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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

From Burnout to Balance: Why Intentional Rest Matters in Leadership

A woman sitting in an upholstered chair, holding a white mug and looking over her left shoulder, probably out a window.

For me, August is traditionally a time when I prioritize recharging in ways that support my overall wellbeing. Some years we take family vacations at this time, and other years I just find a natural lull in my client and family activities. As an executive coach, I encourage the leaders I work with to reflect on when these natural seasons of rest can happen in their lives. They don’t happen without intention and some planning so anticipating and preparing for these breaks is essential. When we embrace intentional rest and prioritize wellbeing, we are fostering a culture of self-care within our leadership and our teams. It's during these quieter times that leaders can engage in self-reflection and seek feedback from others, both of which are crucial components of emotional intelligence.

In a world that seems to constantly prioritize busyness and productivity, finding time to recharge can be counterintuitive. We may have an urge to just keep pushing through. There are several reasons why this isn’t the best answer for leaders or their teams. During a panel discussion that I facilitated recently, two wise and experienced leaders shared how emotional intelligence skills shaped their leadership journey and I saw clearly how a focus on individual and team wellbeing was deeply connected to these skills.

A leader who is committed to wellbeing and seeks time for rest creates space for their team to solve problems, to innovate and to look within themselves for answers. In this way, the leader is enabling their team to grow and sharpen their skills. After all, a successful leader is someone who helps others be successful. Encouraging employees to be resourceful when facing challenges builds confidence, resilience and collaboration. It also relieves the burden on the leader of needing to have all of the answers.

Quieter times are also perfect for practicing self-reflection. Strong leaders seek feedback and take a considered approach on using what they hear from others about how they approach their work and times when their actions are not having the desired impact. Leaders should be particularly attuned to patterns in feedback or recurring themes that either conflict with their own perceptions of their leadership style or reflect leadership behaviors that are in conflict with their values. These are opportunities to seek additional information from trusted colleagues and ask for help being accountable to making changes. This requires vulnerability, an openness to change and learning things about yourself that you may not like. While not always comfortable, approaching leadership growth with transparency will not only improve your ability to lead but will also encourage their team members to do the same, fostering a culture of open communication, trust and idea-sharing.

Self-reflection is also important for processing the observations of other leaders, peers and past experiences to learn from the mistakes of others or incorporating effective leadership practices that others have modeled. Leaders who are open to feedback and committed to building self-awareness can use these insights to refine their approach, identify blind spots, and enhance their leadership skills. They learn from their mistakes and successes alike, continuously striving to become more effective and impactful leaders.

Questions for self-reflection:

  • What emotional intelligence skills do I value most as a leader?

  • What emotional intelligence skills does my team most need from me?

  • What leadership behaviors have I experienced or witnessed that I want to avoid?

  • When am I most receptive and able to act on feedback?

  • What are my goals for my personal and professional development related to emotional intelligence and leadership capacity?

  • How do I create capacity for rest and learning?

Intentional rest also creates capacity - for learning and for addressing charged situations. Leaders who adopt a mindset of being a lifelong learner are always adding to their skillset and strengthening their leadership capabilities. They can approach challenges with clarity and composure, fostering a positive and productive work environment. When leaders prioritize wellbeing, it communicates to their team that it's not just about pushing for productivity but about creating a balance and inclusive growth opportunities.

I have witnessed the transformative impact of leaders who make time for rest and reflection, not only on their personal growth but also on the growth of their teams and organizations. A well-rested leader is a more effective, optimistic and empathetic leader who can manage stress more effectively. By embracing intentional rest and reflection, leaders set an example for their teams, encouraging a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Rest is a strategic investment in their own growth and the growth of their team.

Additional resources:

This article was also published on Medium.


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