as a team leader my job is to eliminate barriers and ensure the proper resources are in place for my team. This allows me to empower the team to play to their strengths and work collaboratively to achieve our team targets. Taking care of myself so I have the strength, flexibility, and patience to take care of others, in this case my team at work, is not contradictory. In actuality it’s quite liberating and critical to increasing wellbeing for all involved.

Are you convinced yet that self-care and servant leadership are not mutually exclusive? If so, good on you! Now spread the word.

If not then I invite you to commit one month to taking care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, being mindful in your daily tasks, and incorporating what matters most to you in your daily routines. Document your month-long journey and take note of how you are treating others – are you being more patient, kind, and forgiving? My bet is on yes!