November 2, 2023
By Dave Bushy, PCC
Kind of an odd question coming from an executive coach, wouldn’t you say?
One time I was speaking with a client about the importance of self-care. The client was a person who attended to his team, took care of their needs and was always there for them. He never missed a deadline and was someone you could bet on to get the job done, anytime, anywhere.
Through confidential interviews, an in-depth 360, and several months of working with him, I had come to know my client well. He was, indeed, a servant leader who invariably made sure that the job was done and his team members were happy. He was genuinely admired for his caring nature and can-do attitude.
I had become curious about how much he took care of himself. One day when we were speaking about his action plan in the coaching engagement and the fact that it always seemed to take a back seat to other work, I began a line of inquiry about what he did for self-care. He assured me that he exercised “quite a bit,” and that he had a “great diet.” I wasn’t completely convinced, given the other demands of his job and the hours he worked. I recalled my own executive experience where 60–70 hour weeks were the norm and five hours sleep seemed like I was pampering myself. I remember the self-denial of my own needs, all in service to those of others and the company.
Though it’s not my job as a coach to force an outcome, my own experiences allow me to join my clients where they are. The visceral memories of my time as a senior executive may even inform what I hope to be powerful questions that seek to allow my clients to create their own outcomes.
This is what got me to ask:
“When was your last physical?”
My client looked at me dumbfounded, then averted his eyes and slowly said, “Probably about ten years ago.”
I didn’t answer and just looked at him for a minute or two.
He went on: “I just don’t make the time – my family says I should, but I’ll be okay – I’m healthy and I’ve got good genes. There will be time in the future.”
“And what if there’s not?” I asked.
My client didn’t answer right away. He said, “I know you’re right, but isn’t my job to take care of my people and the company – don’t I get paid for that? I need to support a growing family”
“Tell me more about your family,” I asked.
“That goes without saying – I need to take care of them,” he emphasized.
“How important is it to take care of yourself so you can take care of your family?”
“I guess it is – I just spend so much time on work and my team, I can get lost.”
“And what would it look like if you made sure you were healthy and rested?”
My client and I spoke for the rest of the session and in several others about his very well-developed sides of taking care of others, always seeking to get the job done and never letting anyone down. He identified the very real gaps in his focus – namely himself and his family. Uncovering those gaps and talking about them helped him frame an action plan.
In one recent session I asked:
“And what do you think your priorities need to be from now on?”
“I need to have three priorities in this order: 1) Take care of myself; 2) Take care of my family; and then, 3) Take care of my job and my team members.”
As he named this shift in his own self-care, he spoke with a sense of clarity and pride. I think he even scheduled a physical!
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a an ICF-certified coach who was trained at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC). Dave is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout the world.
Photo by Orzalaga at Pixabay