Transcript: The Importance of Self-Care for Leaders (EP17)
Hello, everybody! I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. This is Episode 17. And today, I'm speaking with Sean Smith.
Sean is the New Installations Director for Schindler Lifts Singapore where he's lived since 2018. Prior to his move to Singapore, Sean held a number of different roles in the Jardine Schindler Group in Jakarta from 2013 to 2018. He also spent time in Shanghai working for Globaleye which is a financial planning and wealth management firm.
Sean also did his national service for the Swiss Armed Forces where he served as a Lieutenant in the Artillery Division.
Sean's passion sits with helping the next generation of leaders get ahead in the corporate world by trusting their conscience and helping them create an environment where employees feel motivated to do their best work and feel connected to the team.
The focus of our conversation today is about ‘taking care of yourself as a leader’.
Sean, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast, mate. Great to have you.
Sean Smith: Good morning, Brendan. Thanks for having me on the podcast. What an introduction. Thanks so much for introducing me.
Brendan Rogers: Mate, it's an absolute pleasure. So, on that introduction, mate, if there's any gaps you want to fill in and tell us a bit more about your journey, and also get into that passion that you have for leadership ‘cause I know that's really quite strong.
Sean Smith: Thanks, Brendan. Yeah, sure. So, I grew up as a kid in Asia. That's why I sort of had a passion and then that's what's brought me back to the region after you mentioned my Swiss military service. So, that's what brought me back to the region. And I would say, it's when I moved to Jakarta, it was really being sort of dropped into the deep end of the pool. I was 25 at the time. I didn't really have much work experience except my national service, but I was sort of really dropped into the deep end of the pool, already starting to have to lead people and lead larger and larger teams over my five years in Jakarta. And I would say, that's really one of the first places where I really sort of learnt and got to experiment around leadership and really get passionate about it.
But maybe, one, you know, one thing that really did kickstart the whole passion about leadership was actually my father. So, I have a great dad who's also been, you know, leading larger teams in the corporate world. And as a kid, I always remember he'd come home or over the weekend or the holidays, he would then share his stories, his experiences, his failures managing, leading people. And I was still young. I was a teenager, but I was always absolutely fascinated listening to his stories, his learnings. I think that really sort of at a younger age, as a teenager, really got me passionate about how can you motivate, engage teams to produce, you know, get a better result and perform better, feel more motivated. And then, that's sort of led on to my military service where, at a very young age, you know, you're in the Swiss military, a lot of people there don't actually want to be there because it's mandatory for all men.
So, you really need to then experiment and learn how to motivate people. You don't have money to motivate them. You don't have titles to motivate them. It's really sort of raw leadership. What gets people motivated? How can you make their life just that little bit better while they're spending time somewhere where they don't actually want to be. So, those two sort of key points. And then, my 5 years in Jakarta before I came to Singapore really got me extremely passionate about leadership, but more so, gave me that experience, that sort of playground to experiment and to learn from my mistakes, but also, to learn new tricks that I can use now in Singapore as well.
Brendan Rogers: Your dad must be a fantastic guy and a fantastic leader, given that you had some really good experiences and lessons that you learned from him. Can we flip that around? And how about you tell us, was there any story that stuck with you where your dad didn't have such a great experience in leadership?
Sean Smith: I mean, one thing he always, or sort of, I learned from him and that's also from his mistakes is really about maybe toxic or people that really don't feel, that don't fit into the team culture, into the culture that you want to build. And I mean, he had some, and his experiences was that we, you know, he kept them around for too long. He was hoping to help them develop, grow them, they would change, and so on. But he always told me about stories where he kept them around for too long, because we naturally believe that, you know, we can help them, we can change what's that sort of toxic or that nature there that doesn't sort of fit into the culture that is creating a bad environment. And that of course caused a strain, you know, on him, but strain also on the team.
And I always remember him telling me he had one or two stories around that, and that's something I've always kept sort of in my mind. And I've also repeated similar mistakes, but that's definitely one thing that I always remember him sharing in terms of lessons he learned from things not going so well, is that if you have somebody in the team, that's really just toxic for the culture and not contributing to the culture, you need to react fast because it can have such a big, negative impact on the entire team. And as human beings, we tend to hope that things will get better and we drag out that decision.
Brendan Rogers: Absolutely, mate. A great lesson to learn, definitely. Talking about our topic, taking care of yourself as a leader. Why is this so important to you?
Sean Smith: I mean, this really comes back to my, sort of my leadership philosophy and how I’ve developed it, and what I believe in is really as a leader, you need to be there for your team. That's your number one goal. Your number one priority is being there for your team a hundred percent supporting them, but I'm also a huge sports enthusiast. So now, I'm doing a lot of triathlons. So, also, from the sporting background, I know that you need to have that rest and recovery to really perform at your best when it counts in competition and so on. And if you just continuously grind out every day, even though you're doing a lot of hours and you're putting in the work, but if you just grind out every day for weeks and weeks and months, you'll eventually pick up, you know, injuries, and your performance won't really peak.
So, it's a combination of those two that sort of made me believe and realise that self-care is so important for leaders because when you're a leader, and your team's relying on you, you're there to support them the entire time. So, you need to be at your best when you're at work. You need to be at your best when your team has a problem or when there's a crisis. And if you're not balancing that out with some form of self-care, either over the weekend or in the evenings and so on, then you just can't be at your best. And then your team's not getting all the support they need. So, it's really about being at your best and being able to support your team when they need you.
Brendan Rogers: And often, there's a trigger point around these sort of events and when things become important for us. So, what was that trigger point? Like when did this topic about just taking care of yourself as a person, as a leader become so important for you?
Sean Smith: So, this was really back in Jakarta. So, as I mentioned, that started off sort of my corporate career in Jakarta. And I started off in more sort of an Individual Contributor role. So, I was doing project management. Sure. I had a, you know, few people and my Supervisor and so on that were working together, but I could basically generally manage by myself. And if I was tired one day, then I would catch up another day and catch up in the evening and things like that. So, when I was in that project management role for the first two years, I didn't really realise or need that self-care at the time because I was entirely dependent on myself. So, I could do a lot of what I wanted.
But then, after the two years, I then got promoted into an Operations Manager role. And suddenly, I had about 15 Project Managers and Project Engineers reporting to me. I was still, in my view, quite young for that role. And I didn't have the industry experience, nearly everybody reporting to me had far more years of experience in this industry than myself. And the only thing I felt at that point that I could really contribute was one, my sort of leadership experience from by national service, but also, just being there for the team and helping them solve problems, you know, getting through the red tape in the corporate world, bouncing ideas around just generally supporting the team. And I knew this was going to be my biggest asset to succeed in this role because I didn't have that industry experience. And that's really when I, when it sort of those sort of the ‘light bulb’ moment, because I realised when I was, you know, when I was in the office or during the working day, I had to be at my absolute best because this was the one sort of skill or tool that I had to succeed in this role.
And when you have people coming into your office or giving you a phone call, you can't already be, you know, frustrated and agitated or tired, you need to really be fresh. You need to have that energy. You need to be able to inspire the team and the team needs to feel like you've got their back. And it was really that transition from sort of that Individual Contributor role to suddenly having, you know, a larger team that relied on you, where I realised I need to take care of myself first so that I can make sure I come in to the office, I come into the work week full of energy and a hundred percent there for my team so I can support them. It was really this point that made self-care so important for me.
Brendan Rogers: You've mentioned a couple of times about being there for the team and supporting the team. I'd like to just hear from you, because again, it's a real challenge for, I know myself when I've been in organisations and for a lot of leaders out there, how do you balance that time between some of the doing stuff that you need to do in your role, but also being there for your team? What's your experiences around that and how do you manage it?
Sean Smith: This was definitely a struggle I had at the beginning because I was so passionate and so focused on being there for the team. I also realise that basically, my whole time was being taken up for the team, which was not a bad thing, but it did then, you know, exactly, like you say, it's stopped me from being able to do the things that I needed to do, whether it was, you know, catch up on certain, you know, emails or strategic things that I needed to make a decision on. And what I learned with time was to really cut out time and physically move myself away from the team. And it might sound a bit strange, but what I learned is that if you're not physically there, so we were still a very office-space company, so generally, I was always in the office.
And what I realised is if I took, for example, one afternoon off from the office. So, I went home and I worked from home, or I worked from a cafe, but I took one afternoon a week off. Then generally, I would have enough time to then be able to work through those things that I was supposed to get done, or I needed to get done, also to support the team, but those were things that I needed to work on by myself. And just putting that sort of physical barrier between you, you're no longer as easily accessible because somebody needs to call you. So then, your team also naturally sort of respects that boundary. And if it's not really urgent, they won't, for example, call you, or come and talk to you. So, I've then, with time, carved out, always in my weekly schedule, sort of that half a day, which is generally enough at the moment for me to get those things done that I need to get done. And the rest of the time, I'm then available for the team.
Brendan Rogers: Let’s go into the actual what you can do as a leader to take care of yourself. So, tell us a bit about that. What can you do to take care of yourself?
Sean Smith: Well, multiple things that you can do and that I do. And I think people can consider doing to take care of yourself. I think the most important thing before I go in is that you need to find out what works for you, right? So, the one, the topics I’m talking about now, some of them work for me really well, but you might find others work better for you. So, it's really about finding out what works for yourself. But for me, the first one, I would say, the absolute first one is sleep. This has a huge impact to how energised, how much you can be there for your team. So, for me, I always try and prioritise to make sure I get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. And that really ensures that one, you know, I feel a lot fresher and energised in the morning, but it also helps me somehow when you sleep.
And there's also research on that, it really helps you process a lot of the learnings from the day and a lot of the problems you've got. And I often find you wake up in the morning and after a good night's sleep, you can really, retackle problems. You look at things slightly differently with sort of a fresh head. So, the sleep aspect for me is probably my number one sort of self-care tool that I would suggest to people because it also, throughout the year, and, you know, throughout your career, the sleep aspect also makes sure that you get sick less, you avoid burnout, and so on. And the, you know, being sick one week or two weeks a year has a big impact. And if you can basically avoid that or reduce that, and sleep definitely contributes to that for me, then that has also a huge impact on the long-term success you have.
Brendan Rogers: Can I just dive in there, Sean? Because I want to ask you about sleep. What would you say to those people out there, those leaders that they're on that adrenaline bus and they feel that they can really function highly on three to four hours sleep. You know, I hear that a lot with people. What would be your advice to them?
Sean Smith: Everybody's different and, I don't, you know, I'm not going to be the person that says they can't work on three to four hours sleep. But my advice to them would be try, just try it out. Try, you know, maybe 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Try it out for maybe a month, right? Try it out, be disciplined, try and get 7 and 8 hours of sleep and then reflect and be honest with yourself and see if there's a huge difference in how you feel.
I can share my, you know, my girlfriend, when we met, I was already, you know, a sort of 7- to 8-hour sleeper and she was sort of, that kind of person, “Yeah.” “Four or five hours. No problem. You know, I still come to work. I'm doing well, I'm functioning well.” And then, I refused to, you know, go down to that, so she then basically, somehow naturally then adopted the 7 to 8 hours sleep cycle. And if you ask her now, she says, “I can't believe I was only sleeping 4 or 5 hours back then. I would never go back to that. Now that I've done it, I realise how much more energy, how much fresher, how much better I feel.” So, my advice to leaders that are really, you know, on that sort of energy and buzz and “I can manage 3, 4 hours of sleep” is just try it for, you've got nothing to lose, you know, for one month, try it, try sort of that 7, 8-hour range and reflect how much different you feel, how much better you feel. And I think a lot of people will be surprised what a huge impact it has.
Brendan Rogers: Tell us about some of the other areas that you think leaders can help themselves by taking care of themselves.
Sean Smith: The other big one I would say is exercise. And I combine it here with hobbies. So, I'm a huge sports person. And I know you're a huge sports fan as well. So, exercise for us maybe comes naturally. But I definitely feel like getting some exercise, especially early in the morning, just kicks your day off much better. You know, the difference on a day where I don't have an exercise, I've come into the office or I start work and it takes me an hour or two hours sort of to get into things and as your body sort of wakes up and you get your energy. But if you do some exercise, besides all the health benefits, it also helps you be less sick and it helps your immune system. Besides the health benefits, it also just kick starts your day well. And I feel like if I've worked out in the morning, I come into the office and I'm already firing, you know, on all cylinders, I'm a hundred percent energised.
And I think there's that. But there's also during the exercise or other hobbies, you know, for other people, it might be playing an instrument or painting or something like that, those are the times where you really think about your problems and you do your best thinking. So, for me, when I'm on my bike or I'm running, or, you know, you have no devices, you're not generally looking at a TV screen or a mobile phone, and it's really you and your thoughts and that's, you know, one hour or half an hour or even half an hour, 20 minutes every day. It's a great time to sort of process the problems you have in the day ahead or in the week ahead. And really, the best thinking has done for me during that time. So, I would say, exercise and finding hobbies that really allow you to do that is another fantastic way. And it doesn't have to be super long. It can be 20 minutes, 30 minutes every morning or every day, but it gives you that, your ‘me-time’, right? So, you make sure you have time to process your thoughts, your problems, without always looking into a screen while also getting your energy levels up.
Brendan Rogers: The thing coming through my head is that what you're sharing is really sensible stuff. You know, sleep and exercise is, as the top two, from your perspective, it makes perfect sense. And there's probably a lot of people out there thinking, “Well, you're not telling us anything we don't already know.” But why don't people do it?
Sean Smith: I think, yeah, that's a good point. So, I would say, people don't do it because often, they need to make a decision, right? And making decisions takes energy. So, if every morning you wake up and you need to decide to go and work out, or you need to decide and make time for that hobby or that exercise or sleep where you need to in the evening, like you said, I need to be more disciplined and go to bed on time. That decision takes up a lot of energy and you're already generally quite exhausted from the workday or workweek and so on. And so, making that, having that willpower and that decision power is quite a challenge for anybody. We're, you know, we're all human beings. Even for me, it gets very challenging. And I think, the key here is to make it a routine and to really sort of block out your time.
So, for me, the workout in the morning and the sleep is really become a habit and a routine. So, I don't need to think about it anymore. I've just done it for so long. And, you know, people will say, “Well, you've been doing it for a long, long time, so it's easy for you.” But I would generally say sort of, for routines and habits to form my experience, and there's also some research on that, it generally sort of takes anywhere sort of two to three weeks. And if you can stick with it for two to three weeks, then it sort of becomes a natural process and you don't need to use that energy to do it. So, for me, you know, I get up in the morning, make myself a coffee, and it's just part of my routine that I then go on the bike or I go for a run and I don't need any of that mental energy to make a decision and motivate myself to get on the bike or to go into the pool or go for a run and the same for sleep.
You know, we've also, we set ourselves an alarm at 9:00 PM that says, you know, “We need to be in bed in about half an hour’s time.” And okay, we, so me and my girlfriend, we live together. So, we also hold each other accountable. And say, “Oh, yeah. 9:30 now, it's, you know, no more screens and go to bed and read a bit and fall asleep by 10:00.” So, it's really making it part of your schedule, making it a routine so that you don't need to use energy and make decisions because otherwise, you'll end up, you'll feel tired or you'll feel frustrated and you won't have the willpower and energy to decide to go and work out or to go to bed early.
Brendan Rogers: What I really look forward to is, maybe, in a few years time, when we have a chat and just check in on this sort of stuff, and when you've got kids, just tell us how that routine would be going then.
Sean Smith: (Laughing) Yes. I'm always exactly so, I'm always very careful. I, no kids and I, you know, I absolutely admire people with kids, young kids, and for sure, you know, it's a whole different ball game then, but I, and yeah, then maybe, you know, exercise and so on needs to be reduced because of the time commitments with family and so on. But I do think even then probably, that routine and that habit will help, even with the kids, will help to bring some, you know, make it easier and bring some structure to the day or to the week. Otherwise, quickly, the kids and work and everything just totally consume your life. That's also not very sustainable long-term.
Brendan Rogers: Yes, it does require a little bit more discipline. And sometimes it means that the time that you'd like to do something is not always suited perfectly. But if you really have that discipline and routine, you can work around it. So, mate, I'm sure you'll do fine with kids as well.
Sean Smith: I absolutely look forward to catching up in a couple of years when I've got kids at home and I'm pretty sure I'll have a totally new perspective on self-care and how to manage my time and so on. I must say, at the end of the day, I greatly respect people with kids that still manage to find time to exercise and take care of themselves, because I know it must be a huge, huge challenge.
Brendan Rogers: I know there's a few other points that you live by as well. So, around the taking care of yourself. So, do you want to dive into a few of those as well?
Sean Smith: The other one I would say, is really friends, you know, friends and family. Again, it sounds obvious. And none of the sort of top tools you can use for self-care are sort of totally new discoveries. But friends and family, again, like with exercise and like with sleep, we often, sadly, you know, neglect and we don't make the time for them, but the, you know, the energy, the happiness we get out of meeting with really good friends or seeing our family and spending time together with family is a huge energy boost to you as a person and can also really set you back on a sort of a positive mindset.
So, I've also often felt, you know, I might end up in a bit of a negative mindset or you're just a bit down because you've had a lot of things going wrong. You're feeling frustrated and so on. And despite, you know, sleep and exercise, you're just not in that positive mindset and meeting, you know, making sure you meet up with really good friends or friends and family that always are there to support you. It has a huge impact on getting you to look at things positively again. Again, I generally like meeting up with friends and family as well because your devices, your mobile phone, your iPads, et cetera, they're all gone. So, it's just having those conversations and through those conversations, one, you get sort of, you feel happy and it's nice meeting up with people, but I've also generally found, I ended up feeling and thinking far more positively afterwards. So, I'd say, friends and family is another one that should somehow be structured or scheduled, make time for friends and family, because it's not all about, it's not all about work. Your friends and family will be there. Even if you, you know, if you don't have a job or you're somewhere else, they're always there for you.
Another big thing for me is also taking really real breaks in the year, right? So, depending on where you work, you'll have different amount of annual leave, but it's, you know, I talked to a lot of leaders that say, I can't be away from the team more than a couple of days, otherwise everything's going to collapse and so on. So, they take some long weekends here and there and a day off here and there. But I really think it's important as a leader that you take, you know, two weeks off at a minimum, at least once, ideally twice, but at least once a year where you really take two, maybe three weeks off. And that really allows you to entirely refuel and come back fully refreshed and energised. Anything in my experience for a week or less, it's a great break. I still enjoy the shorter holidays, but you don't really get to sort of wind down from the stress and from all of that that comes from work. And really, it's sort of that two- to three-week holiday that really allows you to completely relax and sort of reset and then come back, come back energised. So, I'd say, those, both of those are another two tools that definitely helped with self-care. And it's again, scheduling it in or finding, finding time to make sure that that happens.
Brendan Rogers: Mindset gets talked about so often. Are there any other areas or things that you would suggest that people can do to really help their mindset? Because again, the way I see it is exactly what you'd said in maybe different words, that if you haven't got the mindset around some of this stuff and to take good care of yourself, then you're not even gonna start thinking about having more sleep and doing some exercise and spending time with friends and family and all those sorts of things.
Sean Smith: I mean, mindset around self-care. I think people that want to take, you know, make self-care a big part of their leadership and a big part of themselves, they really need to sort of start believing in that mindset that you can perform absolutely at your best and when it really counts, if you take care of yourself. So, in a way, you know, doing less is actually more. Working the entire time, grinding out, just because you were putting in the long hours, won't get you that success. It's being smart about the amount of time you're working and cutting yourself off at a certain point even if there's more work. I'm just saying, “No. This is, you know, this is enough. I will be better off if I don't work more now, because when it really counts, I'll be at my best.”
And if you can sort of adopt that mindset and believe in that mindset and habit, then the whole self-care topic and all the things we've spoken about will become a lot easier to implement. Like I know that if I don't get 7 to 8 hours of sleep, with time, my performance will deteriorate and I won't be able to perform. So, that mindset really drives me to, “Okay, look, I might want to stay up later tonight and watch Netflix and whatnot, but nope, I'm going to go to bed because it really helps make sure that I'm at my best."
And I think, also to help that mindset, and I think this is one thing I've struggled with in the past is also surrounding yourself with people that have a similar mindset. It becomes very difficult if all your friends and family around you are all, you know, don't prioritise sleep and, or even, you know, wear sleep is sort of a lack of sleep as a badge of honour and so on. And everybody around you doesn't have that mindset on sort of self-care and taking care of yourself. If you find somebody else or a few friends that have that same mindset, it definitely helps you because you don't feel like that lone wolf all by yourself. So, it's also getting people, finding people around you that believe in the same thing that you want to believe in. And that really helps form that, mindset of, “Okay, maybe slightly less is actually more because I can really, really perform when it counts.”
Brendan Rogers: I’ve got this phrase ringing in my head, “You are what you eat.” Where does diet fit into self-care?
Sean Smith: I'm not a dietitian or no degree in diets and what you should eat, what you should not eat. But for me, healthy eating and, you know, I would say one big thing for me is probably alcohol. They have a huge impact on how you just feel, how, you know, how energised do you feel? We've all been in that meeting after lunch where you basically fall asleep or you feel so tired and can't, even you've had a coffee, you can't stay awake. That's the perfect example of how diet can have an impact. If you're going to have a huge amount of carbs, for example, huge big lunch, you know, tons of carbs. It will basically for most people, it will knock you out for maybe two hours, two hours after lunch. And you're just not, you just don't feel good. You just feel super sleepy and everything. And it's because your body's digesting, trying, putting all the energy into digesting the food.
So, it's these kinds of things that can, understanding how food impacts your energy levels can really have a big impact. And the other thing I was mentioning is alcohol. You know, and I love to have a glass of wine or my beer. And so, it's not that I'm saying, you know, don't drink alcohol, but actually, since that turning point where self-care became a topic for me back in Indonesia, the first two years, when I was the Project Manager, I was drinking during the week, any time whenever I felt like it. But then I realised, especially in the sort of humid climate, even one or two beers after work had a huge impact on how I felt the next day, how clear my head was, the energy levels. And so, for example, for me, I don't drink during the week. I only drink on a bit on the weekends, but I don't drink during the week because I know the impact it has and everybody's different, right? So, some people can probably drink more and have less of an impact, but it's knowing and understanding how those things make you feel that then at the end of the day or the next day.
And I would say the last thing about diet and you know, what you eat and drink is it also has an impact on how likely you're going to get sick. And then, you know, one week of being sick, even if you're going to work, but it's a huge toll on you. And then also your team, you're not feeling good, you're more irritable, et cetera, et cetera. So, the diet, having a healthy diet, well-balanced diet, you know, maybe limiting the alcohol, making sure you're always hydrated, drinking enough water can have a huge impact on your immune system and not getting sick as frequently. And that for me, in the long-term, really looking at long-term successes, leader and being there for your team, the less you get sick, the better. So, I would say, those, that's where the diet plays a big role.
Brendan Rogers: Let's go on to that term, ‘badge of honour’. And how I relate to that is that some of this stuff that you're talking about, it's often seen as a leader's weak, if they need to do this or show this sort of stuff. So, for you, and having lived in breathed it, and you are living and breathing this now as a person and as a leader in your organisation, how do you create this culture of self-care where these sorts of things are valued and not worn as a badge of honour when you don't do them?
Sean Smith: It's really about leading by example. And even myself, having gone through the last seven years in the corporate world, I've often had self-doubt because I look around and very few people are doing it. And I nearly often felt guilty of, you know, leaving my mobile phone outside the bedroom so I can get my eight hours of sleep. Whereas all the other, you know, Management Team Members, Directors, et cetera, a lot of them just have, you know, are always accessible via their mobile phone. And that made me feel at times, you know, guilty or like you said, like it’s a weakness. And I think that's where it comes in. So, if you're a leader, if your leader of the team shows that it's okay and leads by example and, you know, communicates that, then the entire team will one, not feel so guilty, but they'll then with time, feel like it's even encouraged.
If you do a good job of communicating and showing you care when you're having conversations with your team about these things, whether it's sport, whether it's sleep, whether it's not sending emails over the weekend or in the evenings, all these kinds of things. If you openly communicate about that, share what you're doing to take care of yourself. That slowly translates down to the team. And you know, you can have, you're maybe having coffee and you're talking to them and you can ask them. So, what are you, are you doing anything this evening? What did you do over the weekend? What hobbies do you have? Exercise? If you show a clear interest, then people will start feeling comfortable about it. And that, combined with you sharing what you as a leader, what you're doing, your habits. So, I frequently share, “I exercise in the morning.”
So, my whole team knows that, you know, basically, early morning, I'm working out. So, I'm basically not, you know, not accessible. People can’t call me. And all these things then start adding up. If you do it consistently, communicate, and you share consistently, that all starts adding up to create a culture where people feel safe to take care of themselves and don't feel like they should feel guilty or that it's a weakness. And with time, people will start seeing it as, “Oh, it's a strength and it's something that's encouraged”. So, it's really about leading by example and communicating transparently and openly what you're doing as the leader, but also, showing interest to your team around what they might be doing to take care of themselves and give themselves a break.
Brendan Rogers: How does this work in managing up? So, let's say, you're that leader. You're really practicing self-care. The people in your team are understanding that and valuing it and they’re seeing benefit from that. But the leaders above you aren't. How do you manage that situation?
Sean Smith: That's quite tough. So, again, I've come to a point where I'm happy and I believe in it so much that I don't mind so much if people think that I'm crazy, and so on. So, I'm happy to talk about it with my boss and openly, you know, the whole management team here in Singapore, including my boss. They all know that I do my sports, that I go to bed early, but I'm up earlier than most, and people have gotten used to it. And I think, the key thing is, if you show that as a leader managing up to your boss or also to your peers, that when it counts, you are there, when there's a crisis, you can still adjust your schedule that you're there, that, you know, it's not the self-care aspect is not interfering really with the results that you're delivering with the availability of yourself, for the team, when it really counts.
Then, in my experience, that's always been okay, okay to manage up. Even if the others, you know, all don't believe in it. But I must say with or without tooting my own horn too much, what I have realised is, so I've joined, you know, Management Team here in Singapore. And what I realised is with time, me talking about it, and me, also really believing in that self-care aspect, you start seeing people in the team creating, you know, small habits of getting exercise in the morning or being less on their emails, less on their phones and getting more sleep and stuff like that. Because people have realised, “Look, you can still deliver the results and maybe, even a very good results while still taking care of yourself. And he's still very supportive in the team environment and to our MD here locally. So yeah, no problem with self-care.” So, that's how I've been trying to manage upward. It's definitely not easy. And, you know, I've had a lot of moments of self-doubt as well, where I think, “Ah, maybe, I should just be working all hours and so on.” And that's maybe what it takes in these kinds of positions, but yeah, you share openly what you do and you make sure you deliver those key results and you're there for the team. I don't think anybody then really has a problem with it.
Brendan Rogers: Mate, let's move into self-care during these recent months. COVID-19 in a lot of places around the world. There's been shut downs, people are working from home and there's lots of good and maybe there's lots of not-so-good around those sort of scenarios, but how have you dealt with that? Keeping this routine and the importance of self-care during this COVID-19 period?
Sean Smith: So, man, that's been, it's been super tough. I would say, it's been the toughest time for me in terms of self-care, despite, you know, at the beginning, when, so in Singapore, maybe to give a bit of context. In Singapore, we've basically been in lockdown for the last sort of three and a half months basically, always at home. And for at least the two months period, you weren't allowed to see anybody else other than the people that you were living with. So, for me, it was just me and my girlfriend.
At first, I thought, “Oh, this is great. Work from home. I'll be super efficient and everything.” But with time, it's been the toughest period in my career in terms of making sure I get that self-care, because I feel like all the boundaries that I previously set around work and at home and getting exercise and so on, have all sort of become blurred because you're at home the whole time and you don't have, you know, for me, one of the biggest things that probably impacted me is I don't have that milestone of saying, “Okay, look, it's around, it's 5:30, 6:00. I want to be able to wrap up and get back home for dinner.” And that was sort of a milestone target that I always set myself for the normal workday, but now that you're at home, “Yeah, I'm already at home. So, I'll just cook when I cook when I want.” So, I’d end up working more and more hours without sort of really keeping track of it and because everything's remote and it's also a crisis for us and people nonstop just wanting to call for team meetings and other team meetings and other Microsoft team meetings. And they're just popping up in your calendar and everybody wants something from you. So, all that combined then started eating into my sleeping time, into my exercise time. And just generally, the time we’re sort of downtime to re-energise and refresh.
After about a month and then really realising what I've not got this under control again, what I ended up doing is sort of creating those sort of hard stops for myself, even though I was still working from home, but a hard stop like I had in the office environment. I said, “Okay, 6:00,” sort of, “6:00 PM, we start cooking dinner.” It doesn't matter if there's still more work, you know, emails, et cetera, coming in. We try to be stricter again with our schedule at home so that we can also make sure that for example, we go to bed on time.
I would say, the other big thing was really learning how to make sure whether I was, as a leader, I was adding value to all those requests that were coming through, because that was the thing that was one of the biggest challenges I had because it's a crisis. And because it's also everybody's remote and it's not easy just to walk by your office or see you in the office and ask you a quick question. So, all of these Microsoft team requests were coming in for short discussions here and there, and it just absolutely floods your calendar.
I really, and then this has been a good learning for myself as well as I really had to learn how to push back on certain things and say, “Look, you don't need me for this meeting. You don't need me for this decision or try it yourself because otherwise, I just couldn't do everything.” And that allowed me to then also make sure I was carving out enough time for self-care, because if I said ‘yes’ to everything, basically, my entire evening would be blocked out and then I'd have to catch up on the weekend on emails and all those kinds of things. So, it’s being able to say ‘no’ to meetings that I was not really adding value to. And they just wanted to have me in that meeting that really helped me carve out enough time for self-care during this period. But I really, I did really struggle at the beginning.
Brendan Rogers: Of those things you did, was there one that made the biggest difference for you in maintaining that discipline and the self-care at home?
Sean Smith: I think, really, that's setting up boundaries. Setting up boundaries, because like I said, at the beginning, sort of really got, you know, it really got blurred because now, everything's at home. So, you would start working at the earlier because you're already at home and you don't have your commute, then you would work later because you're already at home and there's no pressure to stop working and come back home and have dinner. So, it was really sort of setting those boundaries and being honest with yourself because there's always tons of work that you can work on, but saying, “Look okay, you know, I started at 8:30, but before that, I'm not really gonna touch, you know, my mobile phone and my emails.” And like I said, at sort of 6:00, a hard stop and say, “Okay, I've worked and unless there's an absolute crisis,” and that's where you need to be disciplined and honest with yourself, “but unless there's an absolute crisis, I'll just come back to it tomorrow”, for example. And putting those boundaries in place and being disciplined in that sense has really helped me because otherwise, it was sort of downward spiral, which was no good for me.
And then, for my team, because I'm not able to support them and I'll be far more frustrated and irritated. And so on.
Brendan Rogers: For people like me and for lots and lots of those out there that have those similar challenges, what would be that bit of advice you'd give them to say and me, just to start to move the dial forward on taking better care of yourself?
Sean Smith: Three things basically to really get things started off is one, we spoke about it and you asked me about it, was the mindset. First thing you really need to start working on is trying to believe or telling yourself at the beginning that taking care of yourself will really help you perform better when it really counts, whether that's for your team or as a consultant and running workshops and so on, but really believing that taking care of yourself and sometimes doing less is more. And that really allows you to perform when it counts. So, first is the mindset piece. Otherwise, the rest don't sort of flow.
And then the next thing is really experimenting and finding out what works for you. I spoke about a lot of things, sleep, exercise, diet, et cetera, but everybody's different. And it's really about figuring out what gives you that sort of relaxing feeling and allows you to recharge your energy. And it's finding out what self-care tool really allows you to do that. And then, once you figured that out, and for me, that's for example, sleep and exercise. Once you figured that out, then you need to schedule it and you need to schedule it and make it a habit, and then protect that time. Basically, it's the second most important thing after, basically, after your family and protect that time and don't let anybody eat into it.
And if you can do those three things to really work on the mindset, figure out what works for you, in terms of helping you feel relaxed and recharging your energy and then scheduling and making it a habit and protecting that time basically at all costs. Then you're already off to a fantastic start in terms of self-care. And I think you'll be far ahead of most people in sort of the corporate working world.
Brendan Rogers: For anybody who wants to get in touch with you and just talk about self-care or thank you for some of the suggestions and just talk leadership. How do people get in touch with you?
Sean Smith: First thing is, and this is how we've met. I'm on LinkedIn. So, you can find me under Sean Smith on LinkedIn, although I'm sure there are a ton of Sean Smiths out there on LinkedIn. So, I've got to my tag lines, ‘Creating workplaces where people go home happy.’ Brendan and I are, of course, also a connection. And I'm based in Singapore working for Schindler. So, hopefully, with those filters, you should be able to find the right Sean Smith. Alternatively, you can also write me an email to Sean. So, Sean is spelled S-E-A-N. email@example.com and you can also go to my website, www.moderndayleadership.com where you can also get in touch with me. But you can also sign up to my email list. And I send out short biweekly videos on all things around leadership, self-care, and mindset and so on. So, those are the best ways to get in contact with me.
Brendan Rogers: Thank you, mate. And I have to plug your videos and I've signed up for your list. Really appreciate the time you've given us and sharing those points. I know I need to take some of these things on board to help me become better and to take better care of myself. So, mate, thanks very much. I really appreciate you being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast today.
Sean Smith: Thank you so much, Brendan. It's been absolutely my pleasure. I'm super passionate about this topic. Thank you so much again for having me on here today.
Brendan Rogers: This episode has probably had the biggest direct impact on me since starting this podcast. Self-care is something that I struggle with. Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm overweight, eat badly or don't exercise. It's that I don't always prioritise my self-care. As Sean said, “Work will always be there and you can come back to it.”
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have the flexibility that having your own business allows you. But the downside to this is, it is very easy to get caught up working and not looking after yourself the way that you should. It's time for me to take action and prioritise my own self-care. For me, this starts with sleep. My alarm is set and I am taking up Sean's challenge.
What action are you going to take to prioritise your self care?
These were my three key takeaways after my conversation with Sean.
My first key takeaway. We keep toxic people in a team too long. I have made this mistake. Sean's father has made the mistake and Sean himself has made the mistake. We all want to believe we can help them and change their nature. Keeping them has a huge negative impact on the team and the leader. How is that promoting self-care for everyone when you keep toxic people? Act quickly and move them on. You will be better for it. And your team will be as well.
My second key takeaway. Find what self-care options work for you. Whether it be sleep, exercise, spending time with family and friends, taking real breaks from work, healthy eating, and drinking, or a combination of some or all of these. Find what works for you. Don't try and do everything. Just do one thing. Work it into your routine by blocking time, be disciplined about doing it, and it will become a habit.
My third key takeaway. Remove the badge of honour, create a culture of self-care. How do you do this? The same as developing any culture, lead by example. Bring self-care into conversations, share what you do, ask others what they are doing for self-care and communicate openly about it. People will start to feel safe doing it, and when they do it, they will experience the benefits. Having a culture of self-care will ensure you are there as much as possible to support your team and deliver results.
So, in summary, my three key takeaways where, we keep toxic people in a team too long, find what self care options work for you, and remove the badge of honour - create a culture of self-care.
If you have any questions or feedback about this episode, or if you wanted to let me know what action you have taken to focus on self-care, please feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.