Leader Health and Sustainability

Leader health and sustainability matrix

Smith’s (2012) research with 108 participants working in helping professions revealed a tension between ‘care of others’ and ‘care of self ’. This was also evident in the literature (Hart, 1984; Kets de Vries, 2006; Steinke, 2006). Participants diagrammed this tension as a matrix with two dimensions: care of self and care of others.

Four quadrants were developed and described:

Figure: Leader Health & Sustainability

Stephen Smith and Murray Bingham. 2016. The dance of wounded souls: Improving leadership well-being and effectiveness. In Wellbeing, personal wholeness and the social fabric: An interdisciplinary approach, ed. J. Harrison, D. Costache, and D. Cronshaw. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press.

The Sustained Servant (High Care of Self and High Care of Others)

This leader is willing to ‘give all’ for what he or she believes in but knows that without healthy balance this is short-term and selfish. He or she is self-aware, listens to others and builds their own accountability systems. Through positive modelling and healthy choices, this leader can help develop sustainability in others. This is the zone of personal ‘balance’.

References: Howe, 1998; Kets de Vries, 2006; Minirth, Meier, Hawkins, Thurman & Flournoy, 1997; Quick, Cooper, Quick & Gavin, 2002; Reivich & Shatte, 2002; Richardson, 2005; Rohr and Martos, 1990; Seligman, 2002; and Swenson, 1998, 2004.

The Self-Focused Spectator (High Care of Self and Low Care of Others)

This leader is a constant survivor who thrives in situations where apparent care for others aligns with self-interest. They always gain in some way when serving others. They avoid transparency, their espoused values do not always match actions, and they will tend to create situations where this seems normal. This is the zone of ‘narcissism’.

References: Bernstein, 2001; Cavaiola & Lavender, 2000; Kets de Vries, 1984; Meloy, 1986; Millon, et.al., 2000; Simon, 1996; Sperry, 1995; and Stout, 2005)

The Self-Destructive Martyr (Low Care of Self and High Care of Others)

This leader is usually driven to ‘martyrdom’ due to an unresolved inner drive (maybe guilt, obligation, inadequacy or perfectionism). They lack self-awareness and avoid accountability, actively working against their espoused goals by not modelling healthy behaviour. They tend to rescue and create co-dependent relationships. This is the zone of ‘drivenness and compulsion’.

References: Cermack, 1986; Embleton, Axten, Blandford & Lavercombe, 1996; Friedman, 1985; Horney, 1937; Kets de Vries, 2001; and Sperry, 1991.

The Wounded Slave (Low Care of Self and Low Care of Others)

This leader feels numb, possibly depressed or burnt out, has disconnected from people around them and lacks energy or motivation to help self. They feel trapped and stuck in pattern of thinking and behaviour with no way out. They need professional counselling to take healthy next steps. This is the zone of ‘burnout and depression’ .

References: Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner & Schaufeli, 2001; Grosch & Olsen, 2000; Hart, 1984; Leiter & Maslach, 2005; Maslach, 2003; Rothschild, 2006; Somech & Miassy-Maljak, 2003; and Virginia, 1998).


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