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Are You a Selfish or Self First Leader?

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Good for you! Enough of all of this selfless service, the ‘always putting everyone else first’ BS, it is time to put you first as a leader. Now, before you call your local Goodie Two-Shoes outfit and have me tarred and feathered, let me explain.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines selfish as, “Having or showing concern only for yourself and not the needs or feelings of other people.”

Sounds like to be a selfish leader would be a bad thing, right, showing concern only for yourself, but not for your team? What about those around you? They should be the focus, that’s what we have been told. We have been taught that a real leader is someone who is selfless, which according to Merriam-Webster again, means, “Having or showing great concern for other people and little or no concern for yourself.”

There is a problem with this thinking though. Over time, if you consistently put the needs of others in front of your own, the results will not be sustainable, as there will be little of you left to lead, you will burn out. We know this through the study of human behavior and of Flow. Flow is the state of ultimate performance when we feel our best and perform our best. Flow follows a predictable cycle, which in the last phase, Recovery, we find the need to put ourselves first.

How about a different focus then? What about Self-First Leadership? What about putting your wellness, health, and needs first so that you have the expanded capacity and abilities to show up as a leader for others for the long run? If you are exhausted, mentally hammered, or spiritually drained you will not be an effective leader of others. The ideal is balance – what if you could be both a selfish leader and a selfless leader? To be a successful leader, you have to make the time for yourself so that you can then clearly perceive the needs of your team, and have the focus and energy to properly address those needs. Knowing when to stop and put your needs in front is how to recover – so you can create Flow for yourself going forward. Need some ideas on how to do it? Here you go:

Exercise – What’s good for the body is good for the brain – a better you all around. A strong and healthy body gives you energy and endurance for long tough days. Plus, exercise increases Flow enhancing neuro-chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and anandamide, which give us the feel good effect from working out.

Sleep – Recovery is key to Flow, and if we do not get enough sleep we will soon be out of gas and unable to go the distance. Research continues to show that for the average adult 7-8 hours of sleep per night is critical to create Flow moments during the day.

Spiritual Health – Whatever your spiritual beliefs, making the time for some contemplation of life’s purpose or meaning can be super powerful in helping you recover mentally and emotionally and find Flow. A meditative practice, time spent in nature, or meaningful volunteering can all serve as spiritual care, so you can then care for others.

Healthy Relationships – Who refills your batteries? Hanging out and relaxing with those who build you up and bring out the best in you can help you become a leader for the long run. Allowing yourself to unwind with those who mean much to you is a great way to recover for your next challenge as a leader.

A Selfish Hobby – What do you do just for you? Is it gardening? Scrapbooking? Woodworking? Or fly-fishing? Whatever it is, do it, and do it on a regular basis. These times of active and engaged relaxation actually will help you recover and you are very likely to find Flow happening during this time.

So, it is time to become a Self-First leader. Your team needs it, your organization needs it, and most importantly, you need it. So go get some exercise, some sleep, or do your favorite hobby. As for me, I am going to quit writing and either go for a run, go out to my woodshed, or maybe it is naptime…

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