Our world is driven by great leaders. Women leaders are changing the world, bringing a special perspective that helps companies innovate and thrive. While many people equate leadership to a boss or manager at work, leaders emerge in many environments far beyond the traditional workplace. Effective leaders can be found in families, sports teams, college classrooms, volunteer groups and much more. By relating to their peers, team members, family members and others, leaders can help people join forces in ways that bring about positive results.
While leadership can be an empowering experience, it also comes with daunting responsibilities. Since leaders are accountable for a project, milestone or other goal, some challenges can place a heavy burden on those in leadership positions. Here are some thoughts about healthy leaders.
1. Be Well
The path to leadership and rarified air is fraught with sleepless nights, last minute deadlines and flexing your frontal lobe. With the right dedication, hard work and perseverance, everyone can achieve their dreams, regardless of their background. However, an individual’s ability to success as a leader is contingent on personal health and wellness. Without proper health, it’s impossible to lead others.
Regardless of whether you’re leading a multinational conglomerate or a homeowners’ meeting, your leadership skills and your ability to inspire others are contingent on your overall wellness. Women bring special leadership skills, but they also face their own wellness challenges that require a unique approach.
As people go throughout their lives, it’s easy to forget that the human body is nothing more than a machine. While the human body and the brain are the most complex entities in the known universe, they can succumb to a variety of lifestyle-related, avoidable health issues. Obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle-driven diseases have a negative impact on mental agility and memory.
Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
However, a leader’s ability to provide guidance is directly correlated with his or her health. While some powerful leaders like Winston Churchill or Chris Christie accomplish lots despite their weight, these figures are outliers. Obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other lifestyle-related illnesses can dull the mind, making it difficult to executive rapid, effective business decisions.
True wellness involves more than just a gym membership and the occasional salad. It is more than a state of being. True wellness is an active state. It is the capacity for optimal physical, emotional and psychological functioning. It combines elements essential elements like health maintenance, screening, allopathic Western medicine, Eastern medicine, complementary medicine, stress management, nutrition, physical activity and more. As your physical, mental and emotional performance improve, your ability to think critically as a leader will increase. A fit leader has more resources available to meet the challenges placed on you.
2. Lead by Example
As a leader, your personal health can be a catalyst for positive change. One of the best strategies for transformational leadership is by creating an example. When thought leaders are able to create a successful and deeply-ingrained wellness culture, employees are willing to model their behaviors based on their leaders. It’s essential that leaders convey the right information to employees.
According to The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, an employee’s perception of his or her workplace can impact the way that he or she relates to a job. Over time, this can impact an employee’s health, well-being and adjustment to work. In addition to role modeling, certain management styles can have an impact on employee health and wellbeing
When the best leader’s work is done the people say, “We did it ourselves!” - Lao-Tsu
What worked? Three key skills emerged as critical for improving organizational and employe health and wellbeing. First, managers should give employees sufficient control of their duties so that they can reach goals through different pathways.
Next, it’s important to praise employees in public and offer critical advice in private. By giving employees the opportunity to save face, it’s possible to preserve employee morale and respect in the workplace.
Finally, actions always speak louder than words. When children are growing up, a parent’s actions impact a child’s behavior more than words. When it comes to your employees, the same concept holds true. If you don’t maintain your own health, your employees will not view you as a rolemodel.
In one study, researchers asked 3,000 individuals to rate the quality of their bosses based on skills like delegation, communication, feedback, change management, responsibility and goal-setting. In the study, researchers discovered that individuals who had highly-rated managers were significantly less like to die of heart disease or stroke than employees who work for unpleasant and difficult managers.
Executives deal with the constant pressure of multiple priorities, never-ending demands, and conflicting deadlines. Through WellThinking, you can maintain or restore a sense of order, balance and control in your professional and personal life. WellThinking focuses on inducing an open, agile yet relaxed state of mind.To achieve this inner peace, WellThinking guides an individual, helping him or her redefine mental processes as a series of core components.
Fundamentally it is about changing the way an individual relates to life experiences. Components include prevention, maintenance and self care of a strong mind. Specific strategies and methodologies are fully authenticated by medical science and build on mindfulness, meditation, mindsight, acceptance, attention regulation, reappraisal, flexibility, body awareness, emotion regulation, empathy, compassion and an understanding of brain plasticity, cognitive behavioral therapy and tactics for altering automatic negative or problematic thoughts.
To clarify, meditation is “a method of regulation attention and awareness for a particular purpose.” Mindfulness is “moment-to-moment awareness” and “knowing what you are experiencing while you’re experiencing it.” Acceptance is not passive surrender. it is the “active, nonjudgmental embracing of experience in the here and now.
According to Lillian Cheung, an author, “Seeing the true, interconnected nature of our body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind lays the foundation for well-being and happiness.” Mindsight is a term coined by Dan Siegel to describe “the human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others.” Cognitive distortions are caused when an individual interprets a situation in an inaccurate way.
Whether or not you have an organized mind depends upon your ability to "drive" your attention and keep it focused when you're under pressure or faced with challenging conditions. Just like driving a race car, a lot of skills are required. Fortunately, these skills are built into the brain's normal wiring. - Margaret Moore
While it’s always important to learn from your mistakes, leaders must find an effective way to not be consumed by their mistakes. Life itself is a learning experience.
Finally, by organizing your mind, it’s possible to achieve success in both your personal and business life viewed by clients and employees as someone who is feeble-minded and lacks self-control.
Armed with the right psychological tools, leaders can achieve whatever they set their minds to.
For example, some people may see complex situations in black or white instead of subtler nuances of grey. As a leader, cognitive distortions can make it difficult to achieve success. If a leader doesn’t accurately perceive the entirety of a situation, it can be difficult to achieve success. Many managers fall victim to this psychological fallacy. By micromanaging employees or focusing too much on irrelevant minutiae, a leader may end up distracted from the overall mission of his or her business.
As a leader, confidence is critical. One common cognitive error that some leaders may make is known as attribution-bias. This is a form of thought distortion which can be improved with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Instead of focusing on a large number of achievements at work, leaders may focus on one or two situations that turned out less than well.
4. Sleep is Strategy
Sleep can be a game changer. It is not a luxury. When critical decisions are on the table, the healthy leader knows that getting a good night sleep may have a greater contribution to fixing the numbers than your most astute advisor. Your prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that facilitates working memory. The brain is only 3% of total body weight but requires 20% of total body energy. Sleep is like the AC current for your IPad. Sleep decreases stress hormones. Your body needs seven hours of sleep per night.
Research suggests that sleep helps learning and memory in two distinct ways. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information.
Although the exact mechanisms are not known, learning and memory are often described in terms of three functions. Acquisition refers to the introduction of new information into the brain. Consolidation represents the processes by which a memory becomes stable. Deep sleep is necessary for consolidation. Recall refers to the ability to access the information (whether consciously or unconsciously) after it has been stored.
We are at our very best, and we are happiest,
when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we've established for ourselves.
It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep.
It makes everything else in life so wonderful,
- Earl Nightingale
Sleep, learning, and memory are complex phenomena that are not entirely understood. However, animal and human studies suggest that the quantity and quality of sleep have a profound impact on learning and memory.
In a 2012 study, researchers discovered that sleep deprivation impacts how the body expresses genes. When a person stays awake for extended periods of time, hormonal changes can impact gene regulation in the body.
Each of these steps is necessary for proper memory function. Acquisition and recall occur only during wakefulness, but research suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form our memories. Although there is no consensus about how sleep makes this process possible, many researchers think that specific characteristics of brainwaves during different stages of sleep are associated with the formation of particular types of memory.
And its okay to nap. The 20 minute power nap can reset your brain. Its great for alertness and to improve your motor skills. Current research shows longer naps (30-60 minutes) is good for decision making skills. An extended nap (60-90 minutes) allows REM (rapid eye movement sleep) which is thought to play a key role in making new neuron connections and facilitating solving problems.
In some cases, sleep deprivation can even lead to genetic changes.
Sleep is the best meditation.
- Dalai Lama
5. Personal Health Risk Management
Embracing risk and uncertainty can lead to a competitive advantage. Risk management is about lessening the impact of what we don't understand. Many of the same risk management techniques used in business can be used to manage your own personal health and wellness. It is essential to understand your health risk factors, which originate from a combination of genetic predispositions, lifestyle and environmental factors.
With DNA testing, blood testing and other diagnostics, it’s possible to catch many genetic diseases before they develop. While an individual may be at an increased risk of a disease due to genetic factors, making the right lifestyle decisions can significantly reduce the risk of many diseases.
It’s important to remember that few health problems are entirely caused by genetics or lifestyle; instead, disease is caused by the complex interplay of internal physiological processes and the environment. For most individuals, understanding and applying principles of lifestyle medicine allow you to transform everyday thinking, practices and actions into to non-pharmaceutical prescription for wellness.
In 2008, Google cofounder Sergey Brin discovered that he had an abnormality in one of his genes that increased his risk of Parkinson’s disease. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Sergey said, “If I felt it was guaranteed to cure Parkinson’s disease, a check for a billion dollars would be the easiest one I have written.” He continued, “Pretty much everybody in the world has or will have some serious condition. How much is it worth to you to have that condition be potentially curable?”
Brin first found out about his genetic abnormality through a service called 23andMe. Brin’s mother, a NASA scientist, first started to suffer from the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease 1997 when she was 49. Unfortunately for Brin, he shares this same genetic defect with his mother.
The most important questions of life are indeed, for the most part, really only problems of probability.
As of now, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. This debilitating illness affects approximately one million people in the United States. An estimated one percent of people over age 60 will be diagnosed with the disease.
In his Bloomberg Interview, Brin said, “I was very surprised [that my genes carry an increased risk for Parkinson’s disease.] I wasn’t alarmed. I felt empowered. I felt I could invest in the research.” As a Google co-founder, Brin has a net worth of $23 billion. With over $132 million in investments towards Parkinson’s research so far, Brin has the chance to find a cure for Parkinson’s within his lifetime.
My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman. Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation.
Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex.
- Angelina Jolie
6. Food as Fuel
Calories are the fuel for human life. Understanding human nutrition can be a challenge for many people. When we consume food, the individual atoms found in those foods are incorporated into our body. While the adage “You are what you eat” may sound like a cliché, it is completely true.
But If you understand the basics of home a vehicle work, you can understand how the body uses calories. Many coaches and professional athletes have difficulty understanding the complex physiology of the human body. By viewing the body as a complex machine like a vehicle, it’s possible to visualize one’s daily need for fuel and energy.
Like a vehicle, the human body needs fuel and oxygen to operate. If an individual (or a vehicle) is starved of fuel it will stop working. THe good and bad news is a vehicle stops suddenly. The human body in response to no fuel or ‘bad’ fuel may stop suddenly, heart attack, or stutter painfully to disability and premature death!
People and their cars also share similarities in the way they use energy. In a vehicle, fuel consumption is based on the amount of time one holds down the accelerator. If a vehicle is operated at full power, it will use a lot of fuel. However, an idling vehicle will also use a small amount of fuel.
Humans are the same. If an individual maintains an active lifestyle, he or she will burn more calories than a sedentary person. However, all humans burn a set number of calories when they are “idling.” This idling process comprises physiological processes like breathing, a heart beat, digestion, tissue repair, thinking and more. Since these processes are essential to human life, the can’t be turned off. However, whenever you exceed this rate, you can gain weight.
Don’t eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. There are a great many food-like items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food.. stay away from these. ” ~Michael Pollan
7. Moderation Management
Moderation Management (MM) is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes. MM empowers individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence. MM promotes early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior, when moderate drinking is a more easily achievable goal.
According to Frederick Rotgers, PhD, leading authority and author of Responsible Drinking, “Many people enjoy having a drink or two to relax. When one or two drinks turns into a several drinks every day, an individual may be suffering from alcoholism. However, there’s no need to become a teetotaler.“
At least 75% of people who drink above healthful levels are not alcoholics. However, help for such people is not widely available in the U.S.
The Moderation Management program is based on solid scientific evidence for techniques that work in dealing with alcohol problems. Further, most people with alcohol problems resolve them without professional treatment and there is overwhelming evidence that self-managed efforts can be effective for non-alcoholic problem drinkers.
However, drinking any of these alcoholic beverages heavily is associated with poor health and reduced longevity. By the time people reach serious stages of alcohol dependency, changing drinking becomes more difficult, and treatment is usually expensive. MM believes that this situation needs to be remedied in the interest of public health and human kindness with early intervention and harm reduction programs. Moderation programs are less costly, shorter in duration, less intensive, and have higher success rates than traditional abstinence-only approaches.
○ The risk of dying in any given year is 25 percent lower for those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol.
○ The risk of morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) is 40-60 lower in moderate drinkers.
○ The risk of a heart attack among moderate drinkers with diabetes is 52 percent lower than among nondrinkers.
○ The risk of dying in the four years after a heart attack is 32 percent lower among those who were moderate drinkers in the year before the attack.
○ Moderate drinkers are over 30-40 percent less likely to develop diabetes.
○ Moderate drinkers have a 54% lower chance of developing dementia than abstainers.
○ Moderate drinking reduces the risk of stroke by about one-half.
○ Women who drink in moderation have a 15% lower chance of developing high blood pressure than teetotalers.
○ Men who drink in moderation tend to live about two years longer than abstainers.
○ The benefits of drinking in moderation begin early in life 30 and they apply to beer, wine, and liquor or distilled spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, bourbon, etc.)
8. Exercise is Medicine
Lack of physical activity causes nearly 10% of all premature deaths in the world, primarily due to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers.
Several research studies have demonstrated that physical activity can reduce mortality and reduce the risk of recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50%. can lower the risk of colon cancer by over 60%,can reduce the risk of developing of Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40%, reduces the incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease by approximately 40%, and finally reduces the incidence of diabetes by approximately 50%.
By incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily schedule, it’s possible to improve both mental and physical health. While traditional medical intervention may be needed for some acute health issues, many chronic health issues can be managed by pursuing a healthy, physical lifestyle.
There are few chronic diseases that cannot be improved by a regular exercise program. While Diabetes, Heart Disease and Hypertension are the ones most often mentioned, Arthritis, Obesity, Anxiety, and Depression are all improved with a regular exercise program. Regular exercise is a necessary component of any rehabilitation protocol whether it is for acute injury or chronic problems.
- Bob Collins, M.D.
Physical inactivity is responsible for an estimated 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths that occurred worldwide in in 2010, and is comparable to the impact of well-known chronic disease risk factors such as smoking and obesity. Exercise leaves a lasting, positive impact on the human body. In addition, exercise has even been shown to reduce the risk of cancer.
The Center for Disease control (CDC) supports the American College of Sports Medicine Exercise is Medicine initiative which provides free, easy-to-use tools and resources that physicians, exercise professionals, and other healthcare providers can apply in day-to-day practice to record, counsel, and refer patients to help them improve their physical activity levels. Follow the link. Use the information to inform your conversations with your Talk to your doctor, trainer about getting a customized exercise prescription.
9. Know the Dangers of Stress
Stress is inevitable! The healthy leader lives in a manner that transforms potentially harmful reactions into healthy responses to the stressors of success. America is currently facing a hidden health crisis unlike anything faced before. Unlike many common health issues, this crisis is a hidden problem that impacts millions of men, women, teenagers and children across the United States.
Leaders are no exception. Common symptoms include a pounding headache, a queasy stomach, a tightened chest and an overwhelming sense of anxiety. If left untreated, this health condition can even increase your risk of depression, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, dementia and stroke.
Stress ruins your decision-making abilities. Many people equate leadership with stress. However, stress isn’t an inevitability. In a study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered that leaders actually had lower levels of stress than their employees. However, this lower level of stress was contingent on a leader’s ability to “feel” in control of his or her environment.
Air traffic controllers who held their jobs for many years had lower stress hormone levels than air traffic controllers who quit their job after only a few months. For these non-career air traffic controllers, stress hormones in the body actually peaked before they started on their shift as an air traffic controller. For air traffic controllers who had successful careers guiding airplanes, these stress hormones didn’t increase before they started their job.
These air traffic controllers didn’t worry about their jobs before or after their shift; instead, they only worried about their job while they were at it. The stressed out air traffic controllers, on the other hand, worried about their job both before and after work. Another significant factor that can elicit a stress response is despair. If the future seems less than promising, the body activates its stress response mechanism.
When leaders feel rudderless, it’s easy to succumb to stress. Over time, a chronic stress and a lack of control can feed into each other, creating a loop from which it is difficult to escape. However, there are ways to take control of stress before it erodes one’s leadership abilities.
The stress response involves a complex interplay between neurotransmitters and hormones in the body. In the short-term, stress makes changes to digestion, growth and tissue repair that increase energy levels that are immediately available for the body. However, stress can also precipitate negative changes in the body too.
Stress does not cause heart disease or diabetes. However, it can exacerbate disease that is currently present. It’s important to understand the differences between homeostasis and allostasis. Homeostasis involves the regulation of a single point in the body, such as blood pH, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure and blood oxygen levels. For example, if an individual sweats a lot on a very hot day, he or she is at an increased risk of becoming dehydrated. This is a system falling out of homeostasis. On the other hand, allostasis involves a dynamic balance. In the dehydration example, allostasis states that sweating occurs as part of a complex exchange of water through the large intestine, the kidney, the bladder and other parts of the body.
When the body is stressed, dozens of different systems in the body fall out of allostasis. This can be precipitated by a lack of outlets for frustration, a lack of social support, predictability in life and other factors. In particular, control plays a significant role in stress.
In the corporate world of today, it isn’t C-level executives experiencing the highest levels of stress. Instead, it’s middle managers who have a combination of low control and high responsibility. While middle managers are responsible for the work of their subordinates, they have little control over company policy and other large decisions. C-level executives with high demand and high control don’t show these stress related disorders.
In addition to control, stress can vary based on how an individual perceives a situation in his or her head. For example, air traffic control is a very demanding job that requires constant, high-level attention to detail.
Robert Rose, a researcher, looked at stress response physiology for air traffic controllers. While some air traffic controllers are able to work for decades without a hiccup, some burn out after only a few months. According to Rose’s research, the reason for the early burnout was due to how they handled and perceived work-related stress.
10. Discover Your BestStressZone
Grounded in principles from the Stress Law, the Best Stress Zone is a virtual space & state of mind. It’s a place to view, organize and shape your world that enables resilience and healthy responses to inevitable challenges and demands in your life.
The Best Stress Zone is a place for optimal stress. You experience spiritual, physical, emotional and mental well-being. In the Best Stress Zone, you achieve the highest levels of energy, satisfaction, happiness and productivity at work or at home. Through daily living in the zone, you experience control, clarity of purpose, commitment, and challenge. In the Best Stress Zone, you are not merely a thermometer or a bystander keeping track of amount of stress you can cope with. Instead, you function as a thermostat, effortlessly assessing and regulating your mind and body responses to stress. Finally, in the Best Stress Zone, your day-to-day actions are unconsciously anchored in your life purpose, passions and priorities.
As humans, we can use our memories to trigger physiological changes in the body too. A memory of an awkward, inappropriate comment at a dinner party can haunt us in our slumbering hours for weeks after it occurs. Thinking about a painful or traumatic experience can lead to an increase in blood pressure and pulse.
Ultimately, the brain regulates hormones in the body. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis includes a complex set of feedback interactions involving the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus and the adrenal glands. While the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus are part of the brain, the adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys.
The HPA is a major part of the neuroendocrine system and regulates many processes in the body like the immune system, the stress response, digestion, emotions, sexuality and metabolism. The HPA is also known for its central role in a person’s general adaption syndrome. The HPA helps modulate interactions between the brain, hormones and glands in the body. While some of the more complex aspects of the HPA system are only found in vertebrates, the HPA is so critical to life that it simple versions of it can be found in some single-celled organisms and invertebrates.
While the HPA does not control all the hormones in the body, it does play a central role in modulating the action of most hormones in the body. In addition, the cortex and limbic system play a large role in controlling and regulating hormone levels in the body. One of the most important hormones in the human body is epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is secreted by two small organs called adrenals located on top of the kidney. In addition to adrenaline, adrenals in the body also produce glucocorticoids, prolactin, glucagon and beta endorphins.
These systems all work together to control the stress response in the body.
It's important to know when stress isn’t working for you. While the stress response can help keep you on your toes, there can be a point where stress stops working for you. In many cases, there are warning signs that you are on the verge of leaving your BestStressZone. These warning signs are personal and unique to you as a human being. Potential warning signs could include a lack of creativity, irritability, nail biting, a headache, procrastination and overeating.
Your BestStressZone is a place where challenge empowers your talents, and you know that you have the resources to meet any obstacles that you face. In fact, when you meet the challenge, you are exhilarated. This is the sweet spot in your BestStressZone. In your personal BestStressZone, you experience “good stress” as a positive thing that improves your motivation, drive and health.
People who function outside their BestStressZone℠ on a regular basis may experience negative physiological changes. For more information, visit BestStressZone.com. Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.
Are you a Healthy leader?
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© 2019 Carol J. Scott, MD, MSEd, FACEP
The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for treatment purposes, but rather for discussion with the patient's own physician. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of professional medical care. The information contained herein is neither intended to dictate what constitutes reasonable, appropriate or best care for any given health issue, nor is it intended to be used as a substitute for the independent judgment of a physician for any given health issue.