Even before the pandemic a great many leaders were already experiencing a huge amount of stress - a study in 2018 revealed that 64% of senior business leaders had suffered with mental ill health such as depression, anxiety and stress. Work was frequently cited as a contributing factor.
Becoming a great leader doesn’t come with a manual and even if you were fortunate enough to get management or leadership training when you were promoted, the transition to management might not have gone as smoothly as the handbook made out it would. Balancing shareholder / board requirements and organisational outcomes with the day to day running of a team (potentially made up of various characters, levels of experience and skills sets) is no easy task. The technical know-how you were once celebrated for suddenly becomes less relevant, instead mastering the art of leading and developing a team, managing projects and deadlines is now expected of you and fast. In some circumstances (in particular for those in middle management) you may be expected to deliver a mix of hands-on and leadership tasks.
No matter what layer of management you find yourself in, it’s highly likely that you now hold more responsibility than you did before and with responsibility comes pressure to deliver. Sometimes that pressure is motivational, but over a prolonged period, excessive pressure becomes overwhelming, leads to high levels of stress. This is when the risk of burn out and mental ill health starts to increase.
A very common approach to dealing the extra workload and responsibilities is to work longer hours - sometimes that's the expectation within some businesses and cultures, and sometimes that’s the only option the manager sees available to them. So you work longer hours, have less time for your self-care and as a result you start feeling exhausted and drained, which of course serves no one. Your team probably start to feel the impact and potentially follow in your footsteps believing the same approach is expected of them and before you know it you’ve created a culture of long hours, stress and eventually burn out. No one is getting developed, no one is engaged and no one is feeling or performing at optimum. Which simply creates a vicious cycle because less ideas and innovation occur, problems don’t get solved and the workload just piles up.
But what if there was another way?
Imagine if you were to prioritise your self-care and create time to recharge fully over the weekends, doing all the hobbies and activities you enjoy and spending quality time with the people you love. What impact would that have on your energy levels and creative thinking come Monday?
What about if you were able to unwind of an evening and get quality sleep each night. How would that affect your mood?
Add in a nourishing diet of fresh, quality and unprocessed foods - so you could rely less on caffeine and sugar to keep you going through the day resulting in balanced blood sugar levels (so less energy dips and lost focus), and no need for alcohol to switch off at night (which in high quantities can interrupt our sleep patterns, restoration and mood).
Add in holidays - these may have to be stay-cations in current times but never under-estimate the value of these breaks. Many of my clients have been blown away at how powerful even short breaks away from work have been - they’ve come back to work feeling revived and solutions-focused.
For some crazy reason this set up sounds like a dream for so many leaders and yet all the research tells us that the more we follow these simple strategies the more likely we are to feel well and reach optimum performance. When we eat, rest and recharge well and live our lives with passion and purpose, not only can we reach optimum happiness and wellbeing we are more focused, energised, engaged and productive. I’m not sure I’ve come across a business that doesn’t want these outcomes but I have come across many businesses that are yet to make sufficient investment into wellbeing in order to create organisational outcomes.
There were already plenty of reasons why organisations should encourage leaders to build their self-care kits - and build it in to leadership development programs in my opinion - even before the pandemic. Leaders don’t automatically know how to deal with the pressures and stresses of day to day life in a senior position and yet the impact of their ability to perform, to be resilient and solutions-focused is critical for the success of any organisation because it has such a knock-on effect. Whilst some leaders may naturally be quite resilient, or quite high in emotional intelligence and able to self regulate their emotions, not everyone in a leadership position feels fully equipped to navigate through all the extra challenges the pandemic has forced upon them.
Successful leadership has a powerful and positive ripple effect. Bad leadership has a highly negative ripple effect.
We are living in extraordinary times.
I’ve heard many stories of burn out and it is devastating that it ever comes to that.
Putting the processes and resources in place to support and promote the wellbeing of leaders might feel like a big investment but when you look at what you gain, isn’t it money well spent?
Perhaps more pertinent questions would be, what is the risk if you don’t make this investment?
Where does duty of care fit into the equation?
What does your organisation want to be known for?
Workplace wellbeing can be a complex subject but if you only have a small budget, perhaps a good place to start is with leadership wellbeing.
The wellbeing of your leaders impacts the wellbeing of every person within your organisation.
For further details on our leadership wellbeing coaching programs and workshops head to my website