8 Habits of Healthy Leaders

Aug 22, 2023

I’ve been leading in one capacity or another for over 20 years and in that time…

I’ve felt the pure exhilaration that comes with watching someone I’ve invested in soar to new heights. I’ve felt the deep satisfaction of seeing a defeated team transform into a winning one. AND I’ve also experienced the heartbreaking blows of betrayal and offense that comes with leading long enough. And when my own pride or ignorance got the best of me, I’ve had to learn leadership lessons the hard way.

Leading others is a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences- one that can leave us elated and, let’s be real, at times, a bit nauseous.

Leading from strength doesn’t happen without some intentionality. No one just happens to stumble upon building a successful organization, raising good kids, or leaving a great legacy. Just like no one ever really stumbles into creating a toxic culture, committing a moral failure, or experiencing the debilitating realities of burnout.

Our small choices have a way of snowballing into either fulfillment or frustration, joy or disappointment, hope or downright devastation. I’ve watched the habits of some leaders I’ve loved deeply and admired greatly lead to self-sabotage and failure, and the greatest casualties of all were the people closest to them. The first time I witnessed it as a young leader in my early twenties, I was shocked and disillusioned. It left me questioning the decisions I was making, and seeking wisdom to protect me from attitudes and behaviors that, if unaccounted for, could devastate not only my own life, but others as well.

Now when I hear about the latest leadership scandal, immorality, or abuse of power, sadly, I am not as shocked. After all, this is no longer my first rodeo. I do, however, repeat the same questioning I first had when faced with the frailty of human leadership: “What within me needs to change so that I can make strong daily choices and lead from strength?”

I don’t think I’ll ever stop asking this question. It’s a reflection that has led me to some key practices every leader can embrace to invest in their personal wellbeing and optimize the strength in which they lead others. We are all learning and growing together, aren’t we? And though I still have a whole lot to learn, here is my list of the top key practices that have personally made all the difference in my leadership capacity:

  1. Healthy leaders prioritize their key friendships.

After a few heartaches as leaders, the temptation is to keep the people closest to us at arm’s length. We, of course, justify this lack of real connection on a local level by investing in friendships with other leaders who live in different cities, states, and nations. We look forward to the upcoming conferences and events where we can reunite with the people who really get us, peers in the trenches of leadership with us, that we feel we can open our hearts to. This is an important element of friendship for us leaders, but, and this is a big BUT, it can never replace having honest, transparent, and intimate friendships with a few solid people who get to see us day in and day out, who can encourage us when we are a little down, cheer us on, and challenge us from the unique vantage point that only proximity brings.

  1. Healthy leaders take responsibility for their actions.

Let’s face it- sometimes the people we lead make frustrating or foolish choices. It’s discouraging, annoying, and disappointing. But… we make mistakes, too. As leaders, we don’t need to take responsibility for other people’s choices, but we can take responsibility for ours. The best thing we could do for those we influence is to take a good, hard look in the mirror and acknowledge where our leadership has room for improvement. If you are frustrated by the results of your team, company, or ministry, and it’s always someone else’s fault… It may be time to own up to your weaknesses without shame and seek out wisdom to continue to develop as a leader. 

  1. Healthy leaders honor the Sabbath.

What is it about us leaders that eternally believes we can accomplish more than humanly possible? Where exactly does this misguided enthusiasm come from? Most likely pride or fear, or a combo of both. And it sure can take us to some dark places! One of the weekly rhythms I practice is the Sabbath- a day where I rest from work to both honor God and invest in my wellbeing. When I began this practice consistently a few years ago, I was shocked by how quickly it improved my wellbeing! There are extraordinary benefits to taking a day away from meetings, emails, and errands, and instead, investing in worshiping Jesus, doing things you enjoy and connecting with those you love. This weekly rest ensures we find joy beyond our accomplishments, while grounding our identity in not what we do, but in simply who we are (apart from our work.)

  1. Healthy leaders stay hungry.

After leading for a while, we are all tempted to maintain a level of success instead of taking new ground. We get caught in the day-to-day execution and forget to look up and see beyond the horizon. We stop asking “what’s possible?” and settle for “what needs to get done?” If you are in this state of mind as a leader, you are not alone. We’ve all been there. I want to encourage you to take some time to remember why you started leading in the first place. Why did you say ‘yes’ to your job? Why did you launch your business or get that degree in the first place? Why did you begin mentoring or investing in others? Rediscover your big ‘why’ and hold on tight to it! Let it infuse your everyday with purpose and reignite a hunger to learn, grow and achieve.

  1. Healthy leaders pay attention to their emotions.

I wish they taught emotional intelligence in grade school instead of cursive, but they didn’t. Depending on how we were raised, the leadership examples we’ve had, and our own experiences with navigating our emotions, we may find ourselves suppressing and avoiding feelings in the name of strength, courage or perseverance. But our emotions refuse to go ignored; if we don’t pay them attention, they will kick and scream until we do. Our feelings are not scary monsters to be afraid of; neither are they demanding bosses who need to call all the shots in our lives. Emotions simply need to be recognized and processed. Tending to our emotions keeps us attune to the needs of our hearts, and ultimately keeps us leading from an emotionally healthy state.

  1. Healthy leaders hold people loosely.

Transitions are hard, even the very best of them. There’s always some amount of grief and loss when having to say goodbye to someone we genuinely loved leading. We will feel the pain of their absence and the weight of making sure the role they filled is taken care of with excellence and progress. We must, however, resist the urge to take someone’s goodbye as a mark against our leadership, mentorship, or friendship. My old pastor and mentor of mine Paul Andrew says it best, “We have to learn to hold people loosely without treating them lightly.” Love people as they exit, speak well of them when they aren’t around, and if they occasionally don’t execute their farewell the way you would have wished for, bless them anyway. 

  1. Healthy leaders keep a clean slate.

People will hurt us along the way, and we will inevitably do the same to others. We are human after all. Sometimes the hurt stings; sometimes it bruises, and sometimes it breaks the heart. Even so, stay tender towards people. Friend, do whatever it takes to uproot weeds of bitterness trying to fill the spaces of your heart. Love keeps no records of wrongs, and your life is far too valuable to be kept bound by the hidden chains of unforgiveness.

  1. Healthy leaders embrace humility.

The more successes we experience, the more applause we receive, the more awards we win, and the more people we influence… the more tempting it becomes to believe we had more of a part to play in our victories than we actually did. We can celebrate a job well done without growing a big head, and yes, there is a difference between authentic confidence and arrogant swag. There’s always more ways to grow; there’s always more to learn; there’s always more opportunities to serve. And word to wise: RUN from anything that resembles a celebrity-driven culture, because in the end, isn’t it just a bunch of smoke and mirrors? We aren’t leading to stroke our egos and applaud our image or brand, but to leave a legacy and make a difference. Healthy leaders embrace humility.