Restful Leadership Framework
Why self-care, squad care and social justice have to be a part of your rest strategy.
Coined by Dr. Stacey Chimimba Ault in early 2020, Restful Leadership is a relatively new concept in the world of leadership and management. It prioritizes the well-being of individuals and their ability to rest, rejuvenate, and recover from stress and exhaustion. Restful leadership recognizes that work can be traumatizing and stressful and that individuals need to take care of themselves and their teams in order to be effective leaders. Most importantly, Restful Leadership is not just about individual self-care, but also about eliminating racism, white supremacy culture, workplace trauma, and worker exploitation. By reframing burnout as worker exploitation, restful leadership recognizes that the systems in which we work often place unreasonable demands on individuals (especially Black women).
Audre Lorde's 1981 essay "The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism" is a powerful example of how workplace trauma and exploitation affect historically marginalized folks, specifically Black women. Lorde writes about the anger that Black women feel as a response to the intersection of racism and sexism in their lives, including in their workplaces. She describes how Black women are often expected to carry the burden of emotional labor in their workplaces, which can lead to burnout and exploitation.
Similarly, Kimberle Crenshaw's concept of intersectionality (1991) highlights how multiple forms of oppression, such as racism and sexism, intersect and compound to create unique experiences of discrimination and exploitation for individuals who hold multiple marginalized identities. This concept is particularly relevant to the workplace, where individuals who hold multiple marginalized identities may face unique challenges and obstacles that are not experienced by their privileged counterparts.
In the Restful Leadership framework, the elements of self care, squad care and social justice work together to create a more holistic approach to leadership that takes into account the well-being of individuals, their communities, and the wider world.
image of assorted plants inside an office
Self Care is a critical component of restful leadership. Burnout is a serious problem that affects many workers, especially those in high-stress, emotionally laborious industries like healthcare, social work, and education. Burnout can lead to physical and mental health problems, decreased job satisfaction, and even decreased productivity. But Restful Leadership reframes burnout as worker exploitation, recognizing that the systems in which we work often place unreasonable demands on individuals without providing adequate support.
By prioritizing self-care, restful leadership can help individuals avoid burnout and stay healthy and productive. This includes taking breaks, setting boundaries, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. When leaders prioritize their own self-care, they set an example for their teams and create a culture of care that benefits everyone.
Squad care is another important element of restful leadership. It recognizes that individuals are not just independent agents, but are connected to others in their communities and networks. In particular, squad care draws on the history of community care in black feminist thought, which emphasizes the importance of collective action and support.
As Melissa Harris-Perry argues in her article "Squad Care Is the New Self-Care" in Elle magazine (2019) squad care includes building supportive relationships with colleagues, friends, and family, and working together to support each other in times of need. This can include providing emotional support, helping with practical tasks, and advocating for each other in the workplace. By prioritizing squad care, restful leaders can create (and model) a culture of mutual support that benefits everyone.
Finally, social justice is a key component of restful leadership. This recognizes that leadership is not just about individual success, but about creating a better world for everyone. Social justice includes working towards liberation and equity and advocating for the rights of historically marginalized communities.
By incorporating social justice, and collective action into Restful Leadership, leaders can become agents of transformative change. Creating space to reimagine, dismantle and rebuild is paramount n modeling social justice in the workplace. Leaders can also advocate for policies that support historically and systemically marginalized communities and workers; work to dismantle systemic oppression, increase pay transparency and sustainable workflows; and work to advance inside:outside change making strategies.
Restful leadership has the potential to be a powerful tool for promoting well-being and creating more equitable workplaces. However, it's important to recognize that not all rest practices are created equal. In particular, if restful leadership is not centered on the experiences and needs of those who have been historically marginalized, then it risks perpetuating existing inequities.
Black and Indigenous women (including trans women, disabled women, youth & elders) often face unique challenges and stressors in the workplace, such as discrimination, microaggressions, and lack of support. Restful Leadership that doesn't take into account these experiences can end up prioritizing the needs of those who are already in positions of power and privilege.
To ensure that restful leadership is truly equitable, it's essential to center the needs of those who have been historically marginalized. This means creating rest practices that are responsive to the specific needs of different groups, and that are designed with input from those communities. It also means recognizing the intersectional nature of marginalization and ensuring that restful leadership takes into account the multiple identities and experiences of individuals.
While restful leadership can be a powerful tool for promoting well-being and creating more equitable workplaces, it's important to ensure that it centers the experiences and needs of those who have been historically marginalized, excluded, and exploited. By incorporating an intersectional approach and recognizing the unique challenges and stressors faced by different groups, Restful Leadership can become a tool for promoting greater equity and justice in the workplace.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299.
Lorde, A. (1981). The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism. In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde (pp. 124-133). Crossing Press
Harris-Perry, M. (2019, January 30). Why We Need 'Squad Care' Not Self-Care. Elle. Retrieved from https://www.elle.com/life-love/a25913121/squad-care-melissa-harris-perry/