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10 Actionable and Inspiring Tips for Leading Well

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In spite of the events of the past year, I have never been more bullish about the business or practice of wellness or the role it now has to play on a global stage, and as it turns out, I’m not the only one. Thierry Malleret, economist and author of COVID-19: THE GREAT RESET, reminds us that when something like wellness, which the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health,” becomes rarer or scarcer, the greater is its appeal. And wellbeing—that outcome we’re all trying to achieve as a result of our wellness habits—can easily become a mirage in the desert.

The reality is that the “American Dream” and the science of wellbeing are, in fact, in conflict with one another, and we now have the somewhat unexpected opportunity to realign the two, if not better help them to live in concert together. And the evidence is clear: it’s not the pursuit of padded bank accounts or career strata or quarterly earnings that make your home or company a great place to live or work; these pursuits can actually negatively impact your productivity and happiness over time. Instead, practicing acts of kindness and gratitude, making time for meaningful social connection, and caring for our own personal wellness while championing the wellbeing of others, is what actually does the trick (and if you don’t believe me, just ask expert Laurie Santos, professor of Yale University’s The Science of Wellbeing, a course within which more than 3 million people have now enrolled). 

So, what does this all mean for leaders? And what can we all do to effectively transform our businesses with less resources, and still care for ourselves, our families, and our colleagues along the way? In an effort to answer these questions, following are my top tips for leading well, based on my experience leading and advising the wellness strategies of private and public organizations, the science and business of wellbeing, and the recalibrating events of the last year.

1. Identify your STOP LIST and champion it. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a Fortune 500 CEO, or the leader of your own jam-packed household, we’ve all been asked to do more with less (less resources, less room, less time, less patience). In most business cases, the reductions have been dramatic, calling for a need to simplify in order to stabilize. In other words, the single-best thing you can do to ease the strain on your organization and to positively impact the wellbeing of those looking to you for guidance, is to identify what you and your teammates will STOP doing in order to leave more space for what is truly important and impactful. Best-in-class leaders will not only help to lead their organization through this process, but they will also communicate and publish the collective outcome for all to see. 

2. Understand the role that FEAR and TRUST play in your organization. 

This is where humility comes in because you have to be brave enough to assess your unique situation, ask for help if you need it (often from an objective, third-party), accept the answers you receive (even if you disagree with them), and take swift, corrective action. Michael C. Bush, CEO at Great Place to Work, a company that has conducted extensive research around workplace culture in 2020, recently reminded me that “fear stops innovation and makes people feel and think small.” Moreover, the absence of trust is a deal-breaker for meaningful job satisfaction, particularly between employees and their immediate supervisors as employees tend to leave their bosses, not their jobs or companies.

3. Lead with LOVE. 

The opposite of fear—from which ego often leads—is love. Earlier last year, I went on an odyssey of love, so to speak, to find a beacon of hope that could potentially guide us through these trying times. And before you complete that eye-roll, trust me when I tell you: I was suspect. Much like the science and business of wellness (now a multi-trillion-dollar, global economy), I needed to find evidence that love could truly make strategic impact. That is, if companies institutionalized love, a supreme form of positivity, could they actually impact their bottom lines? The short answer, and only after digging into the successful business practices of companies like Subaru, Southwest Airlines, and even Prudential Real Estate, is YES. You can read more details here, but what this ultimately means for leaders is this: when the going gets tough, and you have to make difficult business decisions in the heat of the moment, ask yourself: “what would love do?” You will be surprised how this simple question can calm your brain’s amygdala (home of our flight and fight response), engage your frontal lobe, and have you championing humanity and grace over callous judgement or panic. More importantly, you stand a better chance of treating people like humans, not robots, and seeing their whole selves shine at work.

4. Invite WHOLE SELVES to work. 

Like it or not, 2020 has changed how we all work, see, identify, and empathize with one another, and we can’t unsee that, nor should we. Remember what the start of quarantine looked like for you and your colleagues? Zoom at home, often in spaces not designed for work, dogs barking, kids struggling, all while you were trying to conduct business as normal—only it wasn’t. And in many instances, usually during a heated team meeting or important client pitch when a pet yelped or the wireless went down, we were uncomfortably reminded that our whole selves were on display for the world to see. And now, the hats we have historically hung outside the office while we pretended not to struggle or flourish in roles left unsaid on our business cards (i.e., mother, father, caretaker, you name it), hang front and center in the living rooms within which we all now work. They can’t be put on mute any longer. It’s time we acknowledge them, even celebrate them, and allow room for our whole self, and the whole selves of others, to be present at work.

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5. Make wellness about CULTURE, not programs. 

 Speaking of culture, companies are still championing the quality of their workplace wellness “perks and programs” including things like flexible work schedules, unlimited PTO, access to healthy food and beverage, free subscriptions to mindfulness or fitness apps, and so forth, versus focusing on the quality of life that their workplace cultures have the potential to foster. Sure, you can offer the world’s best wellness resources but if your colleagues do not feel like they have the permission to use them (i.e., anyone feel chained to their desks in 2020?) or are expected to be accessible at all hours of the day, or if they do not feel included in their workplace, or are struggling with issues of fear and trust with their supervisors, well, said “perks and programs” will be dead on arrival. So, here’s a hint: lead by example and/or find someone who can with authenticity. People will notice and over time, they will believe you enough to follow suit.

6. Model, set, and respect BOUNDARIES. 

It’s amazing to me how many leaders still get this wrong, particularly those who claim to make the wellbeing of their employees a company priority. Related to #3 above, a great first step towards modeling the right kind of behavior that stands to generate a well culture, is to set and respect boundaries by first claiming your own. In fact, the best leaders today proactively manage their calendars to allow time to work out, reflect and/or be mindful each day, while also finding ways to socially connect with loved ones, disconnect from digital devices, and here’s a big one: actually celebrate (versus hide or indefinitely accrue) vacation time. The very best leaders of tomorrow will take these actions a step further by publicly sharing how they care for their own wellbeing, what kind of habits enable them to show up as the best versions of themselves, share stories and pictures of recent holidays or vacation, and then encourage teammates to regularly do the same.

7. Normalize discussions of MENTAL HEALTH. 

Our friends at the Global Wellness Institute recently released new research on mental health including the important distinction between mental wellness and mental illness, signaling the need for us to ultimately understand and resource both. While companies have typically provided third-party resources or hotlines for individuals struggling with clinical, mental health conditions, they have a long way to go before they normalize the existence of these conditions among the workplace. Providing spaces or platforms for colleagues to take mental health breaks largely ignores those people who struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and other common conditions on a daily basis, or those who have new conditions sparked by major life events such as divorce, bereavement, or say, a global pandemic. We all need to do better job acknowledging and normalizing the full spectrum of mental health needs in our workplaces—and in our lives—and it starts at the top.

8. Make TRAVEL SPECIAL again. 

This is a two-sided coin for both my friends and colleagues in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry, all gravely impacted by the pandemic, as well as leaders seeking opportunities to manage costs and business recovery, not to mention the health and wellbeing of their colleagues. Simply put, we have the opportunity to make travel special again, as recently discussed with my good friend, Carolyn Kremins, president at Skift. We talked about the future of wellbeing in a COVID-19 world and agreed that in some ways, the world was spinning out of control before the pandemic hit, and many of us road warriors, regardless of industry, began to dread travel. Now, leaders have the opportunity to rethink the necessity of travel, which will likely result in less frequent trips for their families and colleagues in the short-term, but potentially more valued, impactful trips in the long-term. Why? Because everyone from select serve to luxury to wellness travel brands now have a rare, second chance to make a first impression, proving that they are not only clean and safe, but memorable, trusted establishments worthy of consumers’ life-long loyalty at perhaps, a higher price.

9. Prioritize PURPOSE over profit. 

It’s no secret that having a sense of purpose actually contributes to living longer, richer, and more meaningful lives. Okinawans call it ikigai and Nicoyans, found on a peninsula in Costa Rica, call it plan de vida. No matter what you call it, these two Blue Zones, among several others found in Greece, Italy, and California, all share one thing in common: an average addition of seven-years life expectancy just because they have a clear idea of their purpose, or better said, the reason why they wake up every morning. And guess what? Purpose applies to our whole selves. Leaders among us can realize a competitive advantage over time should they, and their companies, choose to align themselves with a purpose and exist for reasons other than profits. Once identified, championing that purpose via a well-articulated brand and operating strategy (much like Patagonia has done as just one example) is essential.

10. Treat WELLBEING, INCLUSION, and DIVERSITY as one mindset. 

On a much more serious note, one of the most impactful lessons I learned this year actually came full circle for me when I witnessed the devastating end to George Floyd’s life, followed by the subsequent, awkward frenzy by organizations of all kinds to hire leaders and reexamine their inclusion and diversity (I&D) policies. The reality is that inclusive leadership—inclusive citizenship—is required for wellbeing to thrive in companies and communities at large. Our friends at PwC echoed this finding as part of their Well-being Learning Project, and while their study was commercial in nature, one can easily see how it can be societal in practice. The time has come for leaders to foster a dialogue among those responsible for bringing their wellbeing and I&D strategies to life as they are natural, if not essential, teammates.

On a personal note, I can now honestly say, with the benefit of this hindsight, that the past year has indeed been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I’ve identified my stop list; better understood the role that fear and trust have played in my career; understood that well workplaces actually foster happier, more inclusive cultures and societies; reclaimed my boundaries; LOVED like my life depended on it; celebrated my whole, flawed-self; invited a regular discussion of mental health into my own life (with thanks to my therapist); giddily and safely traveled to a warm, beach-side destination for my first trip in seven months; and reminded myself that my purpose—to help people live well—has never been more important or inspiring than it is to me today.

*This article is an excerpt from COVID-19’s PARTING GIFT: Top 10 Tips for Leading Well in 2021.

About The Author
Mia Kyricos

Mia is a globally respected thought leader with 25-plus years of cultivating wellness, hospitality, lifestyle, and travel brands across 100-plus countries. As founder and president of Kyricos & Associates, a strategic advisory and referral firm, Mia provides brand strategy, business development, and operational insight enabling public and private entities to thrive in the $4.5 global wellness economy. Most recently, she was SVP & global head of wellbeing at Hyatt, setting a new hospitality industry standard as the leader and curator of the company’s global wellbeing strategy, spanning commercial health and wellness-related products, services, and partnerships, as well as colleague wellbeing worldwide. Prior to Hyatt, she was chief brand officer of SpaFinder Wellness, Inc., where she led the company’s brand evolution, positioning SpaFinder as the global authority on wellness providers and resources. Mia also served as vice president of EXOS, where she oversaw and expanded the workplace wellness start-up division operating on Fortune 500 corporate campuses. Prior to EXOS, she was director of global spa brands at Starwood Hotels & Resorts, where she led the creation of six international spa brands and managed the Starwood Spa Collection – a consortium of 60 wellness travel destinations across 26 countries. Named 2019’s Leading Woman in Wellness and Cornell University’s Alumna of the Year, Mia’s work and expertise has been featured in business and trade publications including The New York TimesLA TimesCNNSmart MoneyHotel BusinessTravel WeeklyLodgingReal SimpleMarket Watch, and more. She holds a master of management in Hospitality Administration (MMH) from Cornell University, and a BA in international relations from Wheaton College in Massachusetts. Mia has served the boards of the Global Wellness Summit and the University of California Irvine and currently sits on the advisory boards of Cornell University, Wellness for Cancer, and the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), a 501 (c)(3) non-profit educational foundation she helped found.