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Whoever defined the leader as invincible?

Every 2 minutes in Britain someone is made ill by stress at work according to the Trade Union Congress. We as a country, it can safely be said, are becoming far more supportive towards issues of mental health in the work place and the improvements are ongoing.

A great focus is placed on the employer’s duty of care and responsibility for the wellbeing of the workforce. Leaders hopefully have recognised that taking an ethical approach towards mental health in the workplace not only is the right thing to do, but it reduces the potential cost of related absences.

So our CEO’s are focussing on their teams…who is looking after the CEO? Is there always someone looking out for the HR Director, or does it simply cascade downwards?

In 2007, we lost our beautiful son Charlie. Our world crumbled, and life carried on regardless with meetings interspersed by a funeral, performance reviews followed by a meeting to discuss police intervention, interviews for Sales Managers alongside appointments with psychologists. The world fails to stop when your resources dry up, and as a Managing Director, with a wonderfully supportive team there was enormous pressure to continue.

I would sit at my desk feeling guilty because instead of working, I was Googling self-help books on Amazon. Using the last stapler could reduce me to tears and I would feel sorry for my team because their leader was such a mess! In short, I felt inadequate and very, very lonely. Of course, in public, I held it together. My pencil skirts and heels became my armour and my smile was a great mask of the unbearable pain ripping through my body at every meeting.

Whoever defined the leader as invincible? Steve Tappin, author of The Secrets of a CEO, did extensive neurological research on the leadership skills and lifestyles of senior executives. He found they worked too many hours, were under constant stress and chronic fatigue. In short, he concluded “There should be a health warning”!

Earlier this month, the world was saddened to hear of the death of New York fashion designer, Kate Spade, who took her life at the age of 55. Her compassion and drive made her an excellent leader, well respected in the industry she was working on her new line Kate Valentine. Often though that compassion and drive found in great leaders can bring significant draw backs with the empathy and devotion you feel for your employees not necessarily reflecting those you have for yourself.

CEO’s and leaders are not heroes to look up to, they are as vulnerable as the rest of us! They take out the trash, they have marriage issues and unruly teenagers. And yet we want to be seen as superhuman, I certainly felt I had to be, as I was the captain of the ship. Surely, I couldn’t have a meltdown?

If I had had some time and space to think, someone to bounce my ideas off (or to moan about my lack of spark with), I think the whole return to work experience may well have been very different. It is not simply tragic incidents such as the loss of a loved one but other life changing events such as parenthood that affect performance and mental ability; deprived of sleep and missing the calm reassurance of home that babies deny us certainly does not do anything for our Superhero Status! Marriage breakdowns, the threat of redundancy, a deadline looming, you name it, it’s all enough for the Self-Assured Leader Mask to slip.

So where can executive leaders be vulnerable, their true selves- able to dig deep whilst preserving their sanity? Let’s face it, we need to look after ourselves if we are going to steer our shipmates on the right course! Successful businesses encourage coaching from the top down. Would you support a football team who didn’t have a coach? Coaches have coaches!!

An experienced coach can be a real ally in times when you need to build your own resilience in order to manage effectively. Many coaching businesses like GuruYou™ offer 1-1 sessions that specialise in building mental strength in management. Make sure the chemistry between your chosen coach and you is positive and interesting by asking for a consultation beforehand which is often complimentary.

And finally, I leave you with a picture of our little girl Ruby, born a year after we lost little Charlie and is seen here trying to take over my office! Now that is a happy ending!!