How Treating Yourself as a Friend Will Make You a More Effective Leader

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We live in a paradoxical culture. More and more, we hear messages of self-acceptance and body positivity. Yet we’re also extremely hard on ourselves. It’s all well and good not to cringe when you look in the mirror. But that stroke of positive psychology is offset by our grueling internal standards.

While it’s true we hear less commentary on how we should look or what types of wives we should be, we’re now told to achieve more in other areas of our lives. We’re supposed to be successful executives, Pinterest-perfect mothers, cheerful volunteers, and side-hustling entrepreneurs all at the same time.

Calgon, take me away.

While it’s great to hear we can be all things, there’s a dark side to this message. We feel that we must be all things to all people, and we tell ourselves we’re failures if we fall short. We can be harsh in our inner dialogues.

“Suck it up. Pull yourself together. Stop complaining — you’re not that tired.”

Never in our lives would we speak to our girlfriends in this way. When they tell us they’re worn out or frightened, we swaddle them in encouragement.

“Take a break. Come over, we’ll order dinner and have a glass of wine.”

When is the last time we treated ourselves like a friend? I ask this question seriously, because I believe being a friend to ourselves is the key to lasting success.

Will You Be Your Own Friend or Foe?

Looking back, I see so many instances when I was the furthest thing from a friend to myself. I criticized everything, from my appearance to my relationships to my work ethic. Nothing about me measured up — to me, anyway. Compassionate criticism can be transformative, but that’s not what this was. It was cutting, impatient, and hurtful. And it all came from within.

As I discovered mindfulness and gained a greater awareness of my thoughts, I was shocked at the way I spoke to myself. It became abundantly clear that I needed to stop being so unkind to the woman in the reflection. I chose to accept who I am, warts and all — just as I would a treasured friend.

True self-acceptance is enriching and liberating because it brings us closer to other people. When you treat yourself with kindness, you become more empathetic toward others. You don’t expect impossible standards of yourself, so you extend the same courtesy to those around you. That doesn’t mean you ignore flaws and problems. We all have room to improve; that’s part of the fun of life. But you nurture improvement through kindness and positivity instead of threats and judgment.

Self-Friendship Influences Leadership

Becoming a friend to yourself will help you become a more effective leader because employees respond to bosses who are calm and self-possessed. There’s nothing like witnessing the loyalty and growth that emerge when people feel safe and acknowledged. But you can only cultivate that type of environment when you hold empathy for yourself and those around you.

Here’s how to bring self-friendship into your role as a leader:

1. Acknowledge that change takes time.

You and your team will always strive to be better, but better doesn’t happen overnight. Set intentions as a group, and support one another in your goals by building in realistic timelines and buffers for setbacks. When you acknowledge that change won’t happen instantly, you allow people to be candid about their challenges and to be heard in a compassionate space.

2. Learn from regret, but don’t let it overwhelm you.

No one lives a regret-free life. Likewise, no one has a regret-free career. When you stumble as a leader, acknowledge the mistake. Take your team out to lunch for a debriefing so you can learn from their experiences, too. Then decide how you’ll put those lessons into practice, and let the mistake go.

3. Observe more; judge less.

We are all so quick to judge ourselves and one another, often before we have all the facts. If something goes wrong, resist the urge to make judgments and proclamations. Take in the whole situation; ask questions. Once you have the information to make an assessment, do so kindly. Whether it’s your mistake or someone else’s, always lead with empathy. You can’t be a friend to anyone if criticism and anger are your go-to tactics.

The beautiful thing about self-acceptance isn’t just that it lets you be kinder to yourself in moments of struggle. It frees you to enjoy your accomplishments more as well. When my team and I have a win, we celebrate. Sure, we’re looking for ways we could improve, too. But I want us to bring our whole selves to work, and that includes the occasional self-congratulatory pat on the back.

Embracing our full range of experiences is what makes life meaningful, and being honest about both your triumphs and challenges gives the people around you permission to show up exactly as they are: imperfect, authentic, and complete.

Sona Jepsen is a writer and speaker helping people be so good, they can’t be ignored. She enjoys fixing and growing businesses. Sona is passionate about people and performance with purpose.

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