I’m not a superhero. I don’t have any superpowers. I’m a regular human being that goes through ups and downs like anyone else. But I’m also an entrepreneur and a CEO, which means people around me tend to put me in a category above themselves.
I don’t think like that, and I believe that those who do are making a mistake.
The myth of the flawless leader
So many employees put their leaders on a pedestal. Some leaders do the same thing. They either subscribe to the notion that they are separate and distinct from the people who work for them, or they purposely create that separation themselves. With this kind of mentality comes a different type of pressure to perform. Unfortunately, our society has also conditioned us to believe that no one wants to follow a flawed leader.
That needs to change. Every single human being has imperfections, and anyone who convinces themselves otherwise is just setting themselves up for disappointment. A study coming out of the University of California San Francisco showed that 30% of entrepreneurs admit to struggling with depression. And as a CEO myself who has built a multimillion-dollar business without an MBA, I’m telling you that there are many more issues we struggle with in addition to depression.
I get it; there’s a massive risk for CEOs and entrepreneurs who come clean about their struggles with mental health. Every decision falls on our shoulders–not just our own, but that of our staff. We need mental strength to manage all of those things. And if we admit that from time to time, we struggle to muster such strength, people might question our ability to handle those responsibilities.
But if we don’t allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable, we’re doing everyone around us a disservice. For all you know, you might have employees and peers who are struggling with mental health issues. Only one in four employees report their battles with persistent stress and excessive anxiety, according to research from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Sure, external factors might be to blame for this, but this kind of work culture starts at the top.
When you’re transparent about your issues, you make your employees feel less alone. In turn, they’ll probably have more respect for you as a leader. This is why I’ve decided to be completely transparent when it comes to my struggles with anxiety. Here are the approaches I’ve chosen to adopt:
I talk about it in real time
I practice explaining to my team that I’m going through anxiety when it’s actually in the process of happening. I’ve noticed that this gesture gives my team a moment to shine by supporting me through a difficult time, and also empowers my employees to be empathetic. They can look at me and say, “Hey, our leader is going through something and is asking for help, so it’s okay if we go through something, too.” That’s more powerful than you know.
I make sure to do something
My favorite quote when it comes to dealing with anxiety is, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” That may mean different things to different people, but I know for me, the moment I stop putting my brain to use, that’s the moment that it starts to turn against me. I’m passionate about what I do, so it’s easy for me to throw myself into my work without feeling overwhelmed. And if I can keep my team occupied and engaged in doing meaningful work, then that helps them to feel good about themselves and what they’re doing.
I find a way to help someone else
Helping people might seem like this selfless act, but I get just as much out of it as the person I’m assisting. Your team needs to see that you’ll be there for them when they need you. They need to know you can be that support for whatever they’re going through. That starts with showing that you’re capable of asking for help, then making yourself available to assist someone else. Do this and watch it spread through the workplace.
The pressure we put on ourselves to perform as CEOs and entrepreneurs can lead to actions that strain our mental health. We’re trying to build something out of nothing. That’s not easy. Add to that the expectations from board members, team members, and investors and it’s easy to see how coming out with your own issues can jeopardize their confidence in your abilities. But that’s because we’re all still stuck in this mindset that mental health is parallel to your mental strength. It’s not. You’re not weak for admitting that you’re struggling with something. We desperately need to get over that.
Peter Holgate, cofounder and former CEO of Ronin8 Technologies, previously wrote in Fast Company that to build up the emotional intelligence necessary to combat these bad habits and inherent tendencies, we need to be aware of our weaknesses. Once we know our weaknesses, we can take steps to create an environment that supports a more healthy and constructive approach to leadership that doesn’t compromise our mental health.
If we can be vulnerable and show that there’s nothing unstable about enduring mental health, then we give license to those we lead to do and feel the same. That makes you a strong business leader.