Leaders today are expected to be a lot of things: to be strong in the face of adversity, resilient when confronted with a challenge and confident they can lead their teams through whatever obstacles may fall at their feet. While, undoubtedly, these skills are important, bearing the burden of so much responsibility can be challenging and can start to take a heavy toll on a leader’s mental health and wellbeing.
"so much responsibility can be challenging and can start to take a heavy toll on a leader’s mental health and wellbeing."
Recent findings from LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index, which surveys the opinions of 700+ executives across Europe, paints a sobering picture of the current state of leaders’ mental health. More than two thirds of respondents (72%) revealed that leading their organisations through the global pandemic was one of the most challenging experiences of their career and over half (52%) doubted their ability to lead.
Though it might be easy to imagine leaders as infallible, leaders too are human. They are not immune to bad days, to self-doubt or to struggling with mental health challenges and these figures make that unquestionably clear. So what can you do as a leader to take better care of your mental health and wellbeing?
Opening up and talking candidly about your struggles can be a challenging prospect as a leader. It can be difficult to show vulnerability out of fear your peers might question your ability to handle your responsibilities. But as CEO and entrepreneur, Jason Saltzman, puts it in a recent article: “If we don’t allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable, we’re doing everyone around us a disservice.” Talking can be a way to cope with a problem you’ve been carrying around in your head for a while. Just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. It also works both ways - if you open up, it might encourage your peers or workforce to do the same.
Give yourself a break
As leaders, it can be easy to fall into the trap of working vast amounts of overtime, especially if you are in the midst of working on your professional development or you hold a number of different board roles. Despite this pressure, it is important to listen to your body and to know when you need a break to collect yourself and de-stress. Whether it’s a 20 minute break to enjoy a coffee and a good book or a week-long holiday from your day-to-day responsibilities, your body will give you a sign and tell you when it’s time to slow down. While the benefits of taking breaks are documented in numerous pieces of literature, this article taken from the Scientific American puts it best: “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”
Be kind to your body
Though it may sound simplistic, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise can really work wonders for your mental health. There are incredibly strong links between what we eat and how we feel and ensuring your diet is nutritious and varied can help keep your brain healthy. Regular exercise has also been proven to increase your self-esteem and release mood-boosting chemicals in your brain. Exercise doesn’t necessarily need to be gym or sport-centric either - taking a long walk in your local park, gardening or doing jobs around your home are incredibly easy ways to squeeze in some daily exercise.
Remember, being vulnerable and open about your mental health is not a weakness. Once we start sharing, our colleagues will know that it’s okay to share, too. Small shifts like these will make a big impact in helping our workspaces become healthier, safer, and subsequently, stronger.
While the suggestions we’ve covered in this article can undoubtedly contribute towards better mental health, if you are really struggling to cope and you need urgent support there are numerous organisations and resources you can reach out to which we’ve listed in the links below.
Mental Health Resources: