Mental Fitness for Leaders

By Jonathan Lewis

Picture a locker room of footballers discussing their performance after a match. One of the team hesitantly refers to their physiotherapist helping them and everyone looks at the ground and goes quiet. Later that same footballer slips into the conversation that they regularly attend a gym to develop their stamina during a game - the same reaction from the group. The reaction of the group hardly seems plausible. A footballer looking after their body isn't taboo. 

Why does it feel strange then, to talk about seeing a *psycho*therapist or a coach when I'm in a work context. And why do efforts at personal growth feel more like a hobby than something essential to being good at our work?

My mind is how I earn a living, how I relate to myself and other people is key in my work too. Why is it strange to admit to actively working on my mental fitness and personal growth? 

Old patterns and old wounds

Which of us want to be led by someone who hasn't healed old wounds, and instead they blame you when they overreact today? Or perhaps they "trust their gut" in firing someone when it's actually an old pattern of relating they formed in childhood. 

Mental and emotional awareness and healing isn't just for people who can't leave the house due to extreme depression, or for people going through dramatic life changes. It is for anyone who wants to fully grow up. To see more of themselves, more clearly, more accurately, and who can know their (good and bad) traits intimately.

I believe it is the responsibility of leaders (with formal power over others) to know themselves deeply. They should be conscious of their strengths and weaknesses being magnified in the things they are responsible for.

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If you're a leader and find yourself afraid of making decisions, pull on the thread and see where it leads. If one member of your team irritates you, speak with someone who can help you uncover the deeper reason behind this - it might not be about them at all.

You are a major part of the system

If you're looking to change the culture in your team, or organisation, realise that most of the change is needed in people. And if the leader doesn't change, then the whole initiative will struggle - ane very likely fail. When people seek a shift in the mindset of a team, I want to know what personal development work the leader is going to do to bring this about. 

If a CEO operates from a place of insecurity and fear, it feels pointless changing a policy around flexible working or office layout. Without an inner change at the top, decision making will still perpetuate the lack of trust that caused so much tension in the first place.

Can we normalise mental fitness?

Let's take mental wellbeing out of the medicalised realm it seems to be in today. 

Sometimes it feels like our minds are "no go" zones, that it's best to leave the deeper stuff alone. We aren't that delicate that to talk deeply risks making someone ill. I hear people express a desire to leave things to the professionals and to keep this stuff out of work. But "this stuff" is already in work, we work with our minds, our deeper selves are at work even if we pretend they're not.

Let's move on from heroic leaders, who repress their emotions and deliver regardless of the mental and emotional cost. This attitude damages the very fabric of creativity and insight that keeps a business viable - people's minds.

So let's normalise keeping our minds healthy, and create workplaces that help us grow.

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