How Conscious Leadership Can Help Your Mental Health
Being a leader comes with specific responsibilities and obligations that can quickly pile up.Regardless of their industry, leaders face many of the same problems, including handling a vast workload at pace, solving complex issues, and helping their team. Naturally, leaders have many people depending on them and are constantly required to adapt to new situations. And that's all on top of external factors like their personal lives, partners, children, and health. It can quickly stack up and become unmanageable.
Well-being and mental health have been increasingly newsworthy topics recently — especially in the business world. More often than not, it falls on the shoulders of leaders to take care of their team at work. But before helping their team, leaders need to take care of themselves in the same way. That's where conscious leadership comes in.
Conscious leadership is a leadership style that focuses on self-reflection and self-knowledge. It recognises that a leader, regardless of their position, is still a human being who faces the same doubts, pressures and insecurities as all of us. To help you become a conscious leader and focus on conscious awareness, we've put together this complete guide to conscious leadership and mental well-being in the workplace.
Recognising the Need for Conscious Leadership
Self-awareness is the first step towards conscious leadership development. Recognising the signs of deteriorating mental well-being in the workplace and the truth of our own reality means that leaders can focus on personal development to help their entire team.
More often than not, leaders carry heavy and radical responsibility delivering work and need every moment of the day to ensure that the job is complete. This often leaves little time for leaders to take care of themselves and means they fall into the habits of unconscious leaders.
Confusing Stamina with Resilience
Many of the leaders that we work with at The Conscious Leadership Company confuse stamina with resilience. The misconception is that resilience is about staying on the treadmill, powering through and keeping your chin up regardless of the raft of challenges and pressure you face.
Resilience is not about powering through; it’s about being able to bounce back when things get tough. But pushing yourself to your absolute limit all the time can quickly lead to burnout. We speak to many leaders who are struggling and exhausted. The exhaustion, pressure and stress naturally drive certain behaviours and thoughts, such as:
- Long hours and an inability to switch off from work
- A lack of ‘presence’ in life outside of work
- Underlying anxiety (often driven by a fear of failure)
- Overcommitting to others
- Overreactions and charged emotional responses
- Unhelpful assumptions about other people’s behaviour
- Limited time for reflection and learning.
As you can imagine, these behaviours and habits mean that you're not performing at your best, and they can be seriously damaging to your well-being. These are unconscious responses to your environment, and an inability to switch off from work is a common trait in leaders. These unconscious responses use up a great deal of our energy and cause us to feel drained and tired by the end of the day.
Fear of Failure
In many of our Conscious Leadership workshops, a large percentage of leaders express their fear of failure. The fear of getting things wrong, letting people down and feeling incompetent (often referred to as imposter syndrome) is paralysing and pushes them to work themselves into the ground.
While this fear can drive performance, focus and make us work hard, it has a significant downside: low-level anxiety. Despite being low-level, this anxiety undermines our ability to make good decisions and even makes us doubt our abilities. This doubt and fear puts more pressure on us and exacerbates the problem, even if we're not overtly conscious of it. Interestingly, it's often those that consistently perform well that are most affected by this fear.
The Effects of Unconscious Leaders
When leaders are under pressure, feel stressed, and lack self-awareness, it causes ripple effects in their team. Even leaders aware of the pressure and stress don't recognise their behaviour’s impact on their team’s performance and mental well-being.
While you may be doing everything you can to create a safe, happy workplace and company culture, not being self-aware as a leader can create a toxic company culture for your team. Here are a few common examples we often hear in our conscious leadership workshops:
"Do as I say, not as I do."
The leader who emails at night and weekends and tells the team not to respond without realising the pressure that this puts on the team.
"Don’t work long hours (but still deliver the work)."
The leader who expects the work to get done, often at a high standard, and who creates a tsunami of work, yet constantly tells the team to work fewer hours and take care of their well-being.
"You’ve got total flexibility, but I expect you ‘in’"
The leader who wants to provide flexibility to the team to get the right balance yet gets stressed or asks too many questions when someone tries to take care of conflicting priorities and needs time off.
"We all make mistakes (just try not to make any on my watch)."
The leader who encourages the team to learn from mistakes yet reacts negatively when people get anything wrong or receive bad feedback.
"We are doing good work, so we need to work harder."
The purposeful leader recognises the importance of the team’s work but pushes too hard to make sure it happens.
"It’s OK not to be OK – but I am always OK.”
The leader who encourages people to speak up about the things that are challenging them yet never show any signs of weakness themselves.
The Danger of Double Signals
These double signals are common in many workplaces, and finding the right balance at work is challenging. Generally, people want to do a good job, they are conscientious and want to deliver and often they have the same fear of failure as their leader. Without recognising our unhealthy behaviours as leaders, we risk our own and our teams' performance and mental well-being in the workplace.
The Secret to Mental Fitness: Self-Awareness
Physical fitness and health is something that we are all educated on from an early age. We take care of our bodies by:
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding excessive alcohol
- Eating less junk food
- Drinking plenty of water
- Getting plenty of sleep and rest.
These are just some of the things we do to keep our bodies healthy. But many of us have had very little education about how to take care of our mental health. While being physically fit can help your mental health, no amount of running will rid us of beliefs that limit us, and you can't “press-up” your way into better working habits.
To master the art of mental fitness, we need to become more conscious and self-aware. We need to have conscious awareness of our behaviour and thoughts to make better decisions about living and leading.
We must assess our mental well-being regularly and answer these questions critically:
- Do I consistently have enough energy to do a great job at work?
- Do I put a healthy level of pressure on myself (and my team) to deliver?
- Am I driven by healthy motivators (fear is not a healthy motivator)?
- Do I work hard to get the balance right between work and rest/play?
- Do I allow myself plenty of time for self-reflection and personal learning?
- Do I intentionally learn from my experiences and mistakes?
- Do I positively speak to myself and show myself self-compassion?
These "conscious" questions are not all the questions we need to ask ourselves, but we can get to the truth of our feelings and behaviour by answering them. Conscious leaders must ask themselves these questions for their own well-being and their team's.
Not only do conscious leaders help themselves avoid burnout, but it also helps them develop their character as leaders.
How to Become a Conscious Leader
Becoming a conscious leader is not a rapid learning experience and will take time to achieve. Conscious leaders take charge of their lives and recognise their ability to make choices and act independently. The commitments of conscious leadership include:
- Holding yourself to account
- Recognising the importance of self-compassion and care
- Recognising the difference between resilience and stamina
- Being happy with "good enough" when necessary.
As a conscious leader, you must find balance and not be afraid to opt-out in favour of preserving yourself. You need to know when to press pause and be conscious of how you operate. Conscious leaders are responsible for taking care of themselves as human beings before taking care of their team, and failure to do so is a disservice to others.