culture of compassion, Leadership, Resilience, self-care, wellbeing

Self care – the first lesson of being a good leader?

In January 2018, I took a decision that I needed to pay better attention to my health and well-being.  I was working long hours, not making enough time for exercise by continually missing my ‘planned’ gym sessions, not eating as well as could do and not seeing as much of my friends and family as I would like.  All of which was leading to weight gain, irritability, restless sleep and general feeling of heaviness.

I decided I needed to make a change.

I took a decision to focus on eating well, increasing my level of exercise and trying to get into a better sleep routine.  I needed a bit of help and encouragement so opted for an on-line programme that was based around 20 minutes of HIIT sessions rather than gym workouts or long runs as I was short on time and needed a realistic approach.

Being a night owl and self proclaimed ‘not a morning person’, setting my alarm for 30 mins earlier and dragging myself out of bed to do exercise was quite difficult at first but it was so enjoyable that I found myself getting into a routine of the 5 times a week really quickly.  An added motivation was the results were visible within the first couple of weeks.  I had expected to lose weight and get fitter but what I hadn’t expected was all of the other benefits.

After a couple of months I found that I was much more able to take stress at work in my stride.  I was sleeping better and felt much more calm, rational and in control.  My mood was more consistent and I felt happier.  Six months in, I was really starting to notice that I was much more productive at work and at home.  I was managing to fit more into my daily life and feeling better for it.

My team started to notice that I was less chaotic and calmer and I felt  I was able to devote more time to listening to the team and supporting them, which in turn made me feel like I was being a much better leader.

In my organisation, one of the key pillars of our leadership competencies is compassion.  My experience this year has taught me that that is important not just to have compassion for others but crucially, to have compassion for ourselves.  It may feel self-indulgent at first, but taking that essential personal downtime allows us to free up our minds and open our hearts to other possibilities.  This is a crucial tool in a leaders toolkit.  In fact, whilst researching the evidence behind my own experience I came across a wealth of evidence and articles, one of which was in Success magazine earlier this year and explains why self-care is a crucial part of being a good leader.  Concluding, “A leader who prioritizes downtime, relaxation and self-care discovers an increase in overall well-being and in multiple dimensions of performance”.  This is the holy grail for all leaders, so why do so many of us de-prioritise ourselves and end up burning out?

I’ve spent the last 20 years always striving.  A recent reflection I had was the last time I worked a job that was 9 to 5pm was when I was 15 years old and a waitress.  Every part time job I had after that I put in the extra mile and that has continued throughout my career.  This self-care experience has had a profound effect on how I view what is important.   I’m now finding myself making much more time to be with my friends and family; taking more exercise in the great outdoors and sticking to a tip from the Danish way of Hygge by working with a scented candle burning in order to nurture my soul and help me think.

It seems to be working.  I’m now 9 months into this new way of being and I like this new me!  This work/life blend has developed into a new habit for me and one that I intend to keep going with. The world is constantly ‘on’ and that means increasingly we are expected to be always ‘on’, responsive and doing, rather than being.  This is unsustainable and leads to less productive working, high stress and potentially burnout.  All of which is counter-productive.

After nearly 20 years in a leadership role I thought I knew what it meant to be a good leader, however this experience has opened my eyes and taught me that in reality, good leadership starts with self-care.


About the author

Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS FT

She has a passion for supporting visionary and strategic solutions for the health and care sector.  With nearly 20 years experience in healthcare spanning operational management, consultancy, policy making, organisational development and applied research.

Authentic Leadership, culture of compassion, Leadership, Motivation, NHS Leadership, Organisational development, Resilience, wellbeing

2017 – My year of Focus

I was asked at the beginning of the year what my word for 2017 is and I decided it is ‘Focus’.

Just before Christmas I found myself in a complete state of overwhelm and was working inefficiently, flitting from task to task; meeting to meeting and trying to juggle too many variables at the same time.

Over the break I took time out to reflect and think about what I wanted to do differently in 2017 and came to the conclusion that less is more and I needed to re-prioritise.

I realised that in order to stay resilient I need to be more discerning and disciplined with my time, to not give it away too easily and spend more time on the things that energise me and make me happy in life including my spiritual and physical wellbeing. Most importantly I need to prioritise my time with my friends and family and ensure that I’m not taking them for granted.

I have decided to prioritise to five key things to focus on, which are:

1. The creation of a diary management system to prioritise both my work and social to have a much better use of time. This includes saying no more often and builds in protected time to think; write and research to ensure we stay ahead of the curve in leadership; OD and new models of care. This will ensure I can dedicate the right amount of time to the three major programmes that I am currently leading. I’ve designed a colour coding system so I know what is a must-do and what I can delegate or drop if necessary.

2. Limiting my social activities to only having one to two nights a week when I’m going on to an event after work. Prioritising things that I’m really passionate about. I became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in November last year and am keen to connect with their Reinventing Work network as is connects with my passion of creating more love in the workplace – the theme of my 2016 blogging year.

3. Leaving work on time to go to the gym and making time to get enough exercise. Particularly reconnecting with the activities I love such as yoga; climbing and recently I’ve gone back to High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) . Even after a few short weeks it’s making a real difference to how I’m feeling.

4. Improving my sleep as before Christmas I was only getting 5 hours a night and I was finding it was affecting my decision-making and judgement. I’m experimenting with making sure that I’m winding down and in bed for between 10pm and 11pm to make sure I’m getting enough sleep aiming for between 7 and 8 hours a night to try and maintain my ability to stay focussed

5. Writing To Do lists is something that I have to really discipline myself to do. I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to rely on my memory for keeping me on top of my workload for my working career. However I noticed that as I became more overwhelmed, coupled with getting less sleep I found that I was starting to forget to do things until the last minute, which is very out of character. I find writing a To Do list quite cathartic and am using magic white board paper on the wall to write things down as well as using a To Do List book and a daily ‘plan of attack’ to make sure I prioritise every day. I find the discipline hard but rewarding when I do it.

I’m hoping that by putting in place these simple changes I’ll stay resilient; passionate; achieve more in my working day and have a greater sense of wellbeing. I’m starting to see the shoots of improvement and I’m encouraged to stick with it for now.

I hope you’ll stay focussed with me in 2017!


About the author

Sarah Morgan is the Director of Organisational Development for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Sarah’s blog was nominated in 2016 for a UK Blog Award – healthcare

Sarah is passionate about getting more love into the workplace which was the theme of her 2016 blog series and nominated for the UK Blog Award