Have you stopped maturing as a leader? It can happen to all of us. It’s easy to run on automatic pilot if we’ve had some amount of leadership success or to believe it’s too challenging to change the status quo if we’ve run up against some serious challenges.
But health and wellness coach and educator Michael Arloski, PhD., CEO and founder at Real Balance Global Wellness Services, believes great leaders never stop growing—regardless of the circumstances. “Somebody who really aspires to be a leader—a great leader—needs to think of it as a constantly growing process of constantly being engaged in developing more of their personal potential,” he says.
I met Michael barely a year ago yet I knew instantly I’d met a fellow traveller on the path of advancing wellbeing leadership. His passion for wellness is palpable, and his programs to build wellness coaches are top-notch. As part of Wisdom Works Group’s Face of Wellbeing Leadership series, I asked him to share advice on a question many leaders are interested in: What do great leaders do—that the rest of us often don’t—to lead from a place of wellbeing? Michael says there are at least four things great leaders do to thrive.
1. Great Leaders Are Less Likely to Work from a Place Of Fear
Leaders today are faced with tremendous financial pressures and short-term measures of success—such as quarterly reports—which can kick up a lot of fear. That can spur decisions made simply to reduce anxiety. “But those kinds of decisions tend to be poor,” Michael says. A great leader, one who can see the big picture, is less likely to be frightened by the numbers for this quarter only or to make fear-based decisions,” Michael says. “They are going to have a bigger picture for the company and the mission it serves. They’re not going to try to reinvent the company just because of some temporary news.”
In fact, smart leaders are less likely to make a knee-jerk decision, Michael says: “Kevin Cashman talks about this in his book, ‘Pause.’ More mature leaders do pause. They consider. They look at the whole picture and then they choose.” And their outcomes are better for it, he says. “To have that ability to not just be reactive to fear, but to choose a response from a place of wellbeing—that comes with maturity.”
2. Great Leaders Have Found Their Center So They Can Deviate Wisely
Think of a musician who has run up and down the scales a ridiculous number of times so that he knows the notes by heart. Or the martial artist who practices and practices so that when it’s time to fight she can make the right move with ease. Those are examples of people who have practiced their craft so well that they can improvise. The same goes for great leaders, Michael says. “I call it centered leadership.”
“Someone who is truly centered realizes that they can push and they can yield,” Michael says. Someone with less experience might think, “I’m a Harvard MBA so I must always be aggressive and push. But they’re going to fall on their face when the other person steps out of the way and there’s nothing to push against. There are times when a strategic yielding is the smartest thing in the world,” he says. With experience comes knowing yourself and your options—and that equals tremendous leadership power.
3. Great Leaders Use Wellbeing As a Driver
“A lot of leaders feel forced to produce results as if they have a machine to run—and they don’t. They lead an organization which is, by its nature, an interconnected web of people and relationships,” Michael says. When you apply a machine business model and the leader is measured by a machine output—it’s not fair to the leader or the people, he says. Leading shouldn’t feel like standing on a balance beam, in danger of falling off if you don’t do everything just right, Michael says: “That’s an anxious, horrible, terrible, awful way to live.”
Instead, he sees a move away from the machine model to a balanced approach where in the role as leader there’s an ethical obligation to the wellbeing of your employees, to the people you serve, and even to yourself to create an organization that is sustainable and profitable, plus provides an environment where people can thrive. “That means finding a sustainable pace of work and a work environment where people feel like, ‘Yeah, I work hard, but it’s a good balance of work. I’m not working too many hours, I’m not carrying it home all the time; the expectations are reasonable. It’s not urgency for the sake of urgency,’” he says.
4. Great Leaders Take Care of Themselves
Knowing what you need for your own wellbeing—and making sure you get it—is a key lesson from great leaders. In his own leadership role, Michael has found ways to balance his own wellbeing and to role-model it. For starters, he’s learned to pay attention to the fact that “there’s something below my eyebrows,” he says. “There’s a whole body here to take care of. Four or five times a day, I get up from the computer and do different stretching exercises that are either part of my yoga or physical therapy practice. I do that because I’m tuning in to how I feel.
“I also have to connect to the natural world because that’s part of my value system,” says Michael. “It’s extremely rewarding to me and makes me much less tense and reactive.” If he skips those stretching and nature breaks that feed his wellbeing, Michael notices the impact on his leadership skills and the people around him notice too: “My chiropractor recently said, ‘Oh, you haven’t been out hiking in a long time have you?!’”