Self-Care and Servant Leadership Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Dec 10, 2019 at 12:28 pm
Mia Cary, DVM

Ever wonder why flight attendants tell us to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others with their oxygen masks during an emergency? It’s because we are better equipped to help others when we take care of ourselves first. This is practicing self-care, which is easier said than done, and it’s easier to do on our good days than on our bad days. 

We often need a tipping point of some sort that forces us to accept this guiding principle to be true. My tipping point was in my early career days with Boehringer Ingelheim (BI). I received feedback from my team of field veterinarians that made it clear that I was being a hypocrite and not walking the talk. I was telling them how important work-life balance was (which I refer to as work-life integration today), and that they should always put their family first, but I wasn’t doing it myself. Thanks to their candid feedback (cheers to radical candor and 360º  evaluations!), I modified my routine and made more time in my schedule for myself and my family members. Like all of us, I’m better at this on some days than others. Without question, however, I know now that the better I take care of myself, the better equipped I am to take care of and serve others. And, that I have to walk the talk. 

When talking about self-care during workshops, I’m often confronted with, “But I’m a servant leader.” Guess what—so am I! I believe in serving others, and as a team leader my job is to eliminate barriers and ensure the proper resources are in place for my team. This allows me to empower the team to play to their strengths and work collaboratively to achieve our team targets. Taking care of myself so I have the strength, flexibility, and patience to take care of others—in this case my team at work—is not contradictory. In actuality, it’s quite liberating, and it’s critical to increasing wellbeing for all involved.

Are you convinced that self-care and servant leadership are not mutually exclusive? If so, good on you! Now, spread the word. If you aren’t quite convinced, I invite you to commit to one month of taking care of yourself by getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, being mindful in your daily tasks, and incorporating what matters most to you in your daily routines. Document your month-long journey and take note of how you are treating others. Are you being more patient, kind, and forgiving? My bet is yes!


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Dr. Mia Cary, a 1999 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (go Gators!), is a consultant, speaker, and workshop facilitator specializing in leadership, communication, strategy, teamwork, innovation, energy infusion, well-being, and special projects. Her purpose is activating others to thrive. She is the former chief of professional development and strategic alliances for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and chief innovation officer of the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC). She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Pet Peace of Mind (PPOM) and is a past president of the American Association of Industry Veterinarians (AAIV). She also serves on the Board of Advisors for the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy (VEA). Prior to her work with the AVMA, Dr. Cary held various education and leadership roles at the NAVC, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Novartis Animal Health. She resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her husband (John), three bonus kids (Dakota, Carson, and Grant), their dog (Lucy), and their cats (Louie and Leo).

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