Sometimes things are not as they appear

“Mental health is not a destination, but a process.  It’s about how you drive, not where you are going” Noam Shpancer PhD


Early in my career, I had been asked by the Deputy Commissioner of a large Government Department to work with his senior leaders. His passion theme was ‘moving from good to great’, based on the book of the same name.

There was one person in his team of senior leaders who was considered the ‘golden prodigy’. A real go-getter, energetic and hungry to make a difference, brimming with passion, positivity, and potential.  He was new-ish to the team and wanted to prove himself. Everyone was impressed, some even a little intimidated by his enthusiasm and drive.

In our first session together, I asked him what his objectives for the coaching were. I listened carefully as he spoke quickly and enthusiastically about his desire to “be better at time management, engage my team fully, prioritise better as I have back-to-back meetings nearly all day every day, delegate better, take on bigger projects that are coming up”. When I asked him if he did all of that what would he achieve he said “I can do more and achieve more. I have several large pieces of work involving multiple facets that must be done. I have a large team who need attention, with some performance issues to sort out. I am trying to get my head around how this place operates and put things in place to cut through red tape. My boss wants to shake things up. I’m really keen to get started as soon as possible!”

I didn’t respond straight away, I paused and noticed what looked like some strain on his face, wide eyes and fast speech and movements. Eventually I responded “That sounds like a lot. I’m just curious…how are your stress levels?” He looked at me, slightly taken aback, blinked, and paused.  Then tears rolled down his face.  His demeanour collapsed, his body bent over and he slumped.

He explained he has a 3-month-old baby at home, a wife who was ill, he wasn’t getting much sleep and the demand of his work is taking 10 hours a day and weekends. The real issue was he felt like he wasn’t good enough, as a new leader, as a new father or husband. He rationalised if he could get better at time management, he could prove himself, drive himself further and succeed. In other words, to succeed, he believed he had to do it all, and do it all 100%. He was new to his role and believed he couldn’t take time off. Yet he was at breaking point, overwhelmed and masking it with a brave face while shouldering everything including high expectations.

For the sake of his mental and emotional wellbeing, we had to start with what was really going on. So although the organisation had good intentions to develop a culture of what was termed ‘good to great’ there was a lack of understanding of what was taking place.

Having conversations about emotions can be uncomfortable, difficult and can be considered ‘soft’. Yet most organisations and leaders underestimate the influence emotion has on themselves, and their culture, leadership and change efforts. The emotional culture of an organisation influences employee experience and satisfaction, burnout, teamwork, and even hard measures such as financial performance and absenteeism.

From a personal perspective, some things you can do for mental and emotional wellbeing include:

  • Accept where you are.
  • Reflect and be clear on what really matters.
  • Create and communicate boundaries so your time and energy are protected.
  • Ask for support (from professionals, loved ones, friends, colleagues)
  • Let go of what doesn’t serve the ‘really matters’. Delegate, let go of the fantasy that all is ok.
  • Make a new wellbeing plan that is simple and do-able. Small changes can often be the most transformative.

From a leader perspective, some things you can do to develop a healthy team emotional culture are:

  • Demonstrate to your team mental health and wellbeing conversations are part of the culture.
  • Don’t assume that people who are performing well don’t need help. Productivity can mask burnout.
  • Create opportunities, and space for you and the team to understand more about themselves and others through training, coaching and conversation.
  • Remember as a leader, you lead people – people who are human beings, with emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Learn to see things from their perspective.
  • Encourage your team to use Headspace’s mindfulness content available through Microsoft Teams.  There are mindfulness guides to help prepare for presentations, as well as short sessions that can also help prevent burnout and bring wellness into your workday. To learn more – Microsoft Teams & Wellbeing: Introducing Headspace to Teams.

Check out what’s on offer at ATI-Mirage:

Manage Stress, Build Resilience
Develop Your Emotional Intelligence
Emotionally Intelligent Leaders