The First Steps to Becoming a Wellbeing Leader
“Instead of waiting for a leader you can believe in, try this: Become a leader you can believe in.”
― Stan Slap
Improving the health and wellbeing of their teams is on every leader’s agenda. Studies have shown that increasing the health and wellbeing on your staff may be one of the best investments you can make to develop your staff (Ref. 1). More importantly, truly caring for your team and knowing that you can make a difference in one of the key factors in their lives is what makes us human, and happy to be alive, so a very worthy investment indeed.
Although our primary target for this article may be individuals who currently manage and lead teams, we are all leaders in some aspect, and all of us have the capability to draw upon, and develop critical leadership capabilities, regardless of our roles. Hence, we believe everyone should be able to walk-away with ideas from this short read, whether a team reports into you or not.
What we discuss here is a roadmap to develop the health and wellbeing within your team in your environment, with takeaways that provide benefits to all stakeholders involved.
Lead by Example
One of the many truths we can all agree on when it comes to leadership is that a “do as I say, not as I do” approach is very unlikely to provide us with the best results. Perhaps just as important is that idea that is your are not well, you will not be able to care for others, and will be forced to look after yourself first.
For both these reasons it’s important that you make health a priority for you. When you think of the many reasons why your health is so important to you, consider that you now have one more to add on top of the pile: people are looking up to you, and leadership means that you are surveyed and taken as an example in all aspects, not only ones where you’ve agreed to.
2. Measure important variables
“What gets measured gets managed”
The good old logic of Mr. Drucker remains true in the sphere of health. The market value of data increases daily as organisations recognise that it’s difficult to know we are having the right impact with nothing but smiles to show for our efforts. Measuring the health of your staff members does not mean a complex Excel spreadsheet, it needs to remain simple, open and honest. It can be as simple as getting a Yes to a simple question in a recurring conversation: “Do you feel that this team cares about your health?”
At a personal level, one of the many advantages of our time is that we leave in the age of gadgets that take data from everywhere. If you have access to such a device, use it. Fitbits and the iWatch can have a look at a few interesting aspects of your day to day and provide you with a different lens on your mobility, which many struggle with.
3. Seek to understand the “Why”
When it comes to health, we all have our stories. We will have struggles, and will keep struggling with a certain aspect of health in one or may points of our lives. What becomes important when we attempt to help others is to other understand two important things:
Why they have struggled with a certain aspect of their health
What they would gain from improving their health
While at first glance they may sound very personal, they don’t have to be. Not every health challenge relates back to a difficult childhood, some people simply struggle to exercise because they’ve simply not found a form of exercise they enjoy and within which they can impact more than one aspect of their lives (joining a running club will improve your physical health but is also likely to improve your social health by widening your social network if you need it). If you start to become curious about the “why”, you will feel comfortable asking questions related to your team’s health, and that’s a great place to start.
4. Begin every meeting with Wellbeing
A number of creative organisations are starting to practice what we’ve know for a long time, it’s easier to be creative when you’re calm than stressed (Ref. 2). If creativity and strategic thinking is what you’re after, begin a meeting with a few deep breaths. If you are the facilitator, guide your audience through a simple exercise of three deep breaths. It might feel strange at first, but the moment the benefits are felt, everyone will buy-in to this simple technique.
If you are in a one on one session, begin the session by asking your staff member: “How are you?”, and pause for a little too long afterwards. It’s easy to reply automatically to a question we get asked multiple times daily, but if we show that we’re truly curious, want more than a simple “Well, and you?”, pausing will give your staff extra room to share what may be health concerns, or may be great news. You will only know if you create the platform for it.
Of course, there are much, much more aspects to being a great health & wellbeing leader, but to get excellent at all of the above it not easy, so make sure you put those into practice as you make health and wellbeing a critical KPI in your leadership style.
1. Goetzel, Ron Z., et al. "The long-term impact of Johnson & Johnson’s Health & Wellness Program on employee health risks." Journal of occupational and environmental medicine44.5 (2002): 417-424.
2. Grawitch, Matthew J., Melanie Gottschalk, and David C. Munz. "The path to a healthy workplace: A critical review linking healthy workplace practices, employee well-being, and organizational improvements." Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 58.3 (2006): 129.