Being a leader, especially in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) context, is a complex thing. From responsibility for business growth to meeting the needs of team members, responding to competing demands, and meeting regulatory responsibilities, leaders face many pressures and responsibilities which can consume both time and energy.
Against this backdrop, self care is essential. In the piece below, organisational development specialist, coach and author of Upgrade: How to outperform your default self to gain your superpowers, Ella Zhang, speaks more about the seven types of self-care every busy leader should practice.
Physical self care
Just as cars need regular servicing and quality fuel to optimise performance, Ms Zhang said, human bodies also need proper maintenance and nourishment.
As well as getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, Ms Zhang recommends taking care of your five senses.
“Busy leaders are often immersed in a fast-paced and demanding environment that leaves them mentally and physically drained,” she shared with Fast Company.
“Engaging and nurturing the senses to promote relaxation, rejuvenation, and heightened awareness or scheduling time to turn off all those sensory stimuli to rest and restore the balance of your nervous system is a skill.”
Emotional self care
Taking care of emotional wellbeing as a leader is a core component of success, Ms Zhang continued.
Regardless of the sector or industry leaders work in, at its heart, leadership is about people. Ms Zhang said that she believes understanding people, and being able to leverage emotion, is key to success.
Leaders should practice self awareness, strive for empathy, and be active listeners. Being able to self-reflect, and be “in dialogue with yourself”, she continued, will help to build a close relationship with your emotional state, from which empathy can grow.
Mental self care
There are a number of facets to building good mental health. As well as considering mindset, and engaging in activities which stimulate and challenge your mind, Ms Zhang recommended surrounding yourself with positive people, connecting with uplifting communities, and seeking out coaches and mentors to support growth.
ECEC services are also able, as teams or as individuals, to access support from Be You, a national initiative that equips educators to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people from birth to 18 years, providing an end-to-end approach for early learning services, school age care services, primary schools, and secondary schools across Australia.
Delivered by Beyond Blue, in collaboration with Early Childhood Australia and headspace, Be You supports mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention. The initiative develops educators’ mental health literacy, providing the knowledge, understanding and skills to promote the mental health of children and young people, and is offered free of charge.
Spiritual self care
This aspect of self care involves nurturing one’s inner self, and finding meaning and purpose, Ms Zhang explained.
“It is a personal journey that connects you with your inner being for strength, guidance, and resilience.”
Care for the spiritual self involves reflecting on leadership priorities, ensuring decisions align with personal values, and, most importantly, managing ego.
“The ego creates separation and conflict, distorting reality. Releasing ego-driven thoughts and attachments helps to transcend the ego and fosters a more profound sense of self, leading to inner peace, harmony, and connection with others and the world around you,” she continued.
Professional self care
In this space, Ms Zhang said self care is about “being intentional about personal growth, setting boundaries, seeking support, and prioritising overall satisfaction and fulfilment”.
Setting habits for success, having clear boundaries between work and personal life, making time for activities which re-energise you, setting goals and arranging tasks all sit in this space.
Networks sit in this space too – having colleagues, mentors and coaches to give feedback, advice and support is part of professional self care.
Social self care
This self care space is about nurturing relationships, making connections, and participating in activities which build belonging.
Prioritising meaningful social interactions, having genuine conversations and connections and building relationships built on trust, mutual respect and support.
Environmental self care
Environmental self care involves creating and nurturing a living environment which supports wellbeing, productivity and building a positive culture.
It’s about making a physical and psychological space which builds motivation, creativity and a sense of purpose.
Things to avoid
Ms Zhang cautioned about the “self indulgence” trap, saying that while self care is about intentional actions to improve wellbeing, promotes balance and builds resilience, self indulgence is more focused on immediate gratification without considering long term consequences.
“To navigate this distinction, align your actions with long-term goals. Are you seeking genuine well-being and nourishment, or are you merely seeking instant gratification? Cultivate self-awareness to discern your intentions and make adjustments,” she said.
Finally, she reminded readers that self care is personal, and that it’s important to find practices which resonate with individual needs.
“Experiment and adapt them to your lifestyle to enhance your well-being, resilience, and effectiveness as a leader,” she said.
To read the original coverage of this story, please see here.