To many, the word leadership conjures images of egoic power, structure and hierarchy, of subordinates and superiors. But as the world shifts to a new dynamic, leadership is defined more by empathy, collaboration and inclusion. Successful leaders in 2021 boldly embrace and prioritize self-care. They fill their own bucket first so they can effectively help others. And Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is slaying at it. Below are five self-care lessons we can learn from Meghan, who is living her best life in spite of the naysayers—and encouraging others to do the same.
- Embrace Emotional Intelligence
Time and again, Meghan has demonstrated mastery over her emotions—displaying poise, strength and resilience through stressful private moments that played out publicly, including familial estrangement, privacy violation by the tabloids and dissolution from the British monarchy.
In her powerful November 2020 New York Times Op-Ed, “The Losses We Share,” Meghan vulnerably shared personal details about her struggles with miscarriage, while empathizing with people who have lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of racially driven violence.
“I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, ‘Are you OK?’” she wrote. “Are we? This year has brought so many of us to our breaking points. Loss and pain have plagued every one of us in 2020, in moments both fraught and debilitating.”
Daniels College of Business Director of MBA Global Programs Amanda Cahal explained that self- and social-awareness are crucial during crises. “By dialing into others’ emotions, asking questions, really listening to the answers and communicating from a place of empathy, we have an opportunity to purposefully build our relationships,” Cahal said. “The solidarity that comes from all of us being in this together is also key to managing our emotions and building our empathy.”
- Foster Supportive Teams
Speaking of being in it together, supportive teamwork makes the dream work. Throughout her various traumas, Meghan has had the enduring support of her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Even when the conflicts involved his family, Harry stood by Meghan’s side. When the British paparazzi relentlessly pursued photos of them, Harry protected Meghan and their son, Archie, to prevent a repeat of his mother, Princess Diana’s, famous demise in a car crash fleeing from tabloid photographers.
Human beings are wired for connection and community. Having trusted confidants who listen empathetically and check in on your needs is a crucial component of self-care. “This, I realize, is the danger of siloed living—where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone,” Meghan wrote in “The Losses We Share.” “There is no one stopping to ask, ‘Are you OK?’”
Understanding the values and needs of yourself and your team and learning to communicate effectively through the Insights Discovery System can help build a supportive network.
- Advocate for Yourself
In 2019, Meghan sued the British tabloids for printing a private letter she wrote to her estranged father. By advocating for herself, her values and the public good, Meghan held the gossip media accountable for their unethical business practices. In February 2021, she won the lawsuit against tabloid The Mail on Sunday.
“The world needs reliable, fact-checked, high-quality news,” Meghan said in a statement. “We all lose when misinformation sells more than truth, when moral exploitation sells more than decency and when companies create their business model to profit from people’s pain. For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.”
- Set Boundaries
In January 2020, the duke and duchess announced they were stepping back from their role as senior members of the royal family. The combined pressures of motherhood, royal duties and dodging paparazzi reportedly negatively affected Meghan’s mental health. In pursuit of meaningful work and a healthy work-life balance, the duchess, her husband and son moved across the pond to Los Angeles. The couple is expecting their second child.
Prioritizing the well-being of herself and her family meant saying “no” to 1,200 years of tradition and an entire country’s expectations for how they should live their lives. Setting boundaries at work or with family is not always easy. In the duke and duchess’s case, they were stripped of their royal highness titles. But, the payoff was less pressure and stress, which, as Professor of the Practice Scott McLagan explained during the Daniels Executive Education Accelerate webinar, “How Your Brain Reacts Under Stress,” is crucial for creativity, decision-making and positive relationships.
- Focus on the Positives
Meghan found a silver lining to being in the spotlight—leveraging these platforms to denounce bullying and racism, which she has experienced firsthand. Now that she is free to live by her own rules, Meghan rejects the toxic and unsupportive—including social media—in favor of the good, such as volunteering and taking nature walks with Harry and Archie.
Cahal emphasized the power of adaptive coping mechanisms during times of stress. “Know when you need to phone a friend, go for a walk, watch a favorite movie, take a break or play with your pet,” she said.
Effective leaders emanate positivity, strength and hope amid chaos, uncertainty and fear. Meghan’s self-care game can inspire us all to be better leaders.
“Are we OK?” Meghan posed at the end of her New York Times essay. “We will be.”
Editor’s Note: Amber D’Angelo is the senior communications manager for the Daniels College of Business. She is a graduate of Executive Education’s Accelerated Leadership Experience and an enthusiastic proponent of self-care and female empowerment.