Looking after yourself is often the first thing to fall by the wayside for female leaders in STEM fields. Yet self-care for leaders is vital to keep them firing on all cylinders, as the people around them expect. Here’s how and a few coaching questions to get you started.
1. What does the ‘gold standard’ cost you?
An executive coaching client of mine, Jasmine, a leader at a software company, was struggling with keeping up with her normal ‘gold standard’ at work. Jasmine prided herself on the reputation she’d built for herself over many years with the company. However, her parents did not fare well during or after Covid; her father developed long covid, which curtailed the caring he could do for her disabled mother.
Her parents lived several hours away, making supporting them while being there for her team increasingly difficult. Weekends, and even parts of any given work week, were now taken up by their needs.
Thinking about how vital self-care for leaders like Jasmine was, I asked: ‘They are getting great support, but how are you looking after yourself?’ To which Jasmine started laughing! Self-care had ‘left the building’ for her, as it does for many leaders during tough times.
Jasmine herself was struggling with joint pain and perimenopause
, something experienced by many of my clients. In our discussion, when she shared these pressures, she used the terminology of things ‘falling apart’ or ‘breaking’ several times to explain how she felt and the pressures she felt she was under.
What’s the glue that holds you together?
So I asked Jasmine: ‘What glue keeps those pieces together?’ For starters, she identified that she could help her parents better if she didn’t need to come up with ‘solutions’ to all their problems, options her mother always found fault with in any case.
Instead, Jasmine decided she could ask her mother ‘what would be helpful?’ rather than feel she had to come up with all the answers on her own. This change to a coaching frame of questioning grows your leadership skills and is a vital part of self-care for leaders.
Then Jasmine said she missed her beloved yoga time – she realised she could take videos with her to use at her parent’s home. She also said her manager had been great ‘glue’ in the past but that she hadn’t wanted to point out how much she was struggling to him – something he no doubt could sense.
Self-care for leaders like Jasmine involved opting to have that conversation with her boss. When she reported back at our next session, she said that while the challenge she now faced was bigger than she’d ever brought to him, their conversation had gone better than she expected.
He was as supportive as ever, encouraging her to delegate more – an act she’d previously seen as a weakness. But for her boss, growing the people under her was a real sign of strong leadership.
For Jasmine, she smiled:
‘I’m not one for fancy bags and manicures. In fact, I’m learning that for me, looking after yourself is about giving yourself permission; to not be perfect, to not always have it under control, to be honest when things are tough.’
And, as Jasmine began to give herself more permission for ‘less than perfection’, all things, including the interaction with her parents, improved.
You no doubt have a lot on your plate 🙂
But what does Jasmine’s story tell you about self-care for leaders, and for yourself in particular?