Leadership and Mental Health

by Rebecca A. Steele, PhD

What characteristics come to mind when you hear the title ‘leader’? Strong? Powerful? How about humble? It takes humility to acknowledge when you might be struggling and need to make changes to address your mental health.

John C. Maxwell once said “the pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” Being in a leadership role can bring many trials that may negatively impact mental health, requiring necessary adjustments for the leader to manage it well. If you are a leader in any capacity, it may be particularly helpful to remember the acronym RAM. This stands for Recognize, Analyze, and Materialize plans to address mental health struggles.

One way of identifying a potential need for intervention in mental health struggles is recognizing signs of burnout. Are your energy levels consistently low? Are you beginning to feel a sense of exhaustion before your day begins? Do you feel like you are not able to fully engage with the people you lead on a regular basis? These may be signs that imminent rest is necessary.

The next step is to analyze what would be most beneficial to you depending on the magnitude of your burnout. Would a long weekend provide the rest you need? Or perhaps an extended vacation would be more appropriate. Be sure to analyze whether this is a short-term or long-term stressor. For short-term stressors, perhaps time off will be sufficient. For long-term stressors, it may be helpful to seek additional assistance through organizational support and/or personal counseling. Your analysis can also include preventative stress management work once you are feeling more energized and recharged. Preventative work can include maintaining a healthy work-life balance, setting occupational boundaries to limit overworking, and improving aspects of workplace culture that are within your control.

The last step is to materialize the plan that you have analyzed would be best to address your mental health. This may include putting in a request for time off or searching for accessible treatment providers to obtain personal counseling. Though this step is the last, it is far from the least and is crucial to implementing change. Taking one action step to materialize your plan demonstrates a commitment to improving your mental health.

Great leaders lead by example, so set the standard today and take charge of your mental health. Remember, it is unhelpful to complain about the wind and unfruitful to just expect it to change. Let’s adjust our sails when the difficulty of leadership comes blowing our way.

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