Wellness: An Essential Leadership Competency

Wellness: An Essential Leadership Competency

Leaders are often evaluated against a set of core competencies that describe the skills, knowledge and behaviours that result in high performance.

The standard set of leadership competencies, validated by extensive research, has since become the language of leadership.  Vision, Results, Accountability, Strategic, Developing Others, Problem Solving… most of us know the list well. However, the narrative of leadership capability should not be confined only to intellectual attributes.  It’s long overdue to add another competency to the list: Wellness.  Research shows that effective leadership and wellbeing principles such as sleep, nutrition and exercise are strongly linked. According to research by the Centre for Creative Leadership, executives who exercise regularly scored better than non-exercisers in all leadership competencies including organisation, credibility, leading others and authenticity.

When thinking about wellbeing in the context of leadership, perhaps the notion of maintaining a fit appearance immediately comes to mind however, considering wellbeing only through the lens of one principle of wellness, and with an overemphasis on one principle such as physical movement, ultimately undermines the more important message.

In order to be prepared for the challenges of leadership over the long haul, leaders must attend to their physical, psychological, and emotional wellness.  I have personally known and seen the negative consequences of too many leaders who neglect even the most basic principles of wellness.  Some are chronically sleep deprived, which has well documented consequences on mindfulness, judgement, mood, and cognitive abilities that underpin quality decision making.  Would you want a truck driver operating on 5 hours of sleep? Or a teacher that’s looking after your children all day? No? Then, how about a neurosurgeon that is about to remove a lesion on your brain or a lawyer that’s representing your interests in a negotiation meeting? Or an executive managing billions in retirement assets (including yours) or analysing optional solutions for how to save a thousand people from being homeless?  I’ve also observed leaders allowing work to take precedence over critical health priorities.  Repeatedly cancelling health appointments, overworking or returning to work too quickly following an illness is simply unsustainable.

So, what wellness competencies are required for leaders? I hear you ask. Well, after working in the wellness industry for the past twenty-five plus years, and working with thousands of people leaders across sectors, cultures and countries, and conducting extensive industry consultations every year to ensure that Australia’s Nationally Recognised Qualification, Diploma of Wellness Leadership, meets the needs of industry, this is the current definition:

Wellness Leadership: Demonstrating a commitment to achieving optimum performance (in life, sports and at work) without compromising health (physical and mental) and wellbeing.

The following Five Core Competencies were identified and collectively encompass the Wellness Leadership Competencies Model:

  1. Authenticity and self-awareness
  2. Legal, ethical and sustainable principles
  3. Integrated whole-person systems approach
  4. Prevention and early intervention practices
  5. Communicate and implement strategy

The following corresponding behaviour indicators were identified from the consultation process:

  • Creates restoration, exercise, sleep and nutritional rituals that are resilient and can be reproduced in various contexts (i.e. business trips).
  • Prioritises prevention, treatment, and recovery from serious health conditions over work demands.
  • Supports the wellness needs of others and tolerates some inconvenience in order for others to maintain appropriate health-oriented regimens.
  • Innovates ways to embed healthy job design, systems, activities and resources into the work environment.
  • Considers opportunities and threats to wellness when making business decisions and developing strategy.

Now that there are relevant training and qualifications available to develop the skills that enable the above behaviours and applications of wellness integration into work settings, there’s really no excuse for any leaders to neglect their own  wellbeing, or that of their employees.  Sure, professional realities such as travel, irregular schedules, and unexpected disruptions can make it a challenge.  However, when Wellness is elevated to the status of a must-have competency, rather than an optional lifestyle, then supportive structures and norms can be implemented to ensure success. Are leadership competencies like Accountability or Achieving Results ever considered optional? Of course not! Yet, the only way those competencies can truly be sustained is with a solid underpinning of knowledge and application of energy management that can only be attained from developing competencies in wellbeing. When a competency becomes fully integrated into the everyday mindset, communications and conversations around leadership, only then do the related behaviours become second nature and embedded into workforce culture.



Here’s what to do next:

  1. DOWNLOAD the course information guide on Australia’s Nationally Recognised 11047NAT Diploma of Wellness Leadership Qualification course and talk with your leader about this professional development opportunity that provides a sustainable solution for your organisation.
  2. EXPRESS YOUR INTEREST to ENROL (opening soon) to avoid missing out as placements are capped to ensure that all participants receive quality training, expert mentoring and support.
  3. CONTACT US to answer any questions that you may have or to discuss how the practical and relevant work-based projects will deliver tangible benefits for the mental health and wellbeing needs of your people.

Angela Derks MBA, BHSc, BComm, is the Founder CEO of the Australasian Sustainable Wellness Academy (ASWA) - Australia's award-winning workplace wellbeing advisory and training organisation. Angela is the course developer and lead facilitator of the Nationally Recognised Diploma of Wellness Leadership qualification for workplace wellbeing professionals. The ASWA Business Solutions Team provide consulting services using the award-winning ASWA whole-person, whole-organisation approach to workforce mental health and wellbeing.