The Foundation of Healthy Leadership

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Bob Rosen

Thanks to the furious pace of change in today’s world, from ongoing technological advances to increased globalization, leaders face challenges of an unprecedented level of complexity. Unfortunately, not all leaders are equipped to address these issues effectively.

Our extensive research with hundreds of CEOs around the world shows that successful leadership now requires an approach significantly different from the traditional model. Instead of emphasizing short-term results, today’s leaders should focus on the internal qualities that form the roots of healthy leadership. The bottom line: Who you are drives what you do and that, in turn, determines performance.

The Six Roots of Healthy Leadership
1. Physical health. Leadership today requires a 24/7 commitment, which requires a great deal of physical stamina and energy. It also calls for more: An understanding of the intricate relationship between mind and body and how they work together. To keep going, you need a smart, tailored energy management strategy that allows you to maintain your stamina and lead a balanced life.

2. Emotional health. Leaders need to make the most of affirming, positive feelings and to stop negative ones from hindering their ability to make decisions and act swiftly. Emotional health allows you to clearly understand your strengths and weaknesses and to determine what you can do about them. Perhaps most important is a belief in the power of self-awareness and the ability to change.

3. Intellectual health. Keeping up with the demands of today’s complex marketplace requires a sharp intellect and an ability to ask the right questions and maintain a deep curiosity, along with a mental adroitness that allows you to innovate quickly. You also need a nontraditional way of thinking—a facility with multifaceted, multilayered reasoning, instead of the usual linear approach.

4. Social health. Personal connections form the lifeblood of any organization, fostering trust, commitment, and engagement. Most crucial may be authenticity, the ability to be true to yourself and, in turn, nurture mutually rewarding relationships with your company’s key stakeholders.

5. Vocational health. This attribute allows you to find a meaningful calling, to determine not only what matters to you, but to help others find their purpose. Vocational health is essential to retaining and developing people and to remaining at the front of the race for talent. It also involves a drive for personal mastery, the satisfaction that comes from understanding something completely and being a life-long learner.

6. Spiritual health. Spiritual health means acknowledging a greater good; something bigger than yourself or your organization. It helps you avoid the pursuit of petty goals and serves as an inspiration for others.

Most important, these dimensions of health form the foundation of effective action—the steps that are essential to succeeding in the fast-changing whirlwind of today’s marketplace. They allow leaders to excel by:

  • Forging a shared direction. Healthy leaders unite their people around a common goal—one that’s challenging and exciting and inspires individuals to rise to the occasion. But you can only accomplish that if the organization and its stakeholders believe in your authenticity, feel a real connection to you, and trust your leadership.
  •  Unleashing human potential. This means taking steps to encourage your people to work to their full potential. It requires teaching and mentoring and allowing individuals to take risks, as well as recognizing good work or improvement.
  • Seizing new opportunities. Thriving organizations require an environment where smart growth and innovation have value. Leaders must act as a catalyst to create that environment, in part through building deep connections with customers, which allows them to pinpoint new opportunities and act quickly.
  • Fostering productive relationships. You can’t accomplish anything long lasting without first nurturing connections with others. That involves straight talk, a willingness to trust team members to do their jobs, and showing people respect.
  • Driving high performance. Healthy leaders motivate teamwork and employee engagement. They are open and honest enough to accept contradictory views, as well as sharing their own vision and tactics for getting there, while providing the necessary support. They reward the right qualities in employees: creativity, hard work, and smart risk taking.
  • Tapping into a higher purpose. For a company to thrive, its people must feel committed to something outside themselves, to fulfill a need to contribute to the larger community.

Ultimately, healthy leadership has profound bottom-line consequences. Leaders with the essential dimensions of health dramatically outperform their peers. They boost their organization’s results and enable employees to thrive in an increasingly complex and challenging environment.

You can hone your healthy leadership skills at these AMA seminars:

About the Author(s)

Bob Rosen is the founder of Healthy Companies International ( He is a trusted CEO advisor, organizational psychologist, and bestselling author of six books, including his latest, Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World. He has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications.