Leadership key to Mental Health

Leadership key to Mental Health was the heading of an article I read recently in the Sydney Morning Herald by Jan-Louise Godfrey. I agree.

Before I explain why I agree and what we can do about it; I am going to share a story. Recently I have had someone very close to me experiencing mental health issues. It is debilitating and heartbreaking. Yesterday I spoke to a remarkable leader about his anxiety, stress and mental health. Last week I met with a potential client of leading financial institution who told me her concerns within the business around mental health. Last year my mentor spoke at our Leaders Engaging Diversity event in front of 100 people about mental health and his journey. Mental health is a disability.

We need to talk about it. It is not a stigma. Leaders let’s have the conversations.

“Sometimes I don’t know what is worse, living in a state of panic or living with other people’s attitudes about it.”

I love the work Beyond Blue is doing in Mental Health. Did you know; depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 percent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety. While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it’s not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other. This is incredible.

“1 in 4 people, like me, have a Mental Health problem. Many more have a problem with that.” Stephen Fry

Jan-Louise Godfrey mentioned in the Sydney Morning article – “Economic uncertainty, increased competition, ambiguity, the ‘war for talent’ – all drive to create workplace pressures and, as a consequence, stress has become part of the workplace vernacular.”

“Stress can be experienced as a result of excessive workload, lack of autonomy, office politics, bullying and poor relationships with colleagues and managers. The Australian Psychological Society ‘Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013’ revealed that almost half of the respondents reported workplace issues as a source of stress.”

The success of a creating and maintaining a psychological healthy workplace relies on leadership and its leaders. Leadership matters. Think about it, we have all been part of an organisation where the manager “sucks”, the team is ineffective or the culture is toxic. This causes stress, anxiety and can cause mental health issues. This is WHY we leave managers or we could potentially have stress and anxiety.

An interesting review of organisational health research by Cotton & Hart published in Australian Psychologist mentioned the importance of a positive culture and work environment; one that involves providing reward and recognition, communicating expectations and demonstrating the link between an employee’s role and purpose and strategic goals. Strong leaders are able to create a place where people feel motivated and empowered, have autonomy in their roles and come together as a team to innovate, create and collaborate. Ultimately leaders are able to influence and drive organisational climate and culture and this plays a pivotal role in fostering wellbeing and health.

In turn leaders must be able to tap into how their people are feeling and they need to be having the conversations. We must equip and teach our leaders around leadership mindset, effective communication and resilience as well as leadership capabilities. Also awareness of who they are as leaders and those around them. We need them to be leaders. This takes confidence, tools and developing capability.

What can we do to minimise or prevent mental health?

  • Show we take mental health seriously
  • Be understanding when a member discloses that they have a mental health issue or are experiencing some difficulties
  • Be aware of signs around employees who are demonstrating mental health such as;
  1. Frequent late arrivals
  2. Excess use of sick or personal time
  3. Patterns in the days of absence or ineffectual job performance – e.g. on Mondays or Fridays
  4. Decreased productivity
  5. Disorganisation; untidy workspace or spasmodic work patterns
  6. Increased accidents, injuries or safety problems
  • Demonstrate that we value our members and recognise their performance and achievements – say thank you!
  • Ability to have courageous conversations around performance
  • Promote collaborative decision making
  • Clearly define responsibilities and tasks
  • Ensure workload is in line with their capabilities. If not, put together a development or coaching plan.
  • Promote balance in work and life – and lead by example.
  • Provide professional development and ensure that they feel resourced and able to do their work.
  • Create an environment where people feel valued and heard. Listen.
  • Ensure people are treated fairly (this is vital for the brain) and with respect and create an environment that demonstrates that bullying, harassment, and discrimination are NOT tolerated
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction amongst the team. Remember the brain is a social organ and we are built for connection.
  • Make everyone not only be safe but feel safe.

As a leader, how can you talk to someone in your team about mental health? Here are a few high-level suggestions…

  1. Identify your concerns in a private and confidential meeting (this needs planning with the assistance from a professional or HR)
  2. Make sure you are showing empathy and actively listening
  3. Review privacy obligations
  4. Discuss solutions in collaboration
  5. Follow up and provide support

Can I tell you what keeps me up at night, it is the capability and mindset of the leaders I work with; coach and educate. Are leaders being thrown into the deep end without the skills, tools or mindset to lead? In turn, these people today are leading change constantly, managing restructures and redundancies; as well as dealing with politics and people. Are we equipping them with the skills and confidence to lead? Are we coaching them in resilience and how to deal with people with mental health issues? Do our leaders have the ability to lead people who will at times suffer from stress, anxiety, and mental health issues due to struggles either at work or home? Are we building leaders who are able to motivate, empower and build great teams, environments and cultures which are aligned to our organisational and strategic goals? Are we building leaders?

If this is keeping you up at night, please contact me personally for help or advice at sonia@leadershiphq.com.au. Mental Health is a not a stigma. It is a real disability and we can lead the way, just ask for help.

Remember all it takes is a “R U OK?”

About Sonia

Sonia McDonald believes we should lead with kindness, from the heart, doing rather than telling and is known for her mantra ‘Just lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her one on one practical coaching, leadership training for teams and organizations encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped hundreds of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of HR. She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realize what it takes to be a truly great leader.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is recognized as a LinkedIn influencer and has become an in-demand keynote speaker, starts important conversations.

She is an award-winning published author and writes regularly for publications such as The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, developing work-life balance, championing the up and coming leaders of tomorrow and advocating for women in business and male-dominated industries.

Keynote Topics for 2019

Sonia will give you peace of mind when booking a speaker. She is a proven world-class professional speaker with the skills to “rock an audience”. Her energy, empathy, kindness, sensitivity, and humour will enhance any event she appears.

  1. Leadership Attitude
  2. Just Rock It
  3. Leadership for Small Business
  4. Leading the Next Generations
  5. Courageous Leadership
  6. Future Leaders of Leadership
  7. New Kindness of Leadership

Phone 1300 719 665 or +61 424 447 616



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