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By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

When we think about leadership, we often think about leading others. However, true leadership starts from within. One cannot lead others without first learning to lead oneself. This starts with physical and psychological wellbeing.

John F. Kennedy once said that “physical fitness is the basis for all other forms of excellence.” It is interesting to observe the fitness habits of some of the well-known CEOs. For example, Richard Branson of the Virgin Group likes to play tennis as often as twice a day and do some weight lifting. Tim Cook of Apple uses exercise to manage his stress and goes to the gym for an hour every morning. Oprah Winfrey reportedly spends an hour in her home gym every morning as well followed by twenty minutes of meditation. These are just a few illustrative examples as there are many more. Many effective leaders understand that fitness is important for their ability to maintain high energy levels and cope with stress and burnout. After all, leadership is stressful and demanding.

Proper amount of sleep is also very important for overall wellbeing and concentration. Effective leaders sleep sufficient amounts of time to recharge themselves. Sleep deprivation can lead to aggravation and poor concentration, both of which do not constitute good leadership attributes. Leadership requires high stakes decision making and a clear mind. It also requires emotional intelligence. Lack of sleep, especially REM sleep, can cause moodiness and impaired decision making.

Exercise and sleep alone are not sufficient. Diet is also an important factor in total well-being. While it is not necessary to be a vegan or vegetarian to be healthy, it is interesting to note how many leaders are. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, for example, is a vegan. So is Bill Clinton. Def Jam Record founder Russell Simmons is another vegan. Senator Cory Booker has been a vegetarian for 20 years. He tried to be a vegan but could not give up ice cream. Clearly many leaders feel that diet plays an important part in their ability to be at their best. Vegan or vegetarian diets release more blood to our brains which helps with mental energy.

Aristotle stated that “happiness depends upon ourselves.” This is very much true. In the end, true self-leadership depends on having a healthy mind. Leaders have to have psychological strength and stamina. While it is not possible for all leaders to undergo many years of psychoanalysis, there are many behavioral, cognitive, and emotional strategies that can help. Positive emotions and self-efficacy lead to better stress coping. This is important because stress is costing workplace in the United States approximately $300 billion every year. Prolonged stress can lead to depression affecting more than 264 million people worldwide. Leaders can avoid depression by managing stress and taking care of their psychological health.

In conclusion, self-leadership is important to all of us. We are all leaders of ourselves even if we are not leaders of others. Self-leadership is a pre-requisite of good leadership of others. It is where it all starts. In the end, we cannot be good to anyone else if we are not good to ourselves.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.


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