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Why Leaders Need To Take A Hike

What if I told you that your greatest leadership challenge isn't what you think it is? A while back, a results-driven leader came to me with a serious personal dilemma. Their work harder and longer hours approach had left them feeling exhausted and with a deep sense of regret from missing out on life. The newly promoted executive was on the edge of burnout. You can likely feel their pain if you've ever taken on a stretch assignment. As we began to work together, it became clear they didn't have the time management challenge they initially believed. There is no shortage of challenges and stress in leadership. But if not careful in the busyness of life and career, a presenting problem can be misdiagnosed. Leadership can appear to force a choice between spending time to achieve professional success or personal significance. But it doesn't. Taking a systems point of view of leadership highlights the value of building personal stress resilience and capacity. Let's take a closer look at why and how.

Why your stress resilience and capacity matter

Leaders want sustained high performance for themselves and their team. While time is a fixed part of every leader's equation, how the leader thinks, feels, and acts are variables that influence the leader's performance and potential.

A recent global workforce study by Gallup revealed that 44% of employees are experiencing a lot of daily stress and 40% feel worried a lot throughout the day. Stress in the workplace is at an all-time high, and 60% of employees are unwilling or unable to connect with others as a result.

The complications stemming from a lack of stress resilience and capacity include increased turnover, decreased productivity, decreased customer satisfaction, and decreased performance at an organizational level. While broken relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, depression, and even suicide are associated at an individual leader level.

Avoiding stress is unrealistic. However, in addition to minimizing external workplace stressors, enhancing personal resilience and capacity is proven to improve performance at work and in life. Evidence suggests that high resilience and stress capacity reduces anxiety levels, and lowers the risk of burnout.

How to enhance personal capacity and resilience

Physical wellness is one way to build your stress resilience and capacity. Evidence indicates that being physically fit produces many emotional and health benefits in addition to reducing stress reactivity, protecting against negative reactions from stressful events, and preventing chronic diseases.

Physical wellness and exercise are associated with increased happiness, self-confidence, and energy. Going for a hike in the park with a friend and talking about life can give perspective during challenging times.

Achieving physical wellness is an individual path. Whether you already have some healthy habits or not, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Nutrition: Are you improving your diet and setting goals for small changes?

  • Activity: Are you taking breaks every one to two hours throughout the day to get physical activity like taking a short walk?

  • Rest: Are you getting regular periods of sleep?

  • Drugs: Have you identified triggers that make you want to use substances and do you have a plan to help you avoid them?

  • Medicines: Do you visit a health care provider for routine care and monitoring?

Self-care is not selfish behavior. Like every living thing in this world, if leaders are not continually investing in restoring and strengthening physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, it is deteriorating. No one in the workplace escapes this reality.

When creating a new habit, pick one change to make that's easy and then gradually increase. Don't try to make too many changes at once. Make it easy.

Life is not meant to be done alone. Too often, we fail to consider how we can leverage accountability to help us create a new healthy habit. Being accountable to ourselves and someone we trust is proven to help you create a new habit. Hiring an executive coach is one way to help you stay focused on your goals leading to improved performance.

It ultimately doesn't matter where you start, but that you actually do all those healthy things you know you ought to do.

What is a healthy physical wellness habit you could start today?


Cleo, G., Glasziou, P., Beller, E., Isenring, E., & Rae, T. (2019). Habit-based interventions for weight loss maintenance in adults with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Obesity, 43(2), 374-383.

Gallup. (2022). State of the global workplace 2022 report. Gallup.

Godfrey, C. M., Harrison, M. B., Lysaght, R., Lamb, M., Graham, I. D., & Oakley, P. (2011). Care of self – care by other – care of other: The meaning of self‐care from research, practice, policy and industry perspectives. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, 9(1), 3-24.

Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2003). The power of full engagement: Managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. Penton Media, Inc.

Nituica, C., Bota, O. A., Blebea, J., Cheng, C. I., & Slotman, G. J. (2021). Factors influencing resilience

and burnout among resident physicians-a National Survey. BMC medical education, 21(1), 1-9.

Perez-Blasco, J., Sales, A., Meléndez, J. C., & Mayordomo, T. (2016). The effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on improving the capacity to adapt to stress situations in elderly people living in the community. Clinical Gerontologist, 39(2), 90-103.

Richards, S. (2010). The benefits of self-care. British Journal of Healthcare Assistants, 4(5), 246-247.

SAMHSA. (2016). Creating a healthier life: A step-by-step guide to wellness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)


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I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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Are you ready to make this year your best ever?

Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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