Think of yourself as an ecosystem. In an ecosystem there are limited resources that need to be wisely allocated and allowed time to replenish. A sustainable ecosystem is one that maintains this balance – it can meet the needs of its population while maintaining productivity over an extended period of time.

The myth of the perfect leader

For leaders, psychological sustainability is equally important. Everyone has limited personal resources and undeniable needs, but in the workforce high performers often succumb to the ideal of a perfect employee or leader who is expected to act as though their resources were unlimited and their needs negligible.

In the face of stress and pressure, the ideal employee or leader stays positive, flexible and confident. And when they come up against a barrier or problem, they work harder, try to improve themselves and/or ignore negative feelings or fatigue.

However, ignoring, suppressing or devaluing our needs and limitations can lead to unhealthy levels of stress and the pressure to always appear strong or work harder. This can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms that lead to reduced productivity and focus as well as to a range of physical and mental health problems including depression and burnout. And if leaders are no longer respecting their own boundaries and limitations, they will not be able to lead their teams effectively either.

Three steps to sustainable self-leadership

Leaders lead first and foremost through their example. What kind of culture are you promoting in your team through your own example of self-leadership?

Sustainable self-leadership is more than just maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It starts with self-reflection, by asking yourself questions like: How does my personal ecosystem work? What motivates me and what am I striving for? How does my work bring purpose to my life? Which aspects of my work give me enjoyment?  When do I lose motivation and energy? Which needs do I tend to neglect? Which aspects of myself do I tend to ignore or devalue?

The second step to sustainable self-leadership is self-awareness. This starts with acknowledging and owning that we can’t always be productive and that there are times when we all doubt ourselves, feel overwhelmed and/or need support. Perfectionism is not a personality trait but a survival strategy. Self-awareness also means becoming an expert at reading yourself and recognizing your emotions and triggers.

The final step to sustainable self-leadership is to actually start changing the way you lead yourself by adopting new concrete strategies in your daily work and personal life. What will you do differently in stressful situations? What voices will you (no longer) listen to? What boundaries will you set for yourself? Which new habits will you introduce? Small steps can often be the catalyst for positive changes with lasting impact, creating new patterns of sustainable self-leadership that will enhance your own well-being and your effectiveness as a leader.

Find out more about Sustainable Self-Leadership in Module 3 of the Aiming Higher Women’s Leadership Programme with Dr. Nilima Chowdhury. The course starts September 8threserve your seat today and take the first step to becoming a more effective leader!

About the author(s)


Executive School of Management, Technology and Law


Get the latest articles directly to your inbox.

Newsletter [EN]

Share article

More articles

  • The Future of Work and the Central Role of Diversity & Inclusion

  • Leadership in Transition: Five Trends of Modern Leadership

  • The future of work – also relevant for the legal market?

  • Why inclusive leadership matters for every generation

  • Do young lawyers need leadership, too? Classification according to generations – slightly arbitrary, but useful