Why focusing on yourself makes you a better leader

We spend much of our day working to improve our companies, families, and communities. Use some of that energy to also improve yourself.

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If you've ever worked with or interacted with someone who seems to effortlessly accomplish their goals, stay healthy, and have a great life outside of work, it's easy to feel inadequate, as this person seemingly floats through a near-perfect existence. There is certainly a tiny percentage of these people who lead a truly charmed life with little to no effort, but for the most part, once you get to know the men and women who live what seems like a perfect life, you'll find that they're constantly focused on improving themselves and their surroundings.

Their success is anything but coincidental. Top performers spend a significant amount of time improving their game from health and fitness to mundane things like the tools they use for task management. Bottom line: Taking some time to focus on yourself can pay tremendous dividends.

SEE: Accomplishment tracker (Tech Pro Research)

Why me?

It may seem selfish to spend time focused on yourself. As leaders, we all lead complex lives with hundreds of demands for our time and attention every day. It might feel like a moment spent focusing on yourself is stealing from time that should be dedicated to work, family, or friends. While it may seem noble to put yourself last in the list of considerations, it's detrimental in the long run. If your own house isn't in order, is the time you're giving to all of your other commitments the best it can be?

In the long run, taking some time to improve yourself brings a better, more effective you to all those other commitments. Rather than thinking of time spent on self-mastery as a guilty pleasure, think of it as an investment in every aspect of your life. After all, if you perform better and are in a better mental state, everything you interact with will be better.

The three-legged stool

As you consider self-improvement, it can be helpful to focus on three broad areas:

  1. Your overall mental and physical well-being
  2. The health of your relationships
  3. Your work and financial health

One could fill an entire library on books related to these three broad categories; however, it can be helpful to think of the interrelationship between them as well as the specifics of each area. For example, relationships with a spouse, friend, or coworker can impact your stress level and mental health, ultimately impacting your physical health and creating a cascading effect that not only leaves you feeling terrible, but makes you a less effective human being. A challenging financial situation can cause you to be short with coworkers and overeat, impacting several areas of your life. Take the time to investigate multiple facets of your life, and you might find one or two areas whose impacts ripple across your life and should be the focus of your self-mastery efforts.

SEE: IT burnout: Causes and solutions (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The power of starting

It may seem daunting to embark on a self-mastery effort, particularly if it's a multi-month or year challenge like resolving major financial problems, improving your health, or repairing or exiting a long-term relationship. With a long road ahead, it's easy to become overwhelmed and respond by taking no action, which only further impacts the other areas of your life and might even make you feel like a failure in resolving that challenge.

The single best remedy for the paralysis and fear of a large effort is to get started. Even the smallest, most insignificant step starts the transition from worrying to action and can begin to change your entire mental state. Take a few minutes to write down the challenge you're facing and start sketching out a plan to resolve it.

For example, I had a stressful year with a record amount of travel, client challenges, and a nagging concern that I wasn't giving my family, let alone myself, enough attention. I'd been in a long-running "funk" stewing on what seemed like an endless stack of insurmountable challenges when my wife suggested reexamining my time management.

As a high-performing executive theoretically at the top of my game this seemed almost laughably simple, but I spent a half day redesigning how I organize all my tasks and capturing everything that was on my mind, from the most mundane jobs to huge work and personal projects. Merely doing a "brain dump" of anything and everything that was on my mind significantly changed my mental state, and over the next few weeks it not only increased my job performance but allowed me to focus on my family and personal life without feeling guilty that some other area was not receiving proper attention.

If nothing else, commit to yourself that you are a worthwhile investment of time and energy. Self-mastery is not an indulgence, but a key tool for making you a more effective and efficient leader, a better friend or spouse, and ultimately a better, more effective human being.

See also

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Image: Ljupco Smokovski, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...