Self-Care for Success: Empowering Leaders to Take Care of Themselves and Their Teams with Liz Kislik (Ep. #80)

Published on
July 18, 2023
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Self-Care for Success: Empowering Leaders to Take Care of Themselves and Their Teams with Liz Kislik (Ep. #80)

Welcome to "Building Better Managers," the podcast where Wendy Hanson, co-founder of BetterManager, interviews top leadership professionals to uncover strategies for creating a happier, highly engaged, and more productive workplace. In this episode, Wendy sits down with Liz Kislik, a management consultant and executive coach with a wealth of experience in developing high-performing leaders and workforces.

As a leader, it's easy to put yourself last, but Wendy emphasizes the significance of prioritizing self-care and modeling it for others. She believes that when leaders take care of themselves, they show up more positive, empathetic, and are better able to coach their team members to do the same. To delve deeper into this topic, Wendy welcomes Liz Kislik, a management consultant and executive coach with extensive experience in developing high-performing leaders and workforces.

Liz shares actionable strategies that listeners can implement immediately. Starting with practical calendar management, Liz highlights the importance of scheduling transfer time between meetings and incorporating breaks for reflection and preparation. Whether you're working on-site or remotely, these simple practices can make a significant difference in your well-being and productivity.

Meet Liz Kislik
  • Liz is an accomplished management consultant and executive coach with over 30 years of experience in developing high-performing leaders and workforces.
  • Known for her expertise in conflict resolution and improving workplace dynamics, Liz is a respected thought leader and contributor to renowned publications such as Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
  • Trusted by Fortune 500 companies including American Express, Girl Scouts, Staples, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Highlights for Children, Liz serves as a valued advisor, leveraging her wealth of experience to drive their success.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Liz on LinkedIn, Twitter and at www.lizkislik.com.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

View the episode transcript

Intro  0:02  

Welcome to building better managers, the better manager podcast with Wendy Hanson, where we talk with top leadership professionals about strategies you can use today to create a happier, highly engaged and more productive workplace. Now, here's your host, better manager, co-founder Wendy Hanson.

Wendy  0:24  

Greetings everyone, how can we take care of our team and our organization, if we don't take care of ourselves? Often servant leaders put themselves last. Managers, l&d and HR professionals have so many responsibilities, they need to keep up their energy, and model for others what self care looks like. Because if we can't model that, people are going to think, oh, I don't have time to take care of myself. When we do this, we will show up more positive, empathetic, and be able to coach our team members to take care of themselves. Today's guest, Liz kislak is going to share some actionable things, which is what I love about this podcast and the guests that we pick, because you're going to leave here with something you can do as soon as you hear this podcast, and things that we can do about our own self care. And let me tell you a little bit about Liz before I bring her in. Liz is a management consultant and executive coach and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes, her TEDx talk, why there's so much conflict at work and what we can do to fix it has received more than 480,000 views. She specializes in developing high performing leaders and workforces, and for 30 years has helped family run businesses, national nonprofits and fortune 500 companies like American Express Girl Scouts, staples, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Highlights for Children. So she has a lot of experience in this. So I am so delighted to talk with Liz today. Welcome, Liz.

Liz Kislik  2:10  

Thank you, Wendy, I'm so happy to be with you. And everything you said in the opening is

Wendy  2:15  

so true. Yeah, it really is. And now is probably one of the most stressful times if you haven't been through 2007 and 2008 that people have been through. And so we really need to take care of ourselves. So let's, let's say given we're in such, you know, what we'll agree is a challenging time, are there a handful of things that you recommend to leaders and managers to actually make their lives and their days easier? Let's start let's get it right head on.

Liz Kislik  2:49  

Great. I want to start with a couple of things that are just practical. And as a leader, as a manager, there are people who have a call on your time and attention constantly. So this is going to sound so boring. But good calendar management is actually one of the most important things you can do to not be running around like you're like a chicken with your head cut off half the time. And that means not just knowing when your meetings are, we could talk about, of course you have too many. And why it would be good to adjust some of those. But I want to focus on a couple of things in particular. One is transfer time in between meetings. And if you are working on premises, that might actually mean the time you need to walk down the hall. But even if you are remote, I don't know about you. I learned during the pandemic to have zoom after zoom after zoom. Well, how unhealthy is that? Not only are you sitting in one place, but you have to be in the camera. I used to do phone meetings, I could walk around, that was much better. So we all need a break. We need a break, not just to not be in front of people, but to consolidate our thoughts about the meeting we were just in and to prepare ourselves for the meeting we're about to have. So scheduling meetings that run no more than 50 minutes.

Wendy  4:44  

Yes, yes.

Liz Kislik  4:46  

Or having a practice in your organizational culture that may look strange. Have a practice of either just ending 10 minutes before the The hour, if you have control over the agenda or the meeting, or using the first 10 minutes of the meeting, for a kind of release and anchoring process, where you give everybody the room to breathe for a couple of minutes to catch up on whatever they needed to to stretch, and then you say, Okay, it's time for us to get ready. And it can be very helpful to do a kind of either group, stretch or group welcome something that says, Now we're starting, but the time in between is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your team.

Wendy  5:43  

I totally agree. And I think I really believe it's worse when people are not in an office, because you get that chance to walk down the hallway, you know, to use the restroom to say hi to John and Mary. But when you are on zoom all day, and our organization tries, but we don't succeed, you know, there are back to back meetings. And so I love either making sure that you have a little focus time, because what we hear about as we're coaching so many managers and executives is that you have all these back to back meetings, but then you have to make sure you have your notes, and you have your next actions. We don't always take time for that. So I love that. And I love the idea of, you know, take a minute to breathe, when you get to the meeting, don't just jump in, you know, maybe have an opening question. You know, What's one word that you would use to describe yourself today? And then everybody kind of knows how you're feeling. And then like you said, it's like, if you can stand up, and everybody does that great, but whatever it is, don't just jump in love that advice, right?

Liz Kislik  6:49  

Even if you can't stand up, I'm going to tell you another weird thing. refocus your eyes. If you're zooming all day, you are looking basically in one place. Working at a computer, you're looking in one place, and it's usually relatively close. It's so important to focus on distance. I don't know if you've seen the research, we are changing the actual shape of our eyes in ways that are not good for focus that are more tiring, particularly difficult. With children, and social media. Yes, yes. But refocusing your eyes alone. If there is a window, something I do for myself, with my clients, it's easy because they're used to me with a stranger, I don't do this so much. If someone asks me a question, I look out the window. While I'm thinking. I give myself that benefit of not looking at them while I'm thinking, looking out the window, which is always fantastic. If you have one, I'm very lucky I have one and the distance for you. So all these things, and I'm going to give you one more, which is actually somehow, during the work day, scheduling a time when you are not in front of others. We all need to be by ourselves just a little bit.

Wendy  8:29  

Right? Right, it is so true. In a better manager, we call that concept of getting in the balcony, and getting off the dance floor. Because on our 360 we ask a question that says how often do you take time to reflect which is that should not reflect on your To Do lists. Just take that time. And so even if you put 10 minutes, that's really a good thing. It really makes a very, very big difference.

Liz Kislik  9:01  

And particularly, particularly for remote and hybrid workers. Yes. The loss of the commute when you geared up for work, and gear down so you could be civil and calm with people at home. That may have vanished in your day. Make it up, create commute time for yourself. Obviously you don't have to get into your car if you don't want to, but

Wendy  9:33  

might not be a bad idea. Go for a little ride and get a coffee and come back again and then start because our day blends together. Correct. And that's not self care because then I just heard somebody say who happened to be working not he wasn't. He wasn't remote. He was working in the office. But in order to transition, he comes back and parks in his driveway and does a 15 minute method. station to let go of the day, so that he can come in and be present for his partner's family. And I think I can really think of those things.

Liz Kislik  10:09  

You may have music that you used to listen to, or a show you used to listen to, you can still do that in your home or out for a walk, when to your point about picking up the coffee, sometimes it's good to go get the coffee, even though you may have it right near you on the stove. Any kind of break is more important these days than ever before.

Wendy  10:40  

Yes, thank you. I do think if we don't, you know that very old saying like put on, put on your mask first on the airplane before you help others is irrelevant. Now more than ever. And another thing, Liz that you talk about, and I love to hear your distinction, you know, I think I hope I don't always experience it. But people need to understand empathy, you know, and what it feels like when somebody empathizes with you. And you actually talk more about compassion in your work? What's the difference between empathy and compassion? And why would you apply one over the other, I think it's probably something finite but very important.

Liz Kislik  11:29  

And I'm going to give it to you in the context of self care. So empathy, I'm being very reductive about this, there are more complex explanations. Empathy is feeling what the other person feels, it is joining with them in their experience of the situation. And it's crucial, it's crucial for understanding their perspective, it can be crucial for not being angry with them when they have a different point of view. So it can be very helpful in conflict situations, it's particularly important, if the other person is different from you in some way, to try to see it, the way they see it, to feel it the way they feel it not from a distance, but really up close, so you understand why it's important to them. So empathy is crucial. But empathy can trap us, if the other person is feeling terrible about something. And we also feel terrible about it, because we are sharing in their experience, you can get stuck, it can be hard to take appropriate action. As a leader, you might have a line out the door of people who need to see you and tell you about some terrible problem. Particularly in HR, you can be very subject to this. Of course, you want to hear what's going on with people and they need you to, but are you going to burn sage and clear your aura, you know, sometimes it's hard to take all that in. And it is hard just to sit with it. What compassion does is it moves you to action. Compassion is taking empathy, and doing something because of it. Moving the situation in some way, compassion always involves action. Sometimes you can be actively helpful to the person who needs help, that's great. Sometimes you can tell both of you to take a break. But it is not just sitting in the experience of others. It's doing something about it. It's activist. And the reason is that self care not only prevents yourself from wallowing, but you also get to think, Oh, I did something. There's some pride, a sense of accomplishment, recognition that you actively help them. Listening is great, so important. But being able to take a couple of steps with them has so much value.

Wendy  14:26  

And I think you're speaking so well to what coaches do. You know, and we can always say, we shouldn't always say I know how you feel. Because that's just we don't know how they feel. It must be hard, what you're going through. Let's see how we can move from this, you know, but empathize first and then get into action. I love the compassion piece. And that's why all leaders and managers need to have some of those coaching skills so they realize that because that's what a good coach does. Is it looking ahead and how are we going to move this ahead? First we can clear and let know that yeah, this is tough. And I'm compassionate about your situation. So how do we move it ahead? I love that distinction, Liz.

Liz Kislik  15:14  

It's so important what you said Wendy, about not saying, I know what you feel. And also not doing that thing that sometimes feels good to us. But sharing your comparable story.

Wendy  15:27  

Right away. I know what that's like. Yeah, right.

Liz Kislik  15:31  

Right. Sometimes you can get to that in a longer conversation, closer relationship, but it can feel trivializing to people. too quickly. You tell them you know all about it. Because although you can try to feel how they feel you don't know everything about them.

Wendy  15:52  

Right? Right. And it's, and it's so interesting. You know, in coaching, one of the things that we talk about is being a good listener. And we label level one when you're so busy in your own head, thinking about your next thing you're gonna say. And so if you say I was in that, too, I had that, too. It's like, oh, talk about feeling not heard, you know, we have to create that space. So I love that, that people should take that on and think you're really there for that person, you're really listening for them. And then you're taking the action step of compassion. Awesome. Now, you also talk a lot in your work lives about structural solutions. Are there structural ways besides dealing with our calendar that we talked about, which is so important that we can use to support our self care?

Liz Kislik  16:48  

Absolutely, and often these are happening at the organizational level. So this message is really for leaders. But even if you're not a leader, you can make a business case for why these things are important. The whole issue of Do you have to go back to the office and be there five days a week, for somebody to trust that you are doing your job is one of the biggest structures around self care in today's world. It is remarkable to me how many managers and leaders often do not judge people by their outputs, but judge them by whether they perceive them to be working in the way the leader thinks about work for themselves. Some of this is generational. It is really common for older leaders. And I work with a lot of privately owned and operated and family businesses. And they're used to people being in front of them. And part of that is because we feel important when people come to us all day. And they don't always come to us, if they're at home working quietly getting lots of stuff done. Right. So there can be misjudgment and mismatches about that. But giving people time to do their work, the way they do it best is a structural part of letting people have self care. Some people need variety in their day, some people can manage their families better, whatever it is, let them figure it out. If something's going wrong, then you say, Oh, we're not seeing the results we expected. Let's talk about that. Please tell me what's going on, what you're doing, what support you need. And then you may learn something that you want to say to them, but don't make assumptions about the way people do their work.

Wendy  19:07  

And especially in this transitional time we have there are people that maybe need to go home and spend two hours with their family and then do their work later at night. You know, some of us on the team here at a better manager, start at 5:36am. And that's when we do our best work. Yeah, and it really is you've got to allow that. And I love that you cannot make assumptions and you cannot. And I love what you said, especially with family owned businesses. Like if somebody's waiting and getting in line outside your door, you feel like you have purpose. Well, you gotta read, recheck yourself on that and see what you're getting done. Besides trying to help everybody else move forward, what are you adding to the situation because then sometimes people just want to go in and dump or clear or bla bla bla and you know, you're not gonna be able to move the business ahead and we want happiness and productivity.

Liz Kislik  20:05  

Yes. And from the opposite perspective, if you work in a place where your boss expects, for example, to email or text you at all hours and to get an answer, structural self care, may be having a discussion about that. And then eventually looking for something else. Sometimes you change the structure, so that you can provide self care for yourself. And then for anybody else who works for you, if you're in an unhealthy structure, structures are hard to change. You know, cultural norms are hard to change. Policies are hard to change, you need the organization to go along with what you think is right. So if you can't get that, stop bruising yourself.

Wendy  20:55  

Oh, such a good point. Yes. And we need to make sure that we're, you know, one of the things we were just talking about this with a group of our coaches the other day, we have a piece of content called how to work with me, that was actually done by a CEO that said, so here's my family situation, here's when here's the best way to communicate with me. All of that really works well. And here's this and then now you fill that out and let me know, what's the best way to communicate with you. So that we're all like, yeah, I don't like to answer emails after eight o'clock at night, or, you know, I do my morning routine, and then I'm on target for 7:30, or whatever it is. Yeah. So that stranger, as you're talking about, is wonderful.

Liz Kislik  21:45  

Yeah. And one of the things that's funny about that, is it also helps prevent the necessity to mind read. Mind reading is exhausting. Right? When you have to know your boss's signs and signals. So I'm gonna give you a strange example. I just hired my son. He's in. I mean, he's a grown man, he's an adult. I just hired him. He's now working for me. I have been explaining to him because it's only been a couple of weeks. Here's how I operate at work. Here are the things I care about. I don't expect him to know. And it's to both of our advantage. If I can articulate what works for me, and, and he doesn't have to make assumptions and take risks. He avoids having to be corrected multiple times a day, the relationship gets off on the right foot, you can do this with people who are not your children also.

Wendy  22:47  

Yes, yes. I love that. Because when we make assumptions, we are normally wrong. We have to check those out. And just like, you know, the exercise of letting people know, here's, here's the way to communicate with me best I take, you know, I take lunch and pull back for a half an hour during the day, I won't answer anything, then that type of thing. Very important. Yeah. Now, can there ever be enough self care to counteract the pressures we have these days at work? Particularly when there's conflicts and overly intense environments? Can there ever be enough self care? How do we go? There's a balance there, is it called? I don't even know if it's called balance. What do you think, Liz?

Liz Kislik  23:33  

I'm going to give you a yes and a no. So there can't really be enough self care. Because there are always new pressures. Even as we think we're working things out, and we've managed our calendar and all you know, something else is going to fall on our heads. You had a fire drill, this morning fire, you know, fire alarms going off. These things enter our day. The thing is to know when you need more, and to turn it up. And also to look for new opportunities. Just going back to my new employee. We started having walking meetings. I mean, it's true, the weather is great, and it's easy to do. But when we have to talk about a philosophical topic, as opposed to sitting with documents, or being online in an intense way, when we are together, it's a hybrid job, we go and walk. It's great. Not only do we feel freer and walking often you can trigger better thoughts and creativity. We get to walk in nature some of the time we get to run an errand at the same time. There are ways that you can build new aspects of self care. The important thing is to know when you really, really need to say, timeout, you know, leave me alone where you need a backup to cover for you. One form of self care is making sure that you have somebody you can turn to in multiple aspects. Because your job may have multiple aspects and this works at home to cover for me for half an hour. Just so you can get some of that time, time away, taking care of what your body needs in that moment to calm down, even if it's just popping a Tums.

Wendy  25:40  

Absolutely, and I love what you say about walking, because from a neuroscience point of view, walking does stimulate the brain and gets us to have more, you know, imaginative, creative thoughts. And so being able to walk out there together, you're killing so many good things, not killing them, you're starting them, you know, being able to be out in nature and, and be you know, and create things together and in a less stressful way. I used to coach a manager who Oh, right, did all his meetings like that back in the day. And it was so wonderful, because why should we sit in the office if we could go for a walk together? So for those that have that capability, totally take advantage of it. Now, Liz, what recommendations do you have for leaders who are conflict averse, there's a lot of them out there that just don't want to deal with certain things that aren't working, or they're very introverted. You know, they have, you know, they have other skills, or they're just playing afraid to draw boundaries with people, and then, you know, and those boundaries would be beneficial to that person, they'd know where they stood. What recommendations do you have for that, because I think that is a problem that is out there. And it's kind of undercover, we may not know about it.

Liz Kislik  27:03  

The people who work for those leaders know about it, because they can't get the resolutions they need or the decisions they need. But it's not necessarily obvious upward. From a self care perspective, what I would say is dreading a conflict can ruin your day, every day, until something else happens, whether you work to resolve the conflict, or you escape the conflict altogether. But while that thing is pending, and hanging over you, there's just stress all the time. So dealing, actually, is a relief, even though it's so scary to do. And then the thing is to get support from somebody, you know, for what your next steps could be. And it's so helpful whether you have a coach, whether you have a close confidant at work, or somebody in a similar situation to yours, I suggest to my clients that they don't bring these home every day because the people at home don't necessarily want to hear him every day. But being able to talk out the options and to think about what's the smallest thing I could do that would move this forward. For the introverted person, maybe it's a text, maybe they are not actually showing up to either a zoom or in person kind of meeting. For the person who is conflict averse. I like the idea of going up to the balcony. I think of it as zooming out to look at the bigger picture. What else, you know, what other resources could we bring to bear who else could be involved? Maybe I don't have to say the hard thing. But what can I do to move this situation forward? The stasis is actually much more draining than people know. It's when you shift something.

Wendy  29:19  

Yeah, yeah. That's when you feel the relief, you know. Yeah. And Mike Robbins, who I interviewed recently in a podcast talks about, you gotta have the sweaty palm conversations, and they're hard to have. They're what you're pointing to. And but if you don't have them, what's going to happen is every day you go in with that pit in your stomach, and so take care of it. relieve that stress.

Liz Kislik  29:47  

Exactly, right. It's like having to pass the fifth grade bully every day. You're afraid every day. It inhibits your ability to learn in work terms. This is another odd place where compassion is really useful. Say that, that colleague that you're having some kind of conflict with, what would be better for them? Maybe you can bring new light to their situation, and they see it in a new way. But first, you have to see it from their perspective, apply the empathy, and then think, okay, I can see why they might react the way they're reacting. So what could I do to shift that? For the conflict averse person? It can be too overwhelming to think about, how do I resolve the whole thing? I don't know if you remember, many, many years ago, I can't even remember which conflict it was. This is a world geopolitical conflict, there were arguments for months about the shape of the table that the negotiators would sit at. But because they worked on that, seemingly unrelated, they figured out who on the other side they could talk to about how to create a little bit of a relationship. Sometimes you need to peel off a tiny piece of the conflict, something where there are good answers instead of bad answers. And build more cohesion, sense of togetherness, we're on the same team. But look for something you can address. Because just sitting in it is a misery. Yes. Oh,

Wendy  31:41  

I appreciate that perspective, because we often try to take the big thing, and that's why we get stuck. But if we break it down into a lot of little pieces, and the structural things that you've been talking about, all through this podcast, are really let's take one thing, get that get some insight, get some change in behavior, and we go to the next thing. So that's just, that's brilliant. Well, Liz, is there anything that I didn't ask you that I should have asked you that we want to make sure you get out there before the end of our podcast?

Liz Kislik  32:18  

What I would say, Wendy, is there are a gazillion tactics and techniques and alternatives for self care for working on tough situations at work. The thing is to have faith that there's always something you can do. It might be small, it might be hard sometimes. But it really is not necessary to think you have to live with a bad situation forever. And that there's no hope for it. I'm really opposed to hopelessness and helplessness. And anything we can do to say, Oh, I'm actually okay, even though I don't like this. So how do I invest in my okayness? So I feel stronger? And then I'll think of something to do. Yeah. I believe in that.

Wendy  33:14  

That's great. Yes. Forget hopelessness and helplessness. Love that, right? It's not going to get us anywhere, act as if it's all going to be good. Hold a clear vision for what you want it to be what you focus on, you get more of, if you focus on the drags, you're gonna get more of the drags. So we can lift each other up that way. Oh, Liz, you've imparted so many good things that people can act on right away, talking about schedules talking about how to have those difficult conversations with people, you know, empathy, and how compassion really, is the action verb of empathy, like, how do we take that there's so much to to glean from this that you have shared with us? And if people want to learn more about you, what's the best way for them to do that list?

Liz Kislik  34:04  

Oh, either LinkedIn is great. Or to go to my website, where, when do you if anybody in your audience wants there's a free ebook there about the interpersonal aspects of conflict at work? And how to deal with those. And there's loads of material of the kinds of stuff we're

Wendy  34:25  

talking about. Right? And what's your website? What would they look for?

Liz Kislik  34:30  

It's Liz kislak.com. I'll spell it because you know, it's li zi, K I S. Li k.com.

Wendy  34:40  

Great, great. And we will put this information everyone in the show notes so that you'll be able to reach out to Liz To learn more, because clearly she has some valuable, practical, actionable information, then it's going to help us so much as we go through this period and then we move towards the light and things are going to get better and the economy will get better and business will grow. So thank you, Liz for being with me today. This was so helpful. I enjoyed it so much.

Liz Kislik  35:09  

A great pleasure, Wendy,

Wendy  35:10  

I like talking with you, as well, everybody go out and make it a good day, you know, be compassionate, be able to take some action on things and take care of yourself if you're listening to this now. And you can go and walk around for 10 minutes, do something, take some of these into action right now. It'll really make a difference in your day. And it will make a difference to your team. It will make a difference to your leadership team. So whether you're managing across managing up, take care of yourself and be a model for that. That's one of the things I'm taking away from today. So thank you, Liz. I look forward to continuing this conversation another time. Have a great day, everyone.

Intro  35:53  

For more information, show notes and any downloads for today's podcast, please visit us at better manager.us/podcast Be sure to join us again and help us continue to build better managers with another insightful interview.

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