“I didn’t realise how emotional it could get in the boardroom.”

This was one of the salient comments from a participant on the Rice Industry’s Established Leaders Program. The group had just completed a high pressure mock board scenario where the issues were convoluted and an injected crisis highlighted just how critical a director’s role is in a company.

They were exhausted.

While the program focused on governance, it spoke to the bigger commitment in leadership, and to Boundless Leadership in particular.

Boundless Leadership is the relentless pursuit of a better future. It means more impact and less struggle.

The ‘less struggle’ is the part that many crave and sadly fall short.

It became clear to the participants that a Board Director’s role has huge ramifications for the company, its staff, and all the people it serves. The Hayne’s report and the many banking leader heads it has taken, and will likely take, in the next few months showcases this most clearly.

As leaders we owe it to ourselves to show up as the best version of ourselves. Clear headed, focused, and even keeled.

Sadly many leaders skate day to day on very thin energetic ice. Poor sleep, too much alcohol, rich meals, and a busy, distracted mind all get in the way of doing our best job.

It’s just too easy to put our health last.

Since I started using my Oura Ring a sleep and activity tracking device, I have clear and unequivocal feedback about the effects of my self care, or lack of it, on my readiness for high performance.

The Oura Ring in action

On days where I read my iPad late (still trying to crack that habit), and ate some dark chocolate before bed (90% Lindt) I ended up with far less Deep Sleep time, which is the most restorative stage of sleeping.

My husband Rob said, ‘everyone knows that – you don’t read your electronic devices right before bed, and dark chocolate was always going to have a negative impact.’

We might ‘know’ that to be true. But it took empirical evidence on my sleep tracker to show me the real live effects of my self sabotage. And that really hit home.

I think if we could get more immediate, visible feedback on all our poor habits, we would have far fewer of them! Imagine your smartphone screen lighting up with cholesterol warnings just as you reached for that lovely slice of Brie…

My deep sleep cycles for last few night. 27 minutes of deep sleep is pretty poor. This came after a day of program delivery, a late flight home, and reading my iPad in bed to ‘wind down’. #sleepfail 

There is an incredible amount of research and writing out there on sleep. I’ve done a short list here of what we need to do achieve deep rest.

We need to steer the senses. We need to stimulate, control, and also deprive the senses for deep rest.

Stimulate the senses:

  • A view out to nature, or even just images of nature can be soothing.
  • Sunlight has an uplifting effect. Everything seems happier in full sunshine!
  • Horizons, especially water horizons, have an expansive effect.
  • Colour has the capacity to give us moments of joy (see Ingrid Fêtell Lee’s awesome book, Joyful.


  • Music is an obvious one. It can stimulate every emotion. Choose wisely. Or explore Spotify lists. One of my favourites is ‘Songs to Sing in the Shower’.
  • Meditation apps abound with soothing sounds. Binaural beats help balance brain waves. Check this one out
  • Sonic Sleep: For better sleeping, I’m trying this new app that runs special noises two hours into your sleep cycles to entrails deep delta waves and to encourage longer deep sleep.


  • Stimulate your feet and get grounded by walking barefoot outside.
  • Get a massage of scalp, feet, hands, and body to hit all the great trigger points.
  • Walk, run, yoga, dance – our bodies are made to move!


  • The sense of smell is a powerful memory maker and keeper.
  • Citrus and peppermint are energising.
  • Sea air is soothing.
  • Fresh air outside is invigorating in general.
  • Baking and cooking trigger feelings of comfort and coziness.


  • Dark chocolate (with very little sugar). It’s loaded with minerals including magnesium, which is helpful for sleep. But because of the cocoa content, not too close to bedtime.
  • Green tea: also full of anti-oxidants, it contains L-theanine, a natural non-drowsy relaxant
  • Crunchy snacks like celery and nuts can help alleviate stress as well.

Control the senses

  • Do breath work. Any type of controlled breathing exercises helps reduce stimulation of the nervous system.
  • Visualisation. Picturing calm scenes or a happy memory is very anchoring.
  • Declutter. Minimising objects in your surroundings creates a sense of expansion and peace.
  • Mindfulness. Bringing full attention to the present moment keeps us from running away with our (stressful) thoughts.
  • Limit stimulants: coffee, alcohol, sugar are the usual culprits. Spicy and rich food are some more.
  • Journal. This is one of my favourite techniques. I am currently recording daily moments of kindness that I do or see others do, as well as Moments of Awe. It’s amazing how much centred I feel each day as a result of this habit. And how much more I enjoy my day.
Zoe Images
This was a magical moment, taken from the airplane window. We live in magical times!

Deprive the senses:

  • Minimising or eliminating stimulation allows for even greater release and repair of the nervous system, and integration of memories and connections in the brain.
  • Progressive relaxation. This is a favourite exercise in yoga. Lying on your back (or sitting), tense and release the various muscles of the body, visualising them totally relaxing.
  • Meditation. I’ve been a daily meditator for years. Now I’ve started doing it twice per day. I can see the immediate calming effect on my heart rate and reduction of my stress load. Any kind of meditation will do.
  • Float tanks. Not everyone’s cup of tea, it’s worth trying at least once. Float in warmish, heavily salted water to de-stimulate your system.
  • Be alone. Even extroverts will benefit from time alone to simply be, and enjoy being alive. Our moments on this planet pass oh so quickly. Savour them!

I’m imagining a very different kind of boardroom now: big, bright windows with a view to nature, colourful art or objects, comfy chairs with areas to do stretching, an essential oil diffuser bubbling with smells of orange and peppermint, bowls of celery sticks, blueberries, and almonds, and soothing background music…If you have a great boardroom or creative thinking space, please post or send us photos! Or comment with a description.


We are making space for this kind of contemplation and conversation at the Edge of Leadership UnConference March 21-22 2019. Come and have wonderful exploration with us.


  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.