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Have Empathy for Yourself

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain why you should prioritize self-care.
  • Design a routine that supports your health.
  • Explain how setting boundaries helps you avoid burnout.
  • Identify empathetic practices that you can share with your manager.

You Deserve Care Too

Even though we saved this unit for last, don’t put yourself last when it comes to empathy. Your own personal health and wellbeing are important, too. And they are prerequisites for effective leadership.

Remember that you, like your team, are facing new and overwhelming challenges right now. Those challenges can include extra work, added home pressures, fear for your own or your loved ones’ health, and uncertainty about the future. You can be used to thinking of yourself as someone who can handle every challenge. If that’s the case, you can find yourself frustrated or disappointed if things right now are harder than you think they should be.

But give yourself a break. In the same way that you listen deeply to each of your team members, practice deep listening and empathy with yourself. Think about what kind of help you need to manage all the things you’re responsible for. Make a list of the activities that energize you and make you feel strong and capable. Then do those things, and ask for that help. 

You'll be modeling behaviors that build resilience and strengthen your ability to maintain your equilibrium under pressure. By showing your team that it’s OK to be human, to need help sometimes, and to be vulnerable, you express your trust in them and in yourself. 

Empathy for yourself is also empathy for your team. Right now your employees need a leader who projects confidence, who is decisive and creative and courageous. Help yourself be that type of leader by: 

  • Creating a routine that supports your physical and mental health
  • Respecting boundaries that keep you from taking on too much
  • Sharing these practices with your manager and other leaders in your organization

Create a Healthy Routine

COVID-19 has disrupted our regular routines. The patterns that gave shape to our days and weeks before the pandemic began—going to work, shopping, visiting friends, getting exercise, celebrating holidays, and more—have changed, at least temporarily. 

This disruption gives us an opportunity to create new routines. As you redesign your schedule, include activities and practices that replenish your energy stores, boost your mood, and sharpen your mental clarity.

  1. Rest and recharge.  Quality sleep and periods of deep relaxation restore your brain and body, strengthening immunity and making you more productive. Try to get enough sleep every night, and do your best to stick to a regular sleep schedule. Take breaks during the day. Explore ways to fully disconnect from work and technology during your downtime.
  2. Stretch and move. Exercise benefits both body and mind. You can stay active even indoors: take a free online exercise class, jog a lap around your house, climb your stairs, or do a few stretches next to your desk. Try to get up and move every hour or two during your work day.
  3. Reflect and create. Contemplative and expressive activities can help you overcome mental fatigue and develop a deeper understanding of yourself. Make time for a hobby, learn something new, write in a journal, develop an art practice, or do a craft project.
  4. Connect and share. Maintaining meaningful relationships with others is a core human need. Consider scheduling daily or weekly calls with friends and family. Find ways to share with or help others; studies show that giving has benefits for the giver as well as the recipient.

Woman doing yoga in her home office

Establishing a routine of everyday self-care gives you a sense of stability, which is more important than ever during a time of crisis.

Set Boundaries

As a leader, you may face demands that seem limitless. It can be tempting to try to do everything, to be all things to all people. Always-on technology and a global workforce mean that you could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But if you don’t set healthy boundaries at work, you can quickly become overwhelmed and risk burnout. 

If your workload feels unmanageable, review your list of responsibilities with your manager, and work together to prioritize them. Identify the things you won’t do, or should stop doing. Then start setting limits. 

That can mean blocking time on your calendar for focused work, exercise, family time, or rest. Honor your time blocks by not scheduling or accepting meetings then. Explain to others why you’re not available. If you can, suggest an alternative meeting time.

Setting limits also means saying no, especially to work that doesn’t align with the priorities that you and your manager agreed to. In some cases, it means delegating to others, trusting your team members and giving them opportunities to stretch and grow.

Once you set boundaries, communicate them clearly to your colleagues. And be sure to respect the boundaries yourself. For example, if you decide to reserve weekends for family time, don’t send or reply to work email on the weekend. Through your communications and behavior, you train people how to treat you. Others will appreciate knowing what you will and won’t do, and they’ll respect you for knowing where to draw the line.

Share These Practices with Your Manager

You can help create an empathetic culture in your organization by sharing what you’re doing with leaders, including your own manager. How have you adapted your leadership and self-care practices to respond to this crisis? What benefits have you observed, in your team and in yourself? What are you still struggling with? Your manager may have new ideas for you to try. And they may be inspired to adopt some of the practices you’ve found to be successful.

Your Next Steps

You’ve learned how to transform your daily leadership practices, communicate with empathy, foster strong social connections, and extend empathy to yourself. Now you can put these practices to work for you and your organization, during this crisis and into the future.

Resources