They say, it can get lonely at the top. And that feeling of loneliness experienced by even the most influential leaders, compounded by the pressures of running a profitable company in a time of volatility and disruption, can sometimes cause them to neglect their own health and well-being.
People Matters spoke with Sharad Mehra, CEO (APAC), Global University Systems, an advocate of well-being among titans of industry, on why leaders shouldn’t sacrifice their health just to steer their organisation forward and remain competitive.
Leaders carry a lot of responsibilities and are responsible for the well-being of their team members. Do you think at times they negate their own health?
Leadership involves a lot of commitment, hard work, and responsibilities, and it can be lonely at times. Even though leaders work with big teams, it’s not possible to share and discuss everything. This put together can be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. There is sheer dominance of work, a hectic travel schedule, working in different time zones. In this scenario, the easiest commitment to break is the one that you have with yourself since other commitments towards the organisation and employees need to be fulfilled first.
Can you give some tips for leaders to maintain their well-being while handling pressure?
First and foremost, leaders need to get more serious about it. Like the instruction of how aircraft passengers should put on their oxygen masks first before helping others, leaders also need to take care of themselves if they want to take care of their organisation.
Another good exercise is to block ‘me time’ on the calendar, without fail. This time is not for family or colleagues, but just for yourself. It is important to not feel guilty about it, even if you are taking this time out in the middle of the day. A coach once asked me to do it and I started blocking 15 minutes on my calendar. It was quite effective.
Leaders forget to pursue their passion because of the apparent lack of time and opportunities. But it’s not as hard as it seems. Follow and practice your passion. For me, it is sports. I can’t play full day because of my work, but I ensure that I take out time to do cricket coaching. Spending time practising your passion takes the energy and focus away from work, which is much required to reboot, revive and refresh.
Follow a regular exercise routine. I try to go for short walks to be with myself and practise mindfulness.
Do you think health-conscious leaders have an edge over others when it comes to tackling stress?
Different strategies work for different leaders in handling stress. But it’s important to remember that stress is always present, although it may be invisible at times. Therefore, de-stressing is very important. Otherwise, you will be in a perennial zone of stress without realising. Leaders who focus on their well-being learn to handle stress better as it is inevitable.
Do sports help maintain balance in life?
Sports or any passion, be it singing or cooking, et cetera, helps in maintaining balance as it allows you to immerse your energies beyond work. For instance, when I’m batting on the cricket ground, my entire focus is on that and not on anything else. Leaders find excuses to not follow their passion. But it’s important to find your ‘flow.’ In positive psychology, a flow state is a mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of enjoyment, energised focus and full involvement.
Does taking ‘time outs’ / vacations at regular intervals help? How do you ensure that it doesn’t turn out to be a workcation?
For me, a good vacation is the one that allows me to do some work so that there are no pressing work emergencies when I return to office.
Leaders need to have the capability to switch on and off from work mode. I like taking shorter, two- to three-day vacations so that work doesn’t suffer. When I travel to the UK, I get up at 4 a.m. UK time and work until 8 a.m. so that I can keep some time for myself during the evenings and handle work as per the India time zone as well.
My suggestion is not to wait for a vacation to take a break. Instead, you can take that little break every day or every week if you want.
Leaders have access to experienced mentors and coaches. Does that help in their well-being?
It’s very subjective and it varies from one individual to another. Leadership can be lonely, as there are not many people to rely on for sensitive matters and even feedback is limited. Therefore, coaches can help at times, because in that mentor-mentee setting, one may get some valuable feedback and one is in an environment to listen and imbibe. How to implement that feedback is entirely dependent on the leader.