For several years, health and wellbeing have been a prominent focus for organisations. With the struggles and challenges that people have faced during the last few years; prioritising mental health has been brought to the forefront. So, while workforce wellbeing is a strong focus for businesses, one aspect of this that is often neglected is the mental health and wellbeing support for leadership teams and CEOs.
The Stressful Demands On CEOs
A study showed that 49% of CEOs report struggling from a mental health condition and the majority of CEOs say that they are feeling overworked, struggling with fatigue and suffering from continual stress. CEOs feel responsible for the reputation and mood of the whole organisation, which can feel overwhelming. This is coupled with the feeling that they have to present themselves as strong, capable, in charge and in control.
Research also suggests that mental health issues are more prevalent in CEOs. This is often because of the particular character traits and psychological attributes that make for great leaders. Attributes such as being excellent multi-taskers and forward-thing planners, who always prepare for worst-case scenarios. CEOs are also usually hyper-vigilant for ensuring high-quality at all times. All of this take their toll on anxiety levels and even impact the quality of sleep.
Another issue which is often not considered is the loneliness that CEOs can face. The age-old phrase of ‘it’s tough at the top’ will ring true for many leaders. At CEO-level, it can be hard to find someone to talk to or share the burden with. However, like many aspects of the organisation, self-care and prioritising mental health is a leadership issue and must start at the top.
Leading With Vulnerability
In the case of many CEOs, there is a pressure to feel strong and capable at all times and not to show employees any sign of weakness. This typically comes with a ‘lead by example’ attitude to maintain a high energy focus throughout the team. However, showing weakness and being vulnerable can be an incredible leadership skill to possess.
Instead of seeing vulnerability as a sign of weakness, it is actually a sign of strength and a powerful aspect of your emotional intelligence. It can help you to form deeper connections and allows you to address your emotional state for how it is now. This can prevent old wounds from coming to light at a later date.
One of the significant benefits of allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the freedom this provides, which can make way for creativity and innovation. So often, when we protect ourselves with strong defences and a fear of making mistakes, we limit creativity and do not take the risks that could be a huge success, or, at worse, a good lesson to learn.
By allowing yourself to make mistakes, take risks and be ready for all of the consequences is an admirable leadership strength. Being able to admit that you don’t have all the answers or that you made a mistake allows you to learn. This, in turn, creates a culture of learning and growth throughout the organisation, where people do feel comfortable to share ideas (even if they’re not perfect) and are able to develop solutions together.
How CEOs Can Lead With Vulnerability
1. Listen to every perspective
As CEOs, it is important to check the ego and ensure that the ego isn’t getting in the way of your decision making. It can be hard to admit that you don’t know what to do or do not have the answer to a particular work problem. However, when you open this up and recognise this vulnerability, you can begin to engage with all of the perspectives you have in your network.
2. Create a space for conversations
By asking for help and asking your team members if you can help them, you can form connections and create a safe space for difficult conversations. This can be incredibly beneficial for crises in the workplace, recovery from loss, and to help people bounce back from mistakes.
Creating this space and getting comfortable with sharing can build workplace loyalty and can allow you to form deeper connections with your team. With this, you create a space where people feel comfortable in bringing their whole selves to work.
How To Support CEO Wellbeing
Normalise Mental Health Awareness
A key component of improving the mental health of CEOs is creating an environment where CEOs can talk openly about their mental health and any struggles they are facing. By recognising and acknowledging the issue, it makes it easier for others to open up, share their experiences and feel supported.
Provide Mental Health First Aid
Mental health first aid training in your organisation can help individuals to ensure it is possible for people who need support to get help. Having a mental health first aider in your team mean they will be able to provide immediate help, spot the early signs of mental health problems and ensure the first aider feels confident in their ability to help someone and guide them to the right support.
By prioritising mental health first aid in the organisation, it is possible to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems.
Develop A Nurturing Culture
Throughout the organisation, there should be training on how employees and leaders can self-manage their situations and what self-care looks like. It is important to not only highlight the individual benefits of self-care but the benefits it can offer the business. The biggest asset of every organisation is its workforce, so prioritising their self-care and wellbeing, at every level throughout the business structure, becomes vital.
Offer Support Mechanisms
From onboarding, CEOs and leaders should have access to appropriate support. This may be a coach, mentor or another third-party support system. It may be that a CEO has access to a specific go-to board member of the organisation with regular one-to-ones.
As well as this, professional options of mental health support such as psychotherapists should be considered and available as necessary.