What Makes a Great Leader: Self-Care

The next element of a Great Leader in this blog series is Self-care. Self-Care is about balancing emotional and physical stressors in life with healthy behaviors such as exercising, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, relaxing, practicing mindfulness, abstaining from substance abuse, and pursuing creative outlets. Self-care also includes fostering beneficial and meaningful relationships with others, steering away from exhaustion, reducing our distress by forcing calm, and then listening to what our bodies are telling us about our needs as individuals and human beings.

With adequate self-care, we become healthy individuals, translating into healthy leaders who lead teams that foster positivity with increased performance at work as a by-product. Ultimately, we should strive to reach something the Ancient Greeks called Eudaimonia which is translated directly to ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare’. However, more accurate translations have been proposed to be ‘human flourishing, prosperity’, and ‘blessedness’.

Self-Care from Work/Life Balance

An important aspect affecting the quality of self-care is work/life balance. More time spent doing work means less time spent on ourselves and taking care of ourselves. Recently, there has been a shift by organizations and researchers focusing on the importance of work/life balance as when this is in equilibrium, it has shown to improve employee wellbeing, loyalty, and productivity.

Failing to maintain a work/life balance, results in physical and emotional stress, reducing our capacity to be creative and productive. Besides managing your own self-care, organizations can influence employee self-care by leveraging work/life balance. This is done by limiting workload, introducing appropriate supervision, providing adequate employee benefits, and allowing developmental opportunities. Leaders of today must be able to effectively balance work and life obligations.

How to Find Balance for Self-Care?

While it is important to improve emotional and physical health, it may also impede career progression if the balance tips too much in the favor of life and fun. This presents a dilemma for leaders as they then also require sufficient self-discipline to balance self-care. One could also argue that good self-discipline is also self-care. This dilemma may be easier navigated when you know yourself well enough to understand what you truly need at the moment and what you need to be happy. To reach this point, one needs to practice self-love.

Self-love is having respect for one’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. The tenets of self-love are self-knowledge; living in the present; spirituality; clarity of intention; and non-judgment of the self and interconnectedness between the individual and the world. Practicing these tenets will improve your self-love which will in turn strengthen your ability to self-care appropriately. When you love yourself, it is easier to care for yourself. Furthermore, self-love will provide other beneficial leadership traits such as confidence and optimism that encourage employee engagement.

Balance for Self Care
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What Improves Self-Care?

Working Smart Rather Than Working Hard

Adapting smart methods of working has shown to improve productivity and performance in some industries. This practice is reinforced by a team and management believing in the same principle. Working smart is only truly possible in the work environment if the leader creates it by empowerment and support of followers. Unfortunately, some organizations do not understand the difference between working hard and working smart, even though working smart delivers more results. If this culture cannot be changed, it is recommended that a new employer be found where a working smart culture is embraced. Otherwise, it will be extremely difficult to practice self-care and implement a work/life balance.

Staying Healthy – Fitness, Balanced Diet, Getting Enough Sleep

There is a vast amount of literature supporting exercise as a contributor to improved self-esteem, happiness, and wellbeing. Furthermore, resting enough with quality 8 hours of sleep every night and eating correctly also improves your health. These are basic requirements for a healthy mind and body yet we often forget this. Self-care starts with these basics.

Excercise and healthy activity improving Self Care
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A High Internal Locus of Control

As mentioned in a previous blog post, locus of control is about how much control we believe we have over the future. Leaders with a high internal locus of control believe they are fully in control of their future and their actions directly impact this. A high internal locus of control acts as an enabler for self-care. By believing you are fully in control of your future, you may realize that work/life balance is your choice. It then becomes easier to implement self-care once you adopt this attitude.

Other enablers of self-care include personal hobbies, self-forgiveness and personal reflection.

What Prevents Self-Care?

Being too hard on yourself

A high internal locus of control means you will likely take accountability for your own actions and results. Unfortunately, taking full responsibility for our future may also cause us to take our mistakes and problems personally and see them as a personal failure. We may be too hard on ourselves and tend towards harsh self-criticism.

Part of emotional maturity (also part of this blog series) is also the need to tame our internal monologue and our emotions. We must be able to “self-soothe” and being unable to do so may be emotionally and psychologically damaging. Self-care is not just about looking after ourselves physically but also emotionally. We need to remain mindful of our thought processes to stop ourselves from delivering harsh self-criticism.

Harsh self-criticism, preventing Self Care


We are all familiar with the need for the company of other people. Relationships and connecting with other people prevents us from strolling into loneliness, where we forget that others share our humanity – happiness, and pain. However, not everyone has the need for company. Some people may label themselves as introverts and prefer isolation.

While we should respect this wish, as introverts genuinely need alone time, we need to keep in mind that relationships and belongingness are a key part of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Isolation is required in moderation when our goal is independence, but this is not the solution when going through hard times. If we do so we make the mistake of not reaching out to friends or family for help, nor accept support from others should it present itself. By isolating ourselves from others, we may cause psychological damage. Self-care includes allowing ourselves to rely on others and benefit from relationships.

Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs where belongingness is essential to self-care
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Source: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

Other stumbling blocks preventing self-care include poor stress management, not taking breaks, and not living a healthy life.


In our busy lives, we spend so much time and energy chasing goals and caring for others, we may forget to apply self-care. While ambition and compassion are not negative things and are often present in leaders, it is important to seek balance in your life and keep in mind that there is no shame in looking after yourself and attending to your needs. A great leader must obtain balance in their lives between achievement and self-care.

Be sure to check out the other elements of a great leader in The Raven Roost blog series.


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What Makes A Great Leader: Emotional Maturity

Emotional maturity may be defined as, “the balance between the brain and the emotions, between the inner and outer world of the individual”. Emotional maturity is an essential aspect in the development of the individual and progresses with us as we age. It has also been described as the ability to remain cool under pressure, using cognitive rather than emotional processes whilst upholding our values and beliefs and displaying a sense of humor, initiative, perseverance, and knowledge.

Different emotions according to emotional maturity

A distinction between emotional maturity and emotional intelligence has to be made. Emotional intelligence may be described as the ability to perceive, understand, and regulate our own or another person’s emotions. However, emotional intelligence is actually the ability to intelligently analyze and identify emotions – without the need to regulate or manage them. Emotional intelligence is thus an enabler that facilitates emotional maturity.

Proper emotional intelligence followed by strong emotional maturity are the two basic factors that contribute to one’s ability to implement leadership techniques. By being emotionally mature, individuals can capitalize on their strengths and can overcome their weaknesses, achieving success. Self-awareness in leaders means being able to not only identify the rationale of your thoughts but also the feelings generated by them and their origin. Emotional maturity is thus an important building block contributing to leadership efficacy.


Great leaders are able to demonstrate great degrees of mindfulness, where mindfulness is the ability to reflect on our behavior, thoughts, and feelings, not just in the past but at the moment. For example, if we find ourselves in a situation where we feel our emotions are taking over – anger, sadness, etc., the first step to mindfulness is the ability to pause and acknowledge our emotions. The next step is to then recognize the origin of the emotion. Once we do this, we can deal with that emotion rationally and logically.

Mindfulness leading to emotional maturity

As with many of these elements of self-leadership, by understanding through mindfulness and self-awareness is what drives us and how we can improve, these elements can support us in becoming the best versions of ourselves.

What Increases Your Emotional Maturity?

Mature Expression

A mature expression is essentially how a person fully demonsrates what they think and feel on matters of concern to them, yet they do so with both courage and consideration. However, this must be balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others. In addition, by applying mindfulness first, we must identify rational and healthy emotions to express and ensure they are right for the moment.

Mature expression enabling emotional maturity

Furthermore, leaders must keep in mind the healthy and appropriate display of emotion is normal. Team members will often respect leaders more if they witness a mature expression of emotion as it humanizes the leader and improves trust amongst the group, leading to more effective leadership and performance. Conversely, immature expression of emotion leads to a loss of respect for the leader and could flare up tensions if a particular team member was on the receiving end of the emotion.

Other enablers that may increase your emotional maturity include good anger and stress-management, self-control, empathy, and emotional intelligence.

What Decreases Your Emotional Maturity?


The need to satisfy one’s ego is a stumbling block that many people face. Our ego causes us to seek constant recognition and validation from our peers and the world. It is natural for a human being to want to feel important. As everyone has an internal ego that needs to be constantly fed, it’s essentially a breeding pool for conflict between people. The recognition of the ego is the leading cause of strife in humanity. Although we all deserve attention to function properly as human beings, we must understand that the world does not revolve around us.

Despite our ego constantly needing validation and attention, it is recommended to focus on the recognition and existence of our ego, reduce external factors around us that cause us to demand greater ego validation, and applying mindfulness to ground our ego. A healthy personality is required to ensure that one’s ego remains a part of a unified and coherent self at all times.

Ego, a stumbling block for emotional maturity

Ego defence is what contributes to emotional immaturity when we believe we deserve something and justify the emotion connected to it. Connected to mature expression, we need to identify if the emotions we are experiencing are not only justified but also consider the thoughts and feelings of others. My suggestion to leaders struggling with ego validation is encouraging close friends and colleagues to provide honest feedback around the leader’s ego conditioning and grounding. As we are sometimes blind to ego defence or gratification, it helps to have this identified so that we may improve our behaviour.

Other stumbling blocks that may reduce your emotional maturity include, depression, poor anger management, short temper, and powerlessness.


Strong emotional maturity is necessary for a great leader. Great leaders can monitor and be mindful of their emotions as they perform their roles and guide their teams towards success. Emotions are common, but their use is not for self-validation and ego-stroking but instead balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others with courage as their catalysts.

How Can I Determine My Emotional Maturity?

Emotional maturity is still a fairly new concept that is separate from emotional intelligence and many people and organizations still do not differentiate between the two. As a result, there are no emotional maturity tests available that I have stumbled upon. However, as emotional intelligence is an enabler for good emotional maturity, it may be a good starting point on your journey to becoming an emotionally mature leader. I recommend this test from the Institute of Health and Human Potential.

Be sure to check out the other elements of a great leader in The Raven Roost blog series.

woman on a flower field
Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com


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