Seven habits of healthy CEOs: What does it take to be at the top of your game?

Monday, September 14, 2015 - 15:50

Guest post by Dr John Cummins

This article originally appeared in AIM: for Management and Leadership Excellence, AIM’s bimonthly magazine exclusively for AIM Members.

Like all of us, CEOs face the same challenges in life: limited time to achieve all that we need to, constant and predictable demands [family and occupational commitments, body maintenance requirements such as sleep and nutrition] as well as unpredictable demands such as a sudden change in the economy or an illness or change in life circumstance.

Most senior executives recognise that their health is critically important. As Warren Buffett states: “You only get one mind and one body. And it’s got to last a lifetime. Now, it’s very easy to let them ride for many years. But if you don’t take care of that mind and that body, they’ll be a wreck 40 years later. It’s what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate 10, 20 and 30 years from now.”

As a medical practitioner looking after the same CEOs and managers for many years, one gains an insight into their lives and thought processes. After all this time it still never ceases to surprise me how their success can often be, to a large degree, explained, among other things, by some common habits.

Obviously technical competence at their craft so that they are rewarded for their work is critical, but how many people have you seen that have been technically brilliant yet never reached their full potential due to an inability to manage themselves?

These are seven habits, not necessarily in any order of propriety, that I see consistently utilised by successful business people.


CEOs and senior executives have a clear understanding of what is important to them in life and they consistently set aside time and energy in the maintenance and nourishment of those areas. One specific example is that they nurture their primary relationships with their significant other. The divorce rate of those I see is definitely lower than the national average and people are surprised when I say that my clients often have long-lasting, very happy and nourishing relationships.

They also nurture their relationships with their offspring, as well as close friends. We know from international studies that one of the predictors of personal wellbeing is a strong sense of social connection, where relationships are prioritized and actively nurtured. Putting energy into them is one habit worth embracing.


It is one of the best anti-ageing mechanisms and a critical tool for stress management, avoiding (and if necessary treating) depression and anxiety and often creating a mind environment where creative business ideas can sprout.

They do the minimum of 150 minutes a week where they can talk but not sing – if you can sing you are not working hard enough! But mostly they do activities they enjoy or at least don’t mind doing.


They tend to follow a Mediterranean diet - heavily plant based, red meat once a week, legumes and so on. Why? Because there is very strong medical evidence it helps to avoid heart attacks, strokes and may have an impact on reducing some cancers.


They stay well under the safe alcohol consumption guidelines – seven standard drinks a week for women and 14 for men. Alcohol plays a role in sleep disturbance, high blood pressure, brain disease of various types, some cancers (10 per cent of breast cancers in women internationally], specific forms of heart disease and contributes to mood difficulties.


They get enough sleep – just recently new sleep guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation in the US recommended between seven and nine hours sleep for adults and seven to eight hours for those aged over 65. They manage jet lag and don’t overload their bodies with too many work related flights. .


They are great managers of their own minds and are adept at compartmentalising their thinking so they don’t bring their work home. When they are home they are present and not focused on the office. They often refuse to let their minds indulge in negative and destructive thinking patterns, know when they are getting overloaded and take steps to reduce this.

They are generally great time managers. For example, they understand the difference between what is important and needs attention versus what appears to be urgent but is not really important and therefore managed in a completely different way.


Many of the very successful people I have come to know have business mentors to bounce ideas off , but in addition they are very careful as to whom they listen to with regards to advice about their health, their finances and any other areas of their lives that are important to them. They are willing to pay well for such advice and are willing to travel to get the best input possible.

Dr John Cummins is medical director at Executive Medicine.