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World Mental Health Day provides us with the opportunity to pause and reflect upon what it truly means to be a leader.

My view, and the belief that my business is founded upon, is that a leader’s job is to deliver the results and look after those we have the privilege and responsibility to lead.

Whilst it’s rare to find a business where a focus on the numbers and results is lacking, it’s not so rare to find organisations where the focus on their people is not what it could be.

The business benefits of taking care of our people have been proven again and again, in study after study. For example, a study from UC Berkeley found that productivity increased by 43% when people felt their manager valued and cared for them, compared to an increase of just 23% when they felt recognised for the work they did.

And then there are numerous quotes and sayings from business leaders such as ‘happy staff, happy customers, happy shareholders’ or ‘look after the people and the numbers will look after themselves’.

Failing to focus sufficient attention on our people isn’t just a business problem or missed opportunity. It’s a human problem too.

After all, every person we lead is the most important person in someone else’s life. How we act and behave doesn’t just affect those we lead whilst they are at work; we also impact how they are with their loved ones.

On this World Mental Health Day, I encourage you to pause and consider your own mental health and that of those you have the privilege and responsibility to lead.

Ask yourself and those in your organisation two simple, yet incredibly powerful, questions that I heard from Dr Vikki Barnes in episode 37 of my podcast. 

How am I, really?
What do I need right now?

Whilst the world is, hopefully, emerging from COVID19 and stabilising in this respect, current and past events are still impacting on our mental health. Yes, we’ve all been weathering the same storm for the past 20 months or so, but we’ve all been in very different boats.

And it’s true that when stress and pressure increase, our focus narrows. At the same time, we can become less patient, less understanding and less empathetic… all of which are dangerous traits for those of us in any form of leadership position.

In these times we can easily forget that we’re not all in the same boat.

Despite writing this post not long after many people have returned from their summer holidays, I’m still working with countless individuals and leadership teams who are tired, worried about burning out and anxious about the challenges that lay ahead. So, prioritising our mental health and that of everyone in our charge has arguably never been more important.

But you don’t need me to tell you what to do in order to look after your mental health, because you almost certainly know that already. As do those you lead. Rather you need to give yourself permission to look after yourself… and we as leaders need to give our people that permission too.

I recently spoke with a group of middle managers about a related topic and was encouraging them to block out chunks of time to work on their most important projects. The conversation got really interesting when I suggested turning off all their notifications so they could fully focus.

Many in the group responded by saying they simply couldn’t do this because they were ‘expected’ to be available all the time. But this wasn’t actually true; after all, they frequently had 90- or 120- minute meetings where they weren’t available. So, this expectation came from themselves… not their leaders.

But it’s a story I’ve heard many times over the past 12 months, even from very senior individuals.

Which brings us back to giving ourselves permission to do the things that protect our mental health and thus, enable us to play at our best at work. We must also lead by example so our people do the same. We must keep telling our people that it’s ok to take breaks, it’s ok to take time off and then make sure our actions match our words.

And finally for the leaders amongst us, please remember that we cannot give what we do not have. If we’re not looking after ourselves – be that our physical, mental or emotional health – we won’t be able to look after those we have the privilege and responsibility to lead.

Take care, hold fast and lead on.

Image by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

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