When your health is wealth: Women leaders thrive when they prioritise well-being



Published Jun 9, 2024


For women navigating the demanding world of leadership, the saying “health is wealth” takes on a whole new meaning.

Climbing the corporate ladder or running your own businesses, means women leaders often sacrifice self-care in the pursuit of success. Ironically, that success will be of no value to you if you cannot enjoy it due to ill health.

Therefore, investing in your physical, mental, and emotional well-being is the key to living a successful and impactful life - where you matter as much (or even more) as your work or business.

I have previously mentioned that my focus on my job and the “success” that went with it, literally brought me to my knees and the chronic health conditions I live with bear testament to that every day.

In my case, I literally had to recreate my life, starting with my mindset and beliefs about what gives me self-worth. Working with a coach and therapist allowed me to investigate the historic reasons for how I got to where I was; but also take action to transform my way of seeing myself, my contribution and my value. This journey allowed me to re-evaluate and address my commitment to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing; with very positive outcomes.

The impact of health on women’s leadership

When a woman leader is (holistically) healthy, she experiences a cascade of benefits:

Self-confidence: You know yourself and your abilities; allowing you to show up with confidence.

Self-leadership: You lead your life in terms of well-being while having self-awareness about what you need to focus on to lead yourself before you lead others.

Self-worth: Your self-worth is not determined by your job or others’ expectations of you. You understand that your primary job is to take care of you first, and that you have inherent self-worth.

Self-compassion: Prioritising your well-being allows you to build a solid foundation of self-compassion which is essential for recognising your health and well-being needs. Too many women leaders neglect themselves resulting in burnout and chronic exhaustion.

Compassion for others: If you understand the importance of being well, living healthy and not overworking; it becomes easier to understand that your team also deserves this and you can show compassion for them through being a leader that prioritises her team’s health and well-being.

Sharper mind: Physical activity and proper sleep boost your cognitive function, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving.

Enhanced resilience: Managing stress effectively allows you as a woman leader to navigate challenges with greater composure and bounce back from setbacks more quickly.

Improved energy levels: Physical and mental well-being provide the energy you need to keep up with the long hours and demanding schedules that come with leadership.

Empowering presence: Confidence and self-belief radiate from a healthy leader, inspiring and motivating those around them.

Some practical steps for women leaders to prioritise well-being

Nourish your body: Make healthy eating a priority. Pack nutritious lunches, keep healthy snacks on hand, and stay hydrated throughout the day. This has been a challenge for me leading to weight fluctuations and lack of energy.

When I started focusing on well-being from the inside rather than from the outside (how I looked) I was able to improve my eating habits; cut down on sweets; and take small but consistent steps to eat more healthily.

Remember food also heals - there are foods that can help manage inflammation and improve energy levels.

Water is so important for us in so many ways yet many of us struggle to drink water. I improve my water intake by drinking sparkling water. Make the time to understand what eating healthily could look like for you without losing the joy of food.

Move your body: Find an activity you enjoy, whether it’s a brisk walk, a dance class, or a yoga session. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. This has been difficult for me until I shifted my mindset about how important moving is for my health and energy.

Menopause has added an additional layer, which has negatively affected my energy and my motivation to move. I have had to focus on addressing the underlying causes of this so that I can regain my energy. Don’t beat yourself up about not exercising but think about small, consistent ways you can move your body. I have found that if I am cooking I am also exercising because I am walking up and down a lot.

You will be surprised how many steps you take when just doing chores around the house (which inevitably is often women’s role). I also park my car a bit further from the store or mall entrance so I can get in a few extra steps.

Prioritise sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine and create a sleep-conducive environment. It may be time to consider your sleep habits and how they might be preventing you from getting the quality sleep you need. I use a sleep tracker which has made me aware of my sleep deficit - and now I can take conscious action to address this.

Manage stress: Stress which if left unaddressed leads to burnout and chronic health issues. Stress can also be a trigger for unhealthy behaviours like bingeing on sugar for an energy hit and thinking that the adrenaline of stress keeps you productive. It does not. You need to address the root cause of your stress if you are to find a sustainable and healthy way of living

Seek support: Don't be afraid to delegate tasks and build a strong support network of colleagues, mentors, and friends. Go for therapy to address trauma and historical events that keep you stuck. Work with a coach to build improved self-awareness, self-compassion and to take action for your dream life (not just your job/business).

Mindfulness matters: Techniques like meditation and deep breathing can help manage stress and promote emotional well-being.

Schedule self-care (and fun!): Just as you block out time for all your work and meetings, block out time in your calendar for your health and well-being. These could be activities you enjoy, whether it’s exercise, meditation, or spending time in nature. Prioritise doing social things and having fun. As adults our biggest loss is making time to do things that bring us joy and connect us to others through play. Play more!

Do your basic health checks please!

In our quest for working ourselves to death for others, I find that one of the biggest things we neglect is our basic (but critically important) health checks. We forget about scheduling regular health screenings because we are so busy doing things for others. Please schedule check-ups with your doctor to discuss your individual needs and risk factors.

Here are some basic health checks most women should consider: cervical cancer screening; breast cancer screening; bone density scans; cholesterol screenings; thyroid disease; mental health screenings.

By prioritising your health, you are not being selfish; you are making a strategic investment in your well-being, your success and the success of those you lead. A healthy woman leader is a more effective leader, capable of making sound decisions, inspiring others, and driving positive change. So, take charge of your well-being now. Remember, when you thrive, the world around you thrives too.

Shireen Motara is an African Feminist and Thought Leader on Women’s Leadership and Wellbeing. She is a certified Coach that specialises in working with women leaders. Shireen is the Founder CEO of Tara Transform, a social change coaching and consulting practice; and Founder CEO of The Next Chapter which is a platform and community that supports women’s life transitions and brings visibility to the lived experience of women in midlife.