Real Leaders

The Wellness Triangle: 3 Steps to Sustainable Leadership

As leaders, people entrust us with their most valuable asset — their time — so it is incumbent on all of us in positions of authority and influence to step up to the task and take care of them. That starts by learning how to take care of yourself.

What does being well mean?

First, draw a triangle with three equal sides — your wellness triangle. Next, draw a circle in the center and ensure that the circle touches all three sides.

At the tip of the triangle, write the word Mind. On the bottom left point, write the word Body. On the bottom right point, draw a dollar sign. In the center of the circle inside the triangle, write the word Spirituality.

The outside of the triangle relates directly to our egos: how smart we are, how attractive we are, and how much money we have. It’s the “you” other people see. We all have an ego, and there’s nothing wrong with that — so long as your ego is kept in check with a healthy dose of humility, optimism, and a sense of accountability.

The triangle is one of the strongest geometric shapes, but even so, it collapses if one side fails. That’s why we need the circle of spirituality in the middle, holding everything up. Spirituality is the center of life; it touches all three sides of the triangle.

I’m not speaking strictly in a religious sense. In the philosophy we teach at trauma survivor organization Boulder Crest, we define a healthy spirituality in three ways.

The first element of spirituality is your character. Are you the person you say you are? When you look at yourself in the mirror every morning, are you happy with what you see? Are you a leader who leads by example, or is it “Do as I say, not as I do”?

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The second element of spirituality is your relationships with others. Are they based on mutuality? Do you have three to five friends you can turn to when you need help? Remember, as humans, we become the average of the three to five people we spend the most time with. Choose wisely!

The third element of spirituality is service. Are you engaged in service to others outside of your work? What are you doing for your neighbors? Your community? Your nation?

When you lead with a strong sense of spirituality, you become congruent — meaning your thoughts, feelings, and actions are all aligned in a positive way. Others will see that, admire it, and follow your lead.

Think of your circle in the center of your triangle as an exercise ball at the gym. If that ball is properly inflated, you can pretty much sit there and keep your balance for a long time. At its core, your Wellness Triangle is strong. But if that ball begins to deflate? Maybe your character or your relationships aren’t what they should be; maybe your thoughts, feelings, and actions fall out of congruency. That’s when leaders really start to struggle.

Worse yet, what if there’s nothing in the center to begin with? Let’s say you’re an egomaniac, driven by the outside of your wellness triangle. Maybe your only relationships are the ones you buy. Perhaps you do nothing for anybody other than yourself. That’s when pressure on one side or another of the triangle brings your life crashing down around you — and your capacity to lead with it.

The Pressures of Leadership

Put the sides and the circle together, and you’ve got the strongest foundation in the world: the Wellness Triangle. But even the strongest triangle can be weakened under pressure — and the pressures of leadership are real. It’s easy to envision a situation where the points of your Wellness Triangle flatten as a result.

In the eight years that I ran A-T Solutions, I gained 50 pounds. That wasn’t who I’d been in the Navy, where I’d taken EOD trainees on runs so difficult that students remembered me as the guy who made them puke on the golf course run. I was spiritually well, mentally well, and financially well, but I was working 16- and 17-hour days, traveling more than 200 days a year, and just didn’t make time to take care of my body.

Every pound I gained after leaving the service was a measure of the burden I carried in building A-T Solutions — compounded by the burden of hiding the toll from others. I knew that when people see stress in their leader, they start to worry, and I didn’t want anyone else to carry the load or see me becoming less well as a result of it. But who was I to think that 50 pounds could be hidden?

They say the top is a lonely place, and l was living that. But it was a mistake. My style today is much more collaborative. Now l know the power of relationships, openness, and honesty, and I am a better leader because of it. Leadership is really a relationship.

What happens when you’re unwell? Your employees see right through it, and they start to question whether they’re in the right place and working for the right person. Instead of growing your team members into leaders, you lose them.

The Importance of Commitment

Courage requires commitment and seeing things through to the end. Leaders who jump from thing to thing to thing without seeing any of them through, create an organizational culture that emulates that tendency.

That’s why it is so important to define a goal, see it through, check it off, celebrate it — and move on to the next thing.

I’m not saying you can’t do multiple things at once, like walking and chewing gum. What I am saying is that everything your organization takes on needs to be seen through to the end — and your responsibility as a leader is to ensure that happens. Seeing something through to the end does not mean you do so at all costs; recognizing failure or changing circumstances and making a clear decision to stop takes courage too.

A waffling leader is incapable of facing fear, assessing risk, and stepping off; if a leader is willing to step off but doesn’t see things through, that’s another form of waffling leadership. In either case, their behavior is sure to proliferate throughout the organization. Everybody sees it, sees that you’re okay with it, and assumes it’s okay for them too. Courage builds amazing collaborative teams and a capacity for taking risks.

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