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Navigating the Emotional Labor of Leadership: Strategies for Leaders to Prioritize Well-being

As leaders navigate the ever-changing landscape of their roles, it is crucial to recognize the importance of self-care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The demands of leadership can often blur the boundaries between professional and personal life, leading to burnout and decreased effectiveness.

In this article, I will explore strategies for leaders to prioritize self-care, establish clear boundaries, and find equilibrium between their professional responsibilities and personal well-being. By implementing these strategies, leaders can sustain their effectiveness, enhance their overall well-being, and inspire their teams to prioritize self-care as well.

Four Tools for Coping with Pressure

Leadership is often associated with power, pay, and privilege. However, it is important to acknowledge the emotional labor that accompanies this role. Leaders are not immune to the toll of making divisive and unpopular decisions. In recent years, this aspect of the job has become increasingly challenging. To support leaders in navigating this emotional labor, there are four essential tools that can help cope with the pressure.

  1. Self-Awareness - Understanding and Managing Emotions: Effective leadership begins with self-awareness. Leaders must recognize and understand their own emotions, as well as how these emotions can impact their decision-making and relationships with others. By developing emotional intelligence, leaders can better manage their own emotions and respond empathetically to the emotions of their team members. For example, a leader may need to make a difficult decision that will result in downsizing. Understanding the emotional impact of this decision on employees and being empathetic in the communication process can help mitigate the negative effects and maintain trust.

  2. Building a Support Network - Cultivating Relationships: Leadership can be an isolating experience, as the weight of responsibility often falls on the shoulders of the leader alone. Building a support network of trusted peers, mentors, or executive coaches is crucial for leaders to have a safe space to discuss their challenges, seek advice, and gain fresh perspectives. A leader may seek guidance from a mentor who has navigated similar situations or engage in peer coaching with other leaders facing similar challenges. This support network provides a valuable sounding board and allows leaders to share the emotional burden, reducing the sense of isolation.

  3. Resilience - Strengthening Mental and Emotional Well-being: The ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to change is a critical skill for leaders. Resilience can be developed by practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and fostering a growth mindset. Leaders who prioritize their mental and emotional well-being are better equipped to handle the pressures of leadership. For instance, a leader may engage in activities such as mindfulness meditation, exercise, or spending quality time with loved ones to recharge and maintain a healthy work-life balance. These practices build resilience, enabling leaders to persevere through challenging times.

  4. Transparency and Authenticity - Building Trust and Connection: Open and honest communication builds trust and fosters a sense of connection within the organization. When leaders share their thought processes, values, and vulnerabilities, it humanizes them and helps employees understand the challenges they face. This transparency cultivates trust and encourages collaboration and support from team members. By being authentic, leaders create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas. This openness helps leaders to make better-informed decisions and strengthens the bond between leaders and their teams.

Leadership is not just about power, pay, and privilege. It involves emotional labor, which has become increasingly challenging in recent years. To navigate this pressure, leaders must equip themselves with the right tools. By developing self-awareness, building a support network, fostering resilience, and practicing transparency and authenticity, leaders can effectively cope with the emotional labor of their roles. Remember, leadership is about more than just making decisions; it is about leading with empathy, integrity, and resilience. By utilizing these tools, leaders can create a positive work environment, build trust, and inspire their teams to achieve remarkable results. Embrace the emotional labor of leadership and use it as a catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Strategies for Leaders to Practice Self-Care and Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Leadership can be demanding, often blurring the boundaries between work and personal life. However, it is crucial for leaders to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance to sustain their well-being and effectiveness. Below are some strategies for leaders to practice self-care and find equilibrium between their professional and personal lives.

  1. Establish Clear Boundaries: Leaders must set clear boundaries between work and personal life to avoid burnout and maintain a healthy balance. This involves defining specific times for work-related activities and personal time. By establishing these boundaries, leaders can create dedicated space for self-care and relaxation. For example, leaders can designate certain evenings or weekends as technology-free zones, allowing themselves to disconnect from work-related communication and focus on personal rejuvenation.

  2. Delegate and Empower Others: Effective delegation is a valuable tool for leaders to manage their workload and create space for self-care. Leaders should identify tasks that can be delegated to capable team members, empowering them to take ownership and develop their skills. By entrusting others with responsibilities, leaders not only lighten their own workload but also foster an environment of growth and development within the team. This enables leaders to focus on higher-level strategic activities and allocate time for self-care.

  3. Practice Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques: Mindfulness and stress reduction techniques are essential for leaders to manage their mental and emotional well-being. Engaging in activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga can help leaders reduce stress, increase focus, and cultivate a sense of inner calm. Taking short breaks throughout the day to engage in mindful practices can provide leaders with the opportunity to recharge and maintain a more balanced perspective amidst the demands of their role.

  4. Prioritize Physical Health: Physical health plays a vital role in maintaining overall well-being. Leaders should prioritize regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a nutritious diet. Engaging in physical activities not only improves physical fitness but also enhances mental clarity and reduces stress levels. Leaders can incorporate exercise into their routines by scheduling regular workouts, taking walking meetings, or participating in team-building activities that promote physical wellness. By prioritizing physical health, leaders can increase their energy levels and overall resilience.

  5. Cultivate Hobbies and Interests: Leaders should make time for activities they enjoy outside of work. Cultivating hobbies and interests provides an outlet for creativity, relaxation, and personal fulfillment. Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment can help leaders disconnect from work-related stress and provide a sense of balance. Whether it's painting, playing a musical instrument, gardening, or participating in sports, dedicating time to hobbies allows leaders to recharge and find renewed inspiration, ultimately enhancing their leadership capabilities.

Practicing self-care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance are imperative for leaders to sustain their well-being and effectively lead their teams. By establishing clear boundaries, delegating tasks, engaging in mindfulness and stress reduction techniques, prioritizing physical health, and cultivating hobbies, leaders can create a harmonious equilibrium between their professional and personal lives. Remember, leadership is not just about achieving organizational goals; it is also about setting a positive example and taking care of oneself. By prioritizing self-care, leaders can not only enhance their own well-being but also inspire their teams to prioritize their own self-care, ultimately fostering a healthier and more productive work environment.


In the fast-paced and demanding world of leadership, it is easy for self-care and work-life balance to fall by the wayside. However, by implementing strategies such as establishing clear boundaries, practicing mindfulness, prioritizing physical health, and cultivating hobbies, leaders can take control of their well-being and set an example for their teams. By prioritizing self-care, leaders not only enhance their own effectiveness but also create a healthier and more productive work environment. Remember, leadership is not just about achieving organizational goals, but also about nurturing oneself and fostering a positive work-life balance. Let us embrace the importance of self-care, find harmony between our personal and professional lives, and lead with resilience and well-being.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.

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