Week 3 of our Mental Health Series: Top-down thinking – helping leaders help themselves and those around them.  

4 mins

A recent survey of 2,000 employers found that 71 per cent of leaders were not seeking p...

A recent survey of 2,000 employers found that 71 per cent of leaders were not seeking professional help for their mental health challenges – if this is the case, how can we possibly expect them to be able to help their employees? It's crucial that business leaders lead by example, so we must support them as we do employees, by creating support systems, building a safe community of likeminded individuals and providing the tools necessary to help them, to help others. 

Remove the taboo 

Many have been working to make workplaces a safe space that are open to discussions around mental health challenges. But the bulk of these initiatives are aimed at employees and the mechanisms put in place to help them, such as regular check-ins to flag any concerns. But what about for those in positions of leadership?  

When you become a leader, you do not suddenly become immune to the everyday aches and pains of life. But somehow you are expected to not only manage a team or business, but other people’s problems, on top of your own. As you can imagine, more times than they would care to admit, this can result in leaders’ own problems taking a back seat. This is counterproductive to say the least. Just think of the safety briefing on an airplane where you are told to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, including children. Why? Because if you run out of oxygen then you won’t be able to help anyone else.  

It’s important to think of mental health problems in the same way. You must ensure that you have the support that you need, before attempting to help others. Not only will it ensure that you are able to give level-headed, unbiased advice, but it will also make sure that you are emotionally strong enough to provide support to others. There's little point helping someone else, to then find yourself suffering as a result.  

Lead by example 

It may sound simple, but if you are a leader, you probably got here because of your ability to inspire others. You are also likely to have empathy for your staff and are eager to ensure that they are supported. So why not take the same approach to your own mental health? 

Practicing what you preach will not only help you be the best leader that you can be, but it will also encourage your staff to heed your advice. Not doing so can risk giving the impression you don’t take the matter seriously - a sure-fire way to erode confidence in your mental health provisions or advice.  

So, what support is out there?  

There’s no doubt that leaders face a slightly different set of challenges to employees, particularly if they feel responsible for appearing 'resilient’ for their team. Being completely open about their own mental health struggles may not be appropriate or something they feel comfortable disclosing, but that doesn’t mean being stoic is the best approach either.  

In the first instance, follow the advice you give to others, such as scheduling time for enjoyment, ensuring time is taken for physical activity, and reaching out to support networks of friends and family or professional help when you need it. But outside of this, there are other techniques to consider. 

Speak to other leaders 

There is now a plethora of leadership networking opportunities such as social groups, support groups and forums whereby leaders meet to share experiences and best practice. Speaking to those in your same unique position will give you a fresh perspective and may inspire new ways of thinking, both in terms of leadership but also techniques for protecting your mental health. 

Attend mental health training 

Only 13 percent of managers in the UK have attended specific training that focused on mental health and only 11 per cent have received training on understanding workplace stressors. But being involved with training for recognising the signs of poor mental health in others may help you to recognise signs within yourself, as well using the training to support colleagues. 

This isn’t intended to add extra pressure on you as a leader, but you must be aware of the impact – consciously or sub-consciously, that you can have on the behaviours of your staff. This is not something to be afraid of, simply see it as a good excuse to check-in with yourself regularly and ensure that you are receiving the support that you need. Sort out your own oxygen mask so that you can continue to help others. 

At Hamilton Barnes, our people are at the centre of everything we do – after all, they are our greatest asset. Our Head of Wellbeing, Rhonda D’Ambrosio, is working hard behind the scenes to make sure that our amazing employees are supported and that their wellbeing is always high on the agenda. You can read about her work here: https://hamilton-barnes.com/blog/meet-our-mental-health-champion-rhonda