When we think of an inspiring leader, we realise that they simply are leaders whether in a board meeting or socialising with team after office. Leadership is a distinctive and permanent attribute that defines who they are. This involves a set of behaviours and attitudes that do not have a start or stop switch that can be turned off at one’s sweet will.
It is important to understand that leadership is an approach to thinking and behaving that is instilled in one’s life and practiced 24×7. It takes a lot of practice, self-awareness, and commitment to make it a part of everyday living.
In today’s environment, practising 24×7 leadership can be quite complex. The scope of a leader’s work goes beyond functional or organisational agendas. It has to do with a myriad of external issues – encompassing shareholders, customers, community organisations and in some cases, the company board and even media. They have to be the face of their teams, functions and organisations through good and bad times. Their job is all consuming at all times!
With the dynamic business environment, we work in, pace is an issue for most driven leaders. The rate at which things around us are changing puts a lot of pressure on leaders today. Along with the pace comes the weight of enormous responsibilities which leaders find impossible to get away with even when they are not working.
Being there for your team is important, especially given the turbulent times we are in. These times demand more time, more effort from the leader to keep the organisation and his/her teams buoyant and strong. Employees, too, have an expectation that their leaders should always be there for them. This expectation and the commitment of 24×7 availability by the leadership is impacting the psychological health of our leaders who are driving performance and wellbeing at work.
Being available round the clock often leaves leaders with inadequate opportunity for rest and recovery. Burning the candle at both ends, leaders today treat themselves like devices that do not need maintenance. This practice cannot be sustainable in the long run. This can lead to poor mental hygiene. Worrying, ruminating, overthinking though out the day, saps out all the energy, often leads to fatigue and burnout.
Another point to note is that effective leaders with an aim to lead by example and inspire teams, often stretch beyond their limits, far beyond their comfort zones. In the process they are constantly striving to be perfect and set the right examples for their teams. Here, the intent may be right, but in the process, they often forget being their natural self and end up putting themselves under tremendous pressure which can impact their health adversely.
Research by Bupa Global, the international health insurer, reveals basis a survey that 64% of senior business leaders have suffered from mental health conditions including anxiety, stress, and depression, with work often cited as a contributor to this.
● 58% of business leaders say that in their position it’s hard to talk about mental health
● 1 in 4 people feel less support for mental health issues since becoming more senior
The most common barriers among leaders to addressing these challenges at work is the fear that it would reflect negatively on their ability to cope as a leader, concern that it would be career limiting and fear of being judged by others.
We need to realise that leaders are not immune to mental health challenges. In fact, they are more vulnerable, given the demanding and stressful times we are working in, which require them to be available and committed 24×7. These pressures can be overwhelming and exhausting for them.
What can leaders do?
Leaders today need to think beyond. While they feel responsible for their employees’ wellbeing, they need to prioritise their own wellbeing too. It is actually in service of the people around them. Only then will they be able to safeguard their families, teams and organisations. The weight of responsibilities may be difficult to do away with but the pace at which they do it can be controlled. Leaders need to focus on self-care to avoid burnout. Self-care is not just about exercising and eating healthy, but also giving yourself time, getting sufficient sleep, spending time outdoors, writing a gratitude journal and even unplugging from our devices for some time.
Leaders need to stop thinking that they are superheroes. They need to be vocal about their challenges, learn to ask for help, delegate to others and ask team members to take on more challenges in their roles. This isn’t about unloading one’s work on others but empowering people to grow while enabling yourself to focus on what’s vital to you.
Leaders experiencing anxiety, stress and burnout need to go beyond disclosure and share their experiences. Actions like these will help remove the stigma that prevents people from seeking help and will help in beginning of a real cultural shift for better. This is where leaders can play an important role
It is crucial to note that leadership is a constant work in progress, it is a journey which needs to be consciously switched from a sprint mode to a marathon mode at times to ensure the perfect work life balance and garner best results for self and the organisation.
The writer is Operations Head, Marching Sheep