Recently, I sat on a plane listening to the stewardess’s standard emergency spiel. As she said, “When the oxygen masks come down, put the mask on yourself first, then put it on your child or anyone else next to you,” I began to think about how these instructions apply to leadership. 

Why was it so important to put the mask on myself first? Then it hit me—if I don’t care for myself first, I can’t assist others, just like in leadership. The bestselling author and leadership expert John Maxwell states, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” If I don’t “self-care,” I won’t have the ability to give others what they need, and the organization will suffer.

I was told early in my leadership journey to go as fast and hard as possible without stopping. No sleep, no rest, just suck it up and make it happen. Time, sleep, and thinking were crutches that would get in the way of success. 

As a leader, you may have been told, “It can’t be about you anymore.” Leadership is about selfless service and putting others before yourself. And although these points are true, I argue that if a 21st-century leader is going to be successful over time, self-care is essential to that success. Over two decades of leadership experience have taught me that being an effective 21st-century leader requires self-care in the form of REST, disciplined daily habits, managing time, and re-creation!


In one of my previous blogs, Daily habits: what is required is counterintuitive, I wrote about the concept of REST I learned from one of my mentor’s Jon Lehr. His mentorship helped me understand the importance of a leader learning how to Read twenty minutes daily, Exercise 45-60 minutes daily, Sleep 6-8 hours nightly, and make time to Think. Unfortunately, leaders today are so busy and caught up in the daily grind of each day they don’t take time to REST and compound their future success.

Disciplined Daily Habits

Real estate mogul Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, describes a system of habits that can create phenomenal success in any area of your life. The system requires you to think big then go small with disciplined habits each day. Keller reiterates consistently with the quote, “What is the one thing I can do so that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” What’s the one habit you need to start to compound your future success?

Managing Time

You can have all the REST you need and all the habits required, but if you don’t know how to manage your time, the best things won’t get done. What system do you use to manage your time? How far out do you plan? If you have annual growth targets, what would it take to break each down into quarterly, monthly, and weekly focus areas? When do you set aside time to reflect, adjust, and project your focus for the next week? Knowing how to manage your time in the ways that work best is the foundation for every other habit you want to develop as a 21st-century leader.


While you must be an effective leader in the organization, every leader also needs time away from work. The word “recreation” has its origins in the 14th century and described a person who was “recreating,” renewing, and refreshing themselves. When was the last time you did something you loved, outside of work, and renewed your being, heart, and soul? The more a leader renews themself, the better equipped they are to help others they serve and care for. Renewal and recreation are essential for sustained leadership effectiveness.

The late leadership expert and bestselling author Zig Ziglar once said, “The core of true success is love. And that includes loving yourself enough to take care of yourself.” How’s your self-care for sustained leadership effectiveness? What habits do you need to start immediately? What do you need to learn and apply to make the best use of your time? If you are unsure of where to begin, the method outlined above can get you started.