It has been a year since the world was hit by the pandemic, consequent lockdowns, lifestyle changes and new ways of working! Everything as we knew it changed, and how!
Amongst the important lessons that we learnt and top themes we acknowledged individually and collectively, was wellness. It was evidenced in organisations exploring wellness for their employees, the sheer number of wellness hashtags on social media, or simply the increased need for wellness professionals, who could support organisations, including wellness coaches.
What is ‘wellness’ and ‘wellness coaching’ all about?
Wellness, is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential. The National Wellness Institute (NWI) defines ‘wellness’ as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices towards, a more successful existence.
While health and wellness go together and are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.
The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Therefore, the key difference –health refers to an output that one strives for, while wellness is about the journey and life choices one undertakes to achieve this output. The approach to wellness is multi-dimensional and holistic, including dimensions such as physical, emotional, intellectual, social, occupational and spiritual wellness.
Wellness coaching, simply put, is about coaching for wellness. As per ICF’s definition of coaching, it is about partnering with individuals in a thought-provoking and creative process, to enable them to live life to its full potential. Its approach is built on three important components in the definition of wellness itself — self-awareness, choice and a self-directed process of action. While supporting clients on the theme of wellness, multiple dimensions of their life show up, and therefore, adopting a whole person, multi-dimensional approach allows for sustained achievement of wellness goals.
With the above understanding, let us examine the nexus between leadership, wellness and coaching. There are many perspectives on leadership, as there are leaders and leadership styles. However, most of these touch upon the central theme of a leader as an influencer or motivator, who enlists the support of others in the achievement of a common vision, goal, task or collective greater good. Going forward, we will highlight this aspect of influence and collective in leadership.
The first step in leadership is the notion of self-leadership or personal mastery, which is about the art of intentional self-influence towards one’s goals. And this includes influencing one’s attitude, thinking, feeling or doing, towards what one is committed to. Sounds very similar to how we have defined ‘wellness’? Yes, Leadership and wellness share the foundational themes of self-focus and intentional choice, and metaphorically, dance together! Therefore, before leaders can lead others, they need to lead the self and embrace wellness. The converse is also true – to effectively embrace wellness, self-leadership via self-influence can truly help.
Wellness is a leadership essential; leadership is a wellness essential
I have heard a narrative from the many leaders I have worked with – ‘It is not easy’, and yet, it is this ease that leaders strive for.
What probably makes leadership challenging or ‘not easy’ is the number of variables — people, business and beyond —and the unpredictability that it brings along. However, what is hardest is the fact that leadership can be a lonely affair. Loneliness that comes because of ‘pressure to perform’, ‘expectations to manage ’and ‘fear of & responsibility for failure’. As one grows up the organisational leadership ladder, the natural ability to ‘stay vulnerable ’declines and all this adds up and manifests as loneliness. It seems harder to trust, and to really unpack one’s thoughts, fears and emotions with others in the team; in fact, at the topmost place, one misses the sense of community and fraternity. No wonder it is said – ‘It’s lonely at the top’.
In this context, emotional and social wellness naturally become important themes for leaders. Themes they are not often mindful of or discuss openly. It is crucial for organisations to realise this, and support leaders with these latent needs. Not when it becomes a concern, but pro-actively and preventively.
And this is where, wellness coaching can help. Wellness coaching (like other forms of coaching) offers a non-judgmental space, where one can experience psychological safety to explore one’s full potential, working through different wellness dimensions. It is an area where the coach partners with the client to address their greatest concerns or deepest fears in the path to living a life that they desire.
Most importantly, it involves going beyond feeling ‘lonely’ and taking the support of someone whom one can trust. In my experience of working with leaders, I have felt many of them are highly self-aware and can identify creative solutions to their challenges. The value that a coach brings in is really the safety and trust of creating a space where clients can simply show up – with vulnerability and courage to be really in touch with themselves, introspect and learn. The coach is almost ‘invisible’, never intruding into their space.
The coach shows up as a trusted ‘wellness partner’.
Here, it would be useful to explore the difference between wellness and executive coaching, the latter being more commonly understood:
• Executive coaching is often provided to support leaders in achieving their goals – usually business or professional goals. In the course of coaching, sometimes leaders would bring up topics quite personal to them, which need to be resolved in the path to achieving the original business or professional objective.
• Leadership wellness coaching, on the other hand, starts with the focus on the individual and dimensions of their wellness that hold meaning forthem at a personal level.
For instance, a wellness coach can support the leaders in enhancing their physical wellness or equally so in improving the quality of their relationships with their families. One may wonder since this has no direct connection with the business or organisation, why should organisationseven think of it?
The answer is quite simple – Unlessemployees or leaders are functional, well andhealthy, they cannot bring their best selves to work.
Similarly, if leaders are unclear of their own life purpose (an important aspect of spiritual wellness), how would they be able to inspire others to show up purposefully? But more fundamentally, an organisation that cares for its leaders will care for their wellbeing too! So, unlike other forms of coaching, while wellness coaching may not seem directly connected to the organisational goals, it is more deeply and fundamentally connected with its sustainability and longevity!
This is the right juncture for me to offer a bold thought and invitation to HR and organisational leaders to consider.
Let’s treat wellness coaching as a leadership benefit and offer the support of a wellness coach to every leader!
Akin to other employee benefits, such as medical check-ups, housing and learning, this can be on-demand and opted for by leaders as and when they feel the need for it.
Offering them this personalised, trusted support can go a long way in allowing leaders to embrace and integrate wellness into their lives.
For those unsure, going through the following three leadership-wellness effects can help decide:
1) When a leader pays attention to his/her wellness, the cascading effect of it is real. A leader’s wellness benefits more than just the leader; it spills over infectiously to the team and the choices that they all make. So much so, that wellness slowly becomes a part of the team’s language and conversations. Whether it is mindful food choices, lifestyle or even being more connected, empathetic and caring, the different dimensions of wellness start to become important. This is also a case in point that organisational wellness needs to be addressed systemically and the leader is a pivotal part of the system.
2) When leaders start focusing on their wellness and understand the gains, they become committed to evangeliseit in their teams and businesses. And when this happens, their style of leadership itself shifts. It becomes more authentic and caring, simply because it is difficult to be invested in wellness when one does not truly care for others. Leaders start showing up as wellness champions and role-models, as they should!
Employee wellness becomes everyone’s business, not just that of HR’s and gets driven from the top!
3) All this shapes the organisation’s culture – what it values, how it behaves and what is expected. Organisations where the leadership is committed to wellness, have strong wellness cultures. These cultures are not just about healthier employees or lesser health-related productivity loss, but about employees being, in general, purposeful, happy, caring and engaged.
Wellness can truly be a source of sustainable, competitive advantage to every organisation and business, and leadership wellness coaching is a great place to start.
If you would like to embark upon it in your organisation, and would like to empanel wellness coaches, check out the International Coaching Federation’s Credentialed Coach Finder service
Together, let’s create a healthier planet, one leader and one conversation at a time.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering the role of coaching as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories, work towards common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.
The author, Vijayalakshmi S. is an ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC) and mentor, with around 3000 hours of coaching experience, specialised in executive, leadership, wellness and conflict coaching. She is a multi-faceted management professional with 20 years of experience in consulting and human resources and a background in law. She is also an accredited mediator and a volunteer leader and president of the ICF Chennai Charter Chapter. Passionate about all things sports and fitness, Viji is a certified SFG Kettlebell and GFM movement instructor. She takes an integrated, holistic approach to wellness, which reflects in her work with individuals and organisational leaders, as she partners with them to embrace wellness.