October is Mental Health Month. Social media is full of advice on self-care and how the stress of COVID demands we pay more attention to taking care of ourselves and others.
Leaders, in particular, are challenged right now. Sandwiched between supporting extra-vulnerable and less-resilient staff, and organizational pressures to boost productivity from a remote workforce while pulling back on spending. Trite advice encouraging people to be kind to themselves sometimes makes mental health feel like a luxury.
Here are some practical mental health tips specifically for leaders, to support you in these tough times:
- Support Down; Vent Up and Out: There is the perspective that a leader’s #1 job beyond all other responsibilities is to ensure, at a minimum, that staff always feel safe. Not just physically, but professionally, socially, occupationally, and psychologically. That means the Effective Leader never vents to staff or races to the bottom of who is worse off. Instead, she balances being firm and fair with the team, while advocating for her own needs with her leader. Where additional support is needed, she looks to her personal network and professional counsellors and coaches.
- Connection Before Content: After seven straight hours of Zoom or Teams meetings, it’s hard to convey supportive and genuine empathy to stressed staff. Compassion fatigue sets in. Just like an airplane emergency, we need to put our own oxygen masks on before we can assist others. Book your video meetings for up to 55 minutes. State at 50 minutes that you’ll need to wrap up in five to get to your next meeting; take that 5 minutes to stretch, stick your head out of a window and breathe, get some water. Then, when the next meeting opens, start with: “How are you? No, I mean, how are you REALLY?” Listen and acknowledge.
Here are some additional resources for virtual meetings!
- Hold Your Ground Without Arguing: Under stress, we all regress to more primitive ways of functioning. None of us are at our finest, and leaders are human too! Conflict and difficult conversations might occur more often as our collective patience is tested. When disagreeing, try this technique to ensure you don’t sound disagreeable: Perspective Pairing is where you acknowledge another’s point of view (with which you disagree) and verbally place it right next to your own different point of view. Make sure you never join them with a “but” or a “however.” For example: “So from your perspective, everyone knows we’re working from home and expect things to be more casual. From my perspective, we still need to demonstrate professionalism and not wear pyjamas.”
Communicating in a virtual world takes practice. Here are some tips on writing emails that get read.
- Remember Your Spheres of Influence and Control: We often spend unnecessary energy and lose sleep over situations, things, and people over whom we have absolutely NO control. It is helpful to categorize what you are facing into three categories: those you have absolute control over; those you can influence but ultimately not control; and those that you have absolutely no influence or control of. Invest your time and energy where you will get the biggest payoff and the least amount of unhelpful worrying. And, very importantly, allow yourself to let go of the guilt and stress!
- Book V.I.P. Meetings… With Yourself: Leaders’ calendars are always booked with meetings – with staff, teams, vendors, board members, etc. While having an open-door policy is very inviting and welcoming, your time may easily be eroded with “have you got a minute?” There is often too little time left for the leader! Booking time with yourself in your calendar allows you to have uninterrupted time to focus on an important project or time-bound issue. Having a set “closed-door” time each week will also help those around you to respect your space and give you time for you to be your most effective.
Leaders can’t lead effectively if they have nothing to lead with. Investing back in yourself with time, energy-giving activities, and balance will help you to be responsive and focussed for your team and organization.
Be a bit selfish, set some healthy boundaries, ask for help when you need it. Remember to be compassionate with others as well as yourself to get you through these unusual times. If you feel like you could use some extra support, contact us and see how we can help or explore online support groups like those from CMHA.