How Can You Lead Others If You Are Running On Empty?

How many business leaders do you know who miss lunch breaks, work at the weekends, work well into the evenings and have vacation days stacking up?  Or is this you?

If it is you, you are probably well aware of what you are doing, and have perhaps made some New Year resolutions for yourself to address the number of hours you work, the extra pounds you have put on or the lack of time you are spending with family and or friends.

The corporate world is no different than anywhere else - we need to lead by example if we want to institute any change. That means those long hours you're spending at work, the lack of attention to your health and wellbeing, and lack of time with the family is the perfect example. Learn more here.As leaders we have an obligation and responsibility to our team members and to ourselves to ensure both you and they are fully charged, leading a balanced life that in turn quickly translates to productivity and ultimately profitability for the company and its many stakeholders.  Why is it that leaders so often miss applying these guidelines to themselves, to their health and wellbeing and to achieving a healthy balance in life between work, career and personal lives?

It is understandable to feel overloaded when there are meetings to attend, reports to write, customers to call and teams to look after, but when we try to carry an unsustainable workload two things happen.

Firstly, we are denying the fact that the system is flawed if it requires a ridiculously large workload.

Secondly, we are giving our team members a message, loud and clear that it’s OK to neglect ourselves, our physical and mental health as well as our family and friends under the umbrella of work expectations. 

Unless we lead by example, we are serving no one.

As with every other aspect of leadership, wellbeing, organisation values and culture must start from the top of an organisation. If this is not demonstrated by the leaders it becomes harder for personnel to believe it’s the right thing to do.


Fill Yourself Up First

One of Fresh Air Fridays core wellbeing principles is to “fill yourself up first”.

Two simple metaphors describe this well:

  1. On a plane, in case of an emergency, the crew always tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first, making sure you take care of yourself before you try to help others.
  2. The common saying, “you can’t pour from an empty pot” describes the same idea that you need to see to your own needs to enable you to care for others.

Both things are proved true when it comes to wellbeing. If we believe that we must consistently and continuously do for others without resourcing ourselves, the likelihood is that at some point something will give. Whether the result is mental burnout, physical ill health or some other crisis.


As Leaders what can we do?

The first step is awareness, and this needs some consideration. Regularly taking time to listen to and understand what your needs are, is important. This can become more difficult when it gets hidden in the morass of work, that we end up feeling overwhelmed and therefore don’t hear the messages.  Taking a moment, to have a short walk to clear the head, is something that Fresh Air Fridays would recommend.   However, short bursts of time can also be found in those forced moments, which invariably find us being irritated and frustrated, such as sitting in a traffic jam, waiting for the traffic lights to change or any other situation that’s presents a few minutes to ask yourself: “What would looking after me look like?  What would filling me up involve?”

If you have no idea, just notice you have no idea. If something unexpected comes up, don’t react, just take a minute to consider it. Over the course of a few days or weeks keep gently asking yourself this question – your subconscious will be working on it anyway without much conscious effort from you. When you come up with some ideas, make it a priority to try some out. Schedule time in your calendar to make sure it happens.

With all leadership skills and practices, this is not a one hit wonder.  You have to keep making time to listen and to feel at what level your petrol gauge is at and to avert circumstances when you are running on reserve tank. 

Wherever this exploration takes you, remember that the people around you, your teams, your colleagues, your family, and friends, are much more likely to take notice of what you do, rather than what you say. Therefore, if you want to create wellbeing in your workplace, you need to start with you.  With the start of 2020, a new year and a new decade, now is the time to make a fresh start in a manner that you mean to go on.

Wishing you a healthy and prosperous New Year.


To learn how we can help you and your organisation, email Rachel directly at



Fresh Air Fridays (Saranne Postans)



Rachel Shackleton is an entrepreneur who owns and manages Green Key Personal Development and Green Key Health. Working with local and multinational organisations, she is a public speaker and trainer in the spheres of leadership, communication and customer excellence. She ensures sustainable productivity and profitability through healthy self-management and leadership practices, ensuring a focused and successful workforce.





New here? I write about leadership development, communication and customer excellence, including health and well-being at work. You can read similar blogs here:


Overindulgence, Christmas Cheer and Productivity

“Mind the Bug”: Staying Healthy in the Office Environment

What is Intuitive Leadership?

Does your Work Day eat into your Lunch Break?

How to Take Responsivity of your Life

Are your Leadership Abilities Transforming Fast Enough?

Do you Need an Attitude Shift?

Are Bots Really the Best Option?

Is Technology Ruining Your Life?

Great Leadership – Taking Difficult Decisions

To Bank or not to Bank – The Customer has a Choice

Employee Engagement

Add new comment

You must have Javascript enabled to use this form.