In days past we used to only concern ourselves with physical health and safety on the job. Today, however, we have a new understanding that mental health is primary. Every other kind of health flows from that place.
Leaders need to begin by taking care of their own mental health. Without good mental health, leaders are unable to show empathy. Empathy is the edge that makes good leaders great. When you genuinely care about your team and are able to understand their perspectives, you build connections, trust, and credibility. However, when you are mentally struggling, your preoccupation with your own problems will make you absent and unavailable.
Lacking mental health will lower a leader’s ability to be perceptive. Perceptivity is so important to a leader because it enables them to notice body language, attitudes, and they are able to respond to situations and adapt their approach. When you are preoccupied with your own thoughts and problems you become less observant and tend to ignore because your care factor has disappeared.
You simply need good mental health to keep showing up. Life and leadership are hard. You need renewal and refreshing. Just like you need to put your own oxygen mask on first if you want to help other people, you need to take care of your own mental health first.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on our health far beyond the physical. According to technology company Oracle and HR research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence, Covid-19 has caused increased workplace stress, anxiety, and burnout for people all around the world. Globally, 70% of survey respondents said they were more stressed and anxious at work than ever before.
Five experts shared their advice on how leaders can help:
Pay attention to how your mood is impacting others. Dr. Guy Lubitsh a psychologist and co-author of the new book, Connect: Resolve Conflict, Improve Communication, Strengthen Relationships, says a leader may be inadvertently contributing to the team’s stress. Leaders must model good leadership behaviors. These include keeping positive, staying tuned to the emotional needs of team members, and establishing clear boundaries around workload.
Be empathetic. “Being a leader is a far deeper responsibility than leading the business outcome alone,” says Mimi Nicklin, a globally recognized millennial thought-leader. “Our understanding of the mental wellbeing of those around us is no longer about talking about change, but truly listening and acting on this intel. Empathy is our data set and it’s time we started using it to create sustainable momentum to lower levels of work-induced strain.”
Help teams develop their emotional literacy. Dr. Alan Watkins, CEO and co-founder of development business Complete and co-author of HR (R)Evolution: Change the Workplace, Change the World says, “One of the best ways to support yourself is to learn more about emotional regulation. Recognizing and mastering your emotional states will help you in your long-term wellbeing. You are not alone. Most people are wonderful human beings who need help to ‘read’ and ‘write’ emotions and develop their emotional literacy and emotional intelligence.” If you learn it, you can teach it.
Tap into your creativity. Genius You founder Mark Simmonds says, “Firstly, there has never been a time when it has been more important to be innovative than in the Covid-19 era. Secondly, as feeling a sense of great uncertainty – they can alleviate the pressure on their mental wellbeing by increasing the amount of human interaction they get, albeit in the digital space.”
Don’t forget about the company’s emotional health. Dr Michael Beattie, a chartered counselling psychologist, argues that poor mental health in organizations happens in the context of the overall health or illness of that organization. He says leaders must model the importance of mental health by actively “living out a compassionate leadership style,” taking a genuine interest in their team. If they bring positive energy and enthusiasm to work, use their leadership role to build connections between team members, and link individuals’ contributions back to the wider business, they will build the overall health.
It’s so important for leaders to be on top of this and caring. The so-called “normal” stressors of life are getting pretty stressful. Though technology helps in work, our increasing reliance on tools like smartphones can also lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression. Our fast-paced world, political polarization of the populations, and mistrust in institutions are just a few of the continual stressors calling for a new kind of leadership. This is leadership that shows strength through embracing vulnerability, and exercises wisdom through creating spaces in which their teams can be psychologically safe, innovative, and open about their mental health – if they choose.
Leaders must carefully cultivate three things: Culture – Leaders should create cultures that destigmatize mental health issues and promote a compassionate understanding of individuals’ situations. Authenticity – People follow leaders who are authentic. Self-reflection and self-care – Effective leaders know and take care of themselves.
Healthy leaders seek the help of a qualified professional counselor or doctor when needed. Your own mental health is something you can never afford to neglect or shortchange. It needs to be managed with care and consistency. You can do it through reflection, setting aside time to regularly look back, look at now, and look ahead.What am I feeling? What am I thinking? What does health look like for me?
Direction. There are constant pulls on your time and attention. You have to take time to see what is worth your attention. You have to stop and consider your direction to stay healthy. Look at the direction and the pace and see if anything needs adjusted
Connection. Healthy leaders never go it alone. Leaders need people. They need to be connected to others to live to their potential. You need a select group of people to whom you are tightly and fiercely connected because they help you stay strong and get stronger. You tell them things so they can help you see what I might otherwise miss, and you trust and empower them to speak into your life if they see a blind spot. A trusted mentor or counselor could be part of this group.
Imperfection. Our high-demand, high-access world creates unrealistic expectations of leaders. Perfection is not an option. It’s a very damaging expectation. We are humans and make mistakes. Treat your imperfections with kindness. Admit them when they happen. Make efforts to grow from them. But don’t beat yourself up or be ashamed of them. The people you lead will grow from your example.
We need healthy leaders in an age of stress and challenge like never before. We need a healthy YOU.