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Kishshana Palmer is a facilitator, trainer, focus coach, and speaker. She talks a lot about leadership, how leaders can practice better self-care, and what they need to be thinking about. We sat down with her in a podcast to discuss her insights on self-care for nonprofit leaders.

Nonprofit organizations are meeting more needs than ever in the world today. With so many people needing support services and aid, these organizations are seeing an increase in demand even as budgets are shrinking and staff members are being furloughed or laid off. Nonprofits leaders bear the brunt of this stress. That’s why it’s so important for nonprofit leaders to prioritize self-care so they can maintain focus and lead well into the future.

One common problem Kishshana sees that contributes to poor self-care among nonprofit leaders is something she calls martyr-itis. Kishshana explains…

What is martyr-itis?

Martyr-itis is a close cousin of being a workaholic. It is this idea that an individual or leader is fixated on the notion of being needed and being the only person truly capable of completing important work. 

If you find yourself saying things like, “I have to make sure I get this thing done, otherwise it’s not going to be done well,” you probably have a touch of martyr-itis,—this disease where you think you are the only one capable of getting work done, so you work yourself to the point of exhaustion.

How do you combat martyr-itis?

I’ll begin by saying there is a difference in finding joy in working and not being able to turn it off versus working and not allowing others to step in because you think you are the only person capable.

First off, allow yourself some grace in whatever you have going on. Something I often tell leaders is that it all starts with you. You have to decide you are important enough to take care of yourself. An example of this could be leaving work at a decent hour when there’s nothing immediate requiring you to stay late. Some other things leaders can do:

#1 Start your day with intention

Begin your day with a practice of intention. This could be whatever works for you. For me, I begin by writing in my journal, asking myself, “What will success look like for me today?” Other things could be:

  • Starting with a daily ritual
  • Waking up to music
  • Heading to the gym first thing
  • Journaling/writing a to-do list

Anything you choose for yourself, make sure you’re serving yourself first at the very beginning of the day.

#2 Take breaks

The best, most creative work is likely not going to take place in a windowless room for nine hours straight. You have to get moving, get outside, change up your scenery, and get fresh air. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes, this is a small but doable step.

#3 Stop the cycle of self-blame

Brainstorm one thing you can start with this week, even if it’s small. Sometimes, we know what is good for us but we have been out of the habit for so long that we are reluctant to start a new routine. The key is to give yourself some grace and stop blaming yourself—and just get out there and do it. Rituals make our brains click into place and get those creative juices flowing. Oftentimes, they’re really small, effortless things that bring joy!

#4 Take on an OHD philosophy

I have what I call an open, honest, direct—or “OHD”—philosophy toward management in life, and I encourage other leaders to do the same. To really inspire teams to be their best, you have to lead by being open and honest. 

#5 Get help where you need it

Many times, we operate from a place of lack and questioning ourselves. Being able to come back to yourself and recognize the areas you need help is paramount to being a good leader. Whatever help is for you—a mentor, therapist, spiritual practice, accountability partner—make sure you have what you need. 

#6 Hire good people

My last piece of advice on self-care for nonprofit leaders is to just hire good people to do the work and then get out of the way. Doing this is a sign of a good leader. 

To learn more about Kishshana, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

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