Marie-Josée (MJ) Salvas Shaar, MAPP '07, CPT, has studied, tested, coached, and taught smart health habits for over 13 years. Combining positive psychology with fitness and nutrition, she created a coaching method that builds better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits, as described in her book, Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person's Guide to Optimal Health and Performance, which includes 50 practical health-building activities. Today MJ gives keynotes for corporate wellness programs and offers continuing education for wellness professionals, who can license her Smarts and Stamina Online program. Full bio. MJ's articles are here.
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Are your employees eager to work for you each and every day? Few leaders can answer this question with a confident yes. Here’s a tip to help you be one of them.
Many of us envision the ideal leader as someone who is physically and mentally strong. Someone who gets things done. Someone who is invigorated and invigorating, and often who succeeds equally well in their personal and professional lives.
We may not think of it at first, but that is the portrait of someone who knows how to capitalize on their strengths and who has developed the mindset of a winner. It implies a person who has enough self-respect to cultivate sensible food, exercise, and sleep habits and enough respect for others to give them the opportunity to do the same.
When we imagine this ideal leader, we envision the opposite of the overstretched, impatient and nothing-but-work mentality that is so common. Yet, a lot of business people still think of the overstretched attitude as reflective of good business acumen. Revisiting this whole concept is long overdue.
A Leader’s Job Is to Make People the Best They Can Be
It is how employees perform that determines to a large extent whether companies succeed. To maintain first-class performance levels, employees need to be in good mental and physical health. For that reason, positively encouraging staff members to adopt healthy lifestyles deserves a seat amongst leadership strategies.
And it works. In an address to the International Positive Psychology Association, Barbara Fredrickson shared the results of a loving-kindness meditation research she led in 2005 in a corporate setting. Commenting on her results, she mentioned that compliance rates amongst participants were higher than ever anticipated by anyone involved in the project. Curious, I asked what she thought was the main reason accounting for such high compliance rates. Her answer? Even though participation in the research project was optional, employees felt more inclined to stick with the program because it was available at work.
What this means to leaders is not only does a healthy workforce render better results, but due to the contractual nature of their relationship with employees, leaders are in a particularly good position to encourage their teams to achieve successful lifestyle changes.
Concrete Application You Can Use Today
Here’s a very simple yet effective leadership tip to start integrating healthy behaviors with business strategy. Start a new spreadsheet. On the vertical axis (all the rows), write down the names of your employees. On the horizontal axis (all the columns), write behaviors you want to encourage consistently in interactions with your staff. For example, you might want to give recognition more often (readers of this online publication know that gratitude matters!) or remind your team of a timely priority (current promotion, specific deadline, customer satisfaction, etc). Other ideas may include expressing trust, providing a challenge, or encouraging the use of one’s strengths. Also as column headers, write health behaviors you want to encourage in your employees (sleeping enough hours, turning blackberries off during meetings, making time for a nutritious lunch, etc.).
Then each time you encourage an activity in a column for a specific employee, put a check mark in the corresponding box of your spreadsheet. Samantha seems more energetic than usual today? Give her kudos, then keep track for yourself with a check mark.
At the end of the week, you may notice that you failed to reinforce certain key behaviors. Or you may be really good at giving recognition to a few employees, but not to others. Assuming everyone is deserving of appreciation to some extent, this reality check will help direct your attention towards your praise-deprived team members and make it up to them.
This technique enables you to adjust your practices so they support the leader you want to be, and helps you reinforce the behaviors you want to see. Equally important, it keeps you accountable for the behaviors you are encouraging in others. Overall, it puts you in a great position to improve and enhance your relationships with your employees.
“The leader who exercises power with honor will work from the inside out, starting with himself.” – Blaine Lee
“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Address at the International Positive Psychology Association World Congress.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Lee, B. (1998). The Power Principle: Influence with Honor. New York: Fireside.
Loehr, J. & Schwartz, T. (2003). The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press.