If the statistics are true then 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness, primarily depression or anxiety in their lifetime. Then if you add on having the need to deal with a personal crisis or life changing situations, chances are that despite being a competent, high performing leader, you too will experience times when it feels like you are falling apart.
This doesn’t have to be a clinical diagnosis type of falling apart, but a period of a few days or longer where your carefully constructed mask of being totally in control is crumbling before your eyes.
We hear a lot about executive women who feel they have to hide any vulnerabilities to been seen as deserving of their high rank. I suspect there are many male executives who similarly are experiencing deep pain or struggle they feel they must hide or be exposed as a not up to the job.
The challenges that test our resilience fall along a continuum. At one end of the continuum we have the relatively minor (though they don’t feel like it at the time) life events or triggers that put us off our A-game. As a leader you do have to cultivate the ability to quarantine ‘life’s little challenges’ from your leadership role. There are times when you should compartmentalize personal challenges and get on with being there for your team. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all about them!
At the other end of the continuum is serious mental or emotional trauma, illness or pain. This is not the time for a stiff upper lip. The appropriate response is not to compartmentalize this pain and carry on wearing the mask of the brilliant, all-powerful leader. It may not be clear to you that you are not coping as most leaders have risen to the top because of their ability to keep on going when the going gets tough. If you are not sleeping, experiencing physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, shaking or if you are struggling to focus or remember basic information these all could be signs of system overload. It’s all about you! Speaking to your GP can be a first port of call.
Most of the emotional strain falls somewhere in the middle. Maybe you are struggling with a relationship breakdown or maybe you know you have chronic mild to moderate depression or anxiety that you have in check most of the time but every now and then it knocks you to your knees. When you are the leader it can feel like you can’t let people down so you keep on going whilst ensuring that no one sees that you are having a hard time.
So how to you maintain your resilience during bouts of emotional struggle. Here are a few tips that can keep you sane and keep you leading with poise and purpose:
- Find a trusted mentor
I once had a boss who was an over sharer. We knew about her dating disasters, her personal crises and it was all way too much! Your team do want to know who you are and what you stand for. They like to know that you have kids or are training for a triathlon, but they do not need to know the details of your personal dramas.
You do need to share with a trusted person either a personal friend and/or a professional mentor who is not in your company’s hierarchy. The simple act of saying ‘I am not coping right now’ is a huge pressure release and then a good mentor may be able to suggest strategies or give you a reality check (hey we all need that sometimes). They may also be the one that will know when your resilience is not enough and you need professional help.
- Acknowledge and Allow
Acknowledge to yourself that you are in funk. Time for self-reflection and self-honesty. Consider when or if you have been like this before and remind yourself that it passed and that it is ok to flounder sometimes but you know you have the ability to get back up. You have before and you will again. Allow yourself to feel the darkness, but not for too long. Acknowledge if you need a mini holiday, maybe just a long weekend to reset your resilience. Your resilience is like a cup of water; you need to keep it full so that when there is a fire you have enough to put it out. Is your glass full?
- Find some moments of recovery during the day
Start taking allocated 5-minute mindfulness breaks to help ground and re-centre you between tasks. Get into this habit when you are not drowning so that it can be your safe place when you are. Close the door, phone on silent and simply sit and focus on your breath for 5 minutes. Or listen to classical music. Or stretch. Anything that helps you focus your mind and bring you back into be fully present in your body and in the moment.
- Say no
Often your resilience will be drained from taking on too much. As a leader you want to help and you want to succeed so check whether this is causing you to become involved in too much or too deeply. Delegate!
- Know that this too will pass.
Again remind yourself that we all, even the most competent, successful leaders, have times of feeling drained, times when you lack energy or any sense of positivism about work. It is part of the normal roller coaster of life. Some of us, and I put my hand up, are more sensitive and can be thrown off balance so that the tug of depression starts to pull. We know that it will pass; we just have to remember to breathe and trust in ourselves.
If you would like information on how we can work with you and your team on building mental and emotional resilience send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim Adams is a resilient leadership specialist who is passionate about building the emotional and mental resilience of women working in male dominated industries. She is the creator of the Resilient Leader Framework which she uses to deliver self leadership training and the founder of Happy Healthy Groovy® a philosophy which she uses to coach and inspire individuals.
Through delivering keynote presentations, facilitating public and corporate workshops and creating soul-uplifting retreats Kim helps individuals to stand up and be themselves at work and in life.
Self Leadership Workshops: www.kimadams.com.au/workshops/
Resilient Leader Retreat: An 5 day Intensive for Leaders in Police & Emergency Services www.kimadams.com.au/kohsamui2016/