Resourcing Yourself First Makes You a Better Leader

We are regularly reminded on airplanes, “in the event of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others”. For those of us who define our own value by the quality of what we give to others, putting ourselves first can feel downright criminal. As a recovering self-sacrificer myself, I have been working for years to slowly and systematically build a practice for resourcing myself first that allows me to be more efficient, helpful and beneficial leader in all of my professional relationships.

What is radical about resourcing yourself first? Radical self-resourcing demands that you relentlessly do what it takes to ensure that you are showing up at your best – be it rested, calm, creative, flexible, brave – in order to be the best leader you can be in every situation. This can feel radical because it requires not only an understanding of what you actually need to be at your best, but that you step up and take responsibility for your time and your needs. This means that you need to stop blaming the structures and systems (ie. bosses, partners, reports, colleagues) that may seem like the source of your over-extension, and instead regularly take the time to get clear about what you need and move into action to meet those needs first.

In the corporate world, chronic self-sacrifice shows up as burnout. Burnout is costly, both to employees and employers. Not to mention that burned out employees are less productive, less collaborative and tend to make less than optimal decisions. Plus the resentment that tends to surface with burnout is toxic in the work environment. 

For years when I would hear staff mention the words “I’m overwhelmed” -a clear flag for imbalance- I would immediately drill in on the choices they were making, knowing that it was only a matter of time that steam rolling their own needs took a larger toll on the company. I would ask: “With limited time and resources, what matters most now? What are you saying yes to and what can you let go of? Who are you willing to disappoint and how will you let them know?

At a deep level, prioritizing ourselves in the face of demanding full schedules and very real concerns both inside and outside the workplace requires confronting long-held beliefs and scripts that keep us locked in old patterns of behavior. These patterns keep us running from task to task with a gas tank nearly on empty, gasping at the end of the day, often with a long simmering resentment and the nagging feeling we’re showing up as increasingly diminished versions of ourselves.

To begin training in the leadership skill of self-resourcing, the following tools below can be applied:

  1. Draw up a list of what happens when you show up resourced and when you show up ragged. What do you notice? Ask yourself what actions will lead you to being more resourced, and what will be the impact? Start a running document that tracks the habits and mindsets you know need to be in place for you to be at your best and commit to doing one each week. Imagine your perfect work week and get clear about what you will say no to. Write out the full schedule of an ideal week: What do your mornings look like? How many nights do you spend out? How much sleep do you get? Add details around self-care and descriptive adjectives, as well as time allotted for undesirable tasks. Then map what you will and won’t do over a real working two week period, determining 50% of the current activity you will deprioritize. Post this list somewhere you can see it every day.
  2. Make it real by telling others. Go back to your boss, your spouse, your direct reports and share: Here is what I can do, and here is what I can’t do. You may be surprised how supportive the people who depend on you are, or how reassured they will be when they see you prioritizing self-resourcing and/or the tasks for this time period. Determine the three conversations you’ll have and commit to having them by a certain date.

As we all navigate through these unprecedented times, I challenge you: Can you ensure you self-resource now so that you are ready for day-to-day challenges? And how might your professional life benefit as a result?

Give self-resourcing a try by implementing tiny, incremental shifts over time. When you start to resource yourself first, you will start to make microscopic shifts every day – a moment where you say no, where you pause before jumping in, where you let it be messy, where you take time to hold back and put your own oxygen mask on first.

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