A Leader’s Guide to Strong Mental Health for Yourself, Your Teams, and Your Business
In the same way that you should always put on your oxygen mask first... it’s important to maintain good mental health for yourself to effectively create a healthy culture that benefits your people and your business.
Prevention is always better than cure! Whether we’re talking about physical or mental health.
The drastic change going on all over the world is no doubt affecting our mental health, individually and collectively. Whether it’s dealing with confined indoor spaces, feeling disconnected socially, being concerned about loved ones, or just responding to the suddenness of the change, it’s perfectly natural that this will affect how we think, feel, and act. While some will discover that these changes, challenges and chaos bring a newfound drive, for many it will understandably result in stresses that affect our mental health as well as the mental health of those around us.
Like physical health conditions, none of us is immune to developing a mental health condition. And given that demands on leaders can be particularly high, with feelings of limited time and loneliness at the top, there may even be an increased risk. So it’s extremely important to give the same focus to your mental health as you do to your business to ensure that both you and your business thrive.
As with all things leadership-related, the solution starts with you. In the same way that you should always put on your oxygen mask first before helping others, it’s important to maintain good mental health for yourself to effectively create a healthy culture that benefits your people and your business.
Adopt good mental health habits
You eat well and exercise regularly to stay physically healthy. Similarly, there are simple practices you can adopt to stay mentally healthy.
Educate yourself. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to mental health. We each experience it differently and across a diverse range of emotions. From being in a positive state of mind to experience severe mental illness to everything in between. Understanding early warning signs, such as sleeping difficulties, emotional outbursts, and lack of focus makes it easier to identify and therefore introduce early interventions for yourself and others.
Notice what affects you and why. There are specific practices that boost your mental health (e.g. meditating regularly, being around certain people) and other practices that negatively impact your mental health (e.g. constantly reading news alerts, sleeping for less than 8 hours). Create space to regularly monitor your mental, emotional, and physical states (they are all connected) so you effectively become an expert on yourself. With expertise comes mastery, and with mastery comes sustainable success.
Make conscious choices about what you want to do about it. Now, actually do what you know works for you and stop doing what doesn’t work! By doing more of what boosts your mental health and less of what depletes it, you create a more consistently healthy perspective. This results in better performance, increased success, and more satisfaction.
[When experiencing a mental health dip, leaders can often feel] an added pressure from believing [they] should be able to handle things. This is akin to believing that you should be able to hit your running targets when you have a bad knee - not only is this an unreasonable expectation, it’s also potentially dangerous.
Address dips in your mental health, head-on
When you do feel a mental health hit, instead of ignoring it or just trying to push through (as we high-achievers often do), face-up to it and focus on ways to heal.
Accept that how you feel is perfectly natural for you. Whatever you’re feeling is perfectly natural, given who you are, your life experiences, and the current situation. Resisting what’s going on often prevents us from taking action. Or causes us to take action in a way that’s not constructive, e.g. from a place of frustration, judgement, or avoidance. Give yourself a break and focus on healing!
Recalibrate and celebrate your wins. One of my coaches (the awesome Wendy Parrott) shared a process to help leaders and high-achievers experiencing a dip in their mental health. On top of feeling low, there is often an added pressure that comes from believing you should be able to handle things. This is akin to believing that you should be able to hit your running targets when you have a bad knee - not only is this an unreasonable expectation, it’s also potentially dangerous. Wendy suggests recalibrating your wins. When your knee is bad, running 10 km is not success (reminder: potentially dangerous). Success may look more like walking 1 km and doing some physio exercises. For someone with a bad knee, that is a huge achievement and something to be celebrated. Similarly, it’s also unreasonable and potentially dangerous to expect yourself to work to your normal capacity when your mental health is experiencing a dip. In that state, maybe instead of a non-stop 8 to 7 day, you choose to focus on one or two core pieces of work and clock out at 5 to take a walk. Knowing that taking a walk is part of how you strengthen your mind regain focus for a more productive next day. It's all about recalibrating what success looks like and working to hit your peak performance in that specific state, without judgement. And don't forget to celebrate those wins!
Create small moments of joy. Introduce things that bring you joy. Play upbeat music, spend time with your silly 6-year-old niece, watch your favourite comedy. When life gets rough, these small moments of joy become especially significant to lift up your mode.
Seek help and support. There is so much support around - friends, family, coaches, colleagues, mentors, therapists. Find someone you trust and get their help. A problem shared is a problem halved. Empower yourself by recognising what you need and choosing to go get it.
Great leaders, like elite athletes, know that their performance is at its peak when their potential is also at its peak. And that potential is strongly influenced by their mental health.
Help your people stay mentally strong
The stronger and more successful the people around you, the stronger and more successful you all are.
Find out how your people are doing. Reach out and check in on your people. One simple way to do it is to take 5 minutes at the beginning of each meeting for a free-flowing conversation with every member of your team. Ask each person how they are feeling, what non-work challenges they are experiencing, and what support they need.
Be human - share your challenges and what works for you. Remember, as a leader, it starts with you! Create an inclusive and open space by sharing your challenges. By opening up, others will too. Bringing it out into the open removes the stigma and as a leader, if you’re not doing it, others won’t either. If you are, it becomes a part of the normal conversation that strengths not only each person but the team as a collective.
Empower your people to manage their mental health. It is everyone’s responsibility to take care of their health - physical, emotional, mental. So, empower your people to do so. This ultimately means trusting them. If they need a day off or an afternoon to recharge, give them the space to do so. And trust that in the long run, it will be better for them, their work, and your business. A great way to show trust and empower your people is to openly celebrate their self-care decisions.
Great leaders, like elite athletes, know that their performance is at its peak when their potential is also at its peak. And that potential is strongly influenced by their mental health. By adopting good mental habits, addressing dips head-on, and helping you people stay mentally strong, you will create success for yourself, your people, and your teams in new, more sustainable, more enjoyable ways.
Let's continue the conversation and convert it into action that creates value for you, your people and your business! Comment, E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book time in my calendar.