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The 5 rules of self-care for great leaders

Leaders emerge and grow from their passion for helping and serving others, and it’s easy to forget about their own well-being, balance, and mental state along the way.

The 5 rules of self-care for great leaders
[Photo: Loverna Journey/Unsplash]
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Each time before takeoff there is a safety demonstration, and each time the crew reminds you that in case of an emergency, you should put on your mask first before assisting others. The urge is to always put your children, your spouse, your parents—your loved ones—before yourself. We take care of other people more than we take care of ourselves. 

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This is true for leaders, too. Leaders emerge and grow from their passion for helping and serving others, and it’s very easy to forget about their own well being, balance and mental state along the way.

And this year the importance of putting their own mask on first (literally!) was crucial. 

I was used to remote work, hopping on and off planes on different continents and time zones. My digital marketing company had all necessary tools in place—for calls, project management, planning, team building. Zoom was installed and used long before it became a thing of 2020. My teams were more equipped than most for the new normal, but it didn’t mean we were less stressed about the new normal. 

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No matter what situation we all had at home—kids or no kids, with a huge family or alone, with a partner or a flat mate—everyone was fighting their own battles. So while I was prepared for remote work leadership, I wasn’t prepared for remote work leadership when I am stressed and everyone on my team is stressed, and all of us are scared. 

This is where I started with me—I searched for my own “mask.” And I’ve built up the routines in the new world that ensured that I can show up, day by day, for my team. 

Here are the five self-care rules I’ve built along the way.

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Be honest

Trying to come up with an answer takes more energy and time than saying the blunt truth. If I don’t know, I’ll say I don’t know. If I disagree, I’ll openly admit it and share my opinion. If I am destroyed, upset or anxious, I’ll share that with my team, too. Truth is rewarding and it reinforces the bond. The team knows what they hear is exactly what I am thinking right now. It might not work for everyone, but I don’t want everyone on my team either. 

Be kind 

First of all, I am kind to myself, and that’s where the self-love really becomes self compassion. Negative self talk only makes things worse, leaves me in the state of distress and insecurity, and nothing productive can emerge from this state. I accept that I’ll make mistakes while I grow and lead my team—this is a part of the process. This does not mean that I don’t care if I make a mistake—because that’s not the case at all. But rather than harping on the negative, I accept that I was wrong and I try to learn as much as I can from it. 

Love your body 

This is not even about looks. This is about being healthy and taking good care of my physical self. Exercise, drink at least 2 litres of water per day, start the day with a nutritious healthy breakfast. During the pandemic I bought a treadmill for walking more even during lockdowns, a blender to make smoothies, and a jump rope. Working from home has actually made this easier for me to master, a silver lining so to say. Exercise gets the stress out of your system, and physical health gives the level of confidence that benefits me greatly to lead others.

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Say “no” 

I say “no.” To events, people, and circumstances that make my life uncomfortable and less enjoyable. It’s okay to sit out of something if it’s not something you want to be a part of. Having learned and accepted this, if I don’t like something, I now try to get it out of my life as quickly as possible.

Take breaks

I occasionally do nothing. Rest and relaxation is non-negotiable. I spend time in bed, I scroll through social media, search the web, sleep, and even just stare at the ceiling. This chill time is necessary and gives my brain what it needs to recharge.

My values and beliefs, my professional experience, my goals that are approved with my boss, people who chose me as their leader and who I choose to lead, our achievements and success—this is what defines me at work. 

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My age, gender, height and weight, world’s beauty standards, other people’s opinions, past mistakes, expectations of me from someone in another department—this all is irrelevant to who I am as a person and as a leader. 

This is what I remind myself each and every day as I grow personally and professionally, and I truly believe there’s value in building on these rules for self-care as we all work to embody the evolving manifesto that is leadership today. 


Olga Andrienko is the head of global marketing at Semrush, a digital marketing platform.

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