Leading a company is hard work – the expectations we set ourselves are high, the challenges we face never stop and the pressure is constant. Based on personal experience and that of many other CEOs I speak to, it’s more of an afterthought than a priority to take responsibility for our own well-being.
More often than not, we place the needs of the business ahead of our own. It took me over 10 years to understand how profoundly the direction and performance of my business was influenced by my mental state.
Effectively fulfilling the role of CEO involves vision, strategy and decision-making – all of which require a clear and balanced mindset. CEOs are often driven by passion and ambition and frequently push hard and aim high. How effective are the decisions we’re making if we’re not taking a break from the pressure? If we’re working more hours than anyone else? If we’re giving ourselves no time to pause and reflect?
Taking better care of our well-being is something we all know is important, just like avoiding junk food and taking regular exercise. It’s a personal choice. But the point is, for a CEO, mental health is as strategic as it is personal. It affects not just you but the welfare of your business and its employees.
Here’s 3 reasons why your entire business will benefit from your personal well-being:
“How We Got to Now” is a brilliant book by Steven Johnson that explores where great ideas come from. When examining the source of some of the world’s famous innovations, he notes that great ideas often come about through engaging in a variety of different hobbies. The more diverse interests the innovators actively pursued, the greater the chance of ideas being sparked from different wells of knowledge cross-pollinating with each other.
“Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities—a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity—but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies.” – Steven Johnson
Taking up a hobby outside work will help reset your thinking and rejuvenate your creative flow.Encourage your team to also pursue outside interests. The result is a collective of enriched and diverse thinking throughout the company that leads to better ideas and more innovation.
Leaders often feel the need to set an example by working the hardest and the longest to establish an expectation of work ethic and drive performance. Not only is this unhealthy for the owner’s personal well-being but also for the team and the cultural environment. Leaders have far more influence over the cultural environment than they probably realise.
“If the physical environment is about the one that you can see, touch, taste, and breathe, then the cultural environment is the one that you feel; it's the "vibe" you get when you walk in the door and it's the mood and the tone that the workplace sets. It's the leadership style, the sense of purpose your employees feel, the organizational structure, and the people that make up your organization.” Jacob Morgan, Forbes article
As CEO, you're in a unique position to reduce the level of stress that affects the office environment. You set the standard for what is acceptable behaviour.
According to Australian wellness coach, Elizabeth Scott, the CEO may think that his or her demeanor doesn't directly affect staff, but it's been shown that workers read the mood of the boss for clues about performance or job security.
If you can consciously reduce the level of stress you carry around with you, it will create a less tense and more productive work environment. Smile more often, show support and gratitude, recognise achievements and encourage leaving on time. It helps boost morale and bring your team together.
Leaders often struggle to let go and hand the reins to someone else. According to a recent study out of Aalto University, parental and entrepreneurial love is one in the same when it comes to brain chemistry and emotional experience. To trust someone enough to take care of something very precious to you may feel difficult initially but can prove to be very liberating in the long run. Being freed up to do the things you do best is highly beneficial for both you and the company.
Employees are full of great ideas and problem-solving solutions if they are given the space to contribute. Delegating ownership of bigger tasks sends strong messages of respect and recognition and creates a more empowered team environment.
Remember the 2014 RTE series called “The Takeover?” The boss steps aside for two weeks and lets the staff be completely in charge and free to do what they want with the business. Some really strong ideas were generated and put into practice; the owner returned refreshed to a motivated and energised team. They understood the responsibility they carried and were determined to prove themselves.
Here’s 10 suggestions you can do as a leader to take back some ownership of your own wellbeing:
Slow your pace and take 1 deep breath before you enter the office
Paying attention to your breathing is a simple and easy way to ground yourself. With a single deep breath, you can calm your thoughts and your emotions, leaving stress and agitation at the door.
Get out for lunch
Physical movement and a change of scene gives your brain a break and the chance to reboot. By the time you get back to your desk, you’ll be more productive and have a fresher perspective. And treat yourself to something nice. Paying attention to your diet improves concentration and focus and helps keep you mentally alert for the rest of the day.
Quiet the mind each day for 20 minutes
Practicing a mindful activity like walking, yoga, swimming or running will change the frequency of your thinking – it makes problems seem less overwhelming and more manageable, it improves concentration and decisiveness and reduces agitation and nervousness that add a little stress and anxiety to the air for employees to pick up on.
Ask the team to run the weekly team catch ups
Start small - delegate the agenda and timekeeping to someone else, sit back and observe. It’s good practice for each team member to set and manage accountability.
Spend a few hours a week working from a different environment - café, home, park bench
Working outside the office allows you to feel a little less tied to a routine, mentally freer and better able to focus on work that benefits you - take an online course, listen to podcasts, read or write blog posts, pause, reflect and think. Put client work on hold. This is your time to expand your mind.
Walk barefoot in your garden for 10 minutes
Walking barefoot offers a variety of health benefits for your mind and body. By practicing grounding, you are able to free your mind from the stressors that drag it down. Check out all the benefits here.
Engage in at least one weekly post-work hobby
Dedicating time once a week to something you enjoy gives you a break from your many responsibilities and commitments and reminds you that you are an individual with outside interests. Go back to hobbies that made you most happy and joyful when you were a kid, such as painting, sketching, fixing stuff, flying kites, woodwork, baking, cooking, writing. Let your mind wander and play, expand your knowledge, indulge your passion, and pique your curiosity.
Don’t work weekends
Pretty obvious. But so often disregarded. It seems like a good idea to use quieter weekend time to catch up on work. But then Sunday rolls into Monday and the mental break you so badly needed is gone. The result? Feeling zapped and depleted before the week has even started.
Don’t check email after 6pm
Have you ever spent over an hour crafting an email response in the evening only to rewrite the whole thing the next morning in a matter of minutes?
Thankfully France has led the charge with a “right-to-disconnect” law that requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. A handful of companies have created related policies voluntarily. Daimler went a step further, automatically deleting emails that are sent while someone is on vacation. Checking email or writing email when you’re tired can result in misreading, misspelling, misunderstanding and missed sleep. Put your phone away, give some evening time to your kids, your partner, your friends and most importantly to yourself.
Tell your kids a made up story every day (they love it)
It’s a great way to exercise your creativity. Children love it when you include them as the protagonists. Ask them what the names of the characters are called and what super powers they have. Weaving in names, characters, actions and drama requires innovation and forward thinking as you simultaneously consider the environment, the conflict and the resolution. Children accept all kinds of leaps in imagination and forgive gaps in logic especially if they’re the center of the story. It’s a powerful bonding moment and great way to give your mind a distraction from the stresses of work.
Don’t stand in your own way.