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Why Leadership Well-being is a Strategic Imperative

94% of employees in a recent study by Deloitte believe their manager should have at least some responsibility for their well-being, and 96% of managers agreed. While it is true that organizations and leaders have a duty of care for their workforce, it is also true that this comes with a surprising double standard: how many employees reciprocate and care for the well-being of their leaders?

It’s no easy feat being at the helm of an organization. After all, the saying goes: "The wind blows strongest at the top of the mountain,’ but the burden of leadership is frequently underestimated. Gallup found that 76% of leaders reported experiencing burnout. This number is a glaring reminder that leaders, despite their summit positions, are not impervious to the winds that threaten their well-being.

The physical and mental health of leaders is critical to the performance, resilience, and happiness of a team or organization. In this article, we break down why leaders should prioritize their well-being, and offer a few ways they can achieve this.

The Why: Why the Well-being of Leaders Matters

Leaders with good well-being drive performance

In a recent study by The Workforce Institute at UKG, 69% of respondents highlighted the substantial impact of their managers on their mental health, a level comparable to the influence of their partners. Astonishingly, this influence surpassed that of doctors (51%) and therapists (41%), emphasizing the pivotal role managers and leaders play in employee well-being.

Leadership well-being is not merely a matter of employee satisfaction; it's a strategic consideration for organizational success. Employee well-being is directly linked to productivity and performance. Research shows that employees with high well-being levels are 20% more productive than those with lower well-being. The data underscores a critical reality: the state of leadership and managerial practices significantly influences the mental well-being of employees, which, in turn, directly impacts organizational productivity.

The key takeaway is not just about recognizing the influence of managers on mental health but also understanding that fostering a positive and supportive leadership culture is a strategic imperative for unlocking the full potential of a high-performing workforce.

Well-being influences leadership styles

A leader’s mental health plays a pivotal role in shaping leadership styles. In fact, a manager's well-being is a key predictor, irrespective of demographics or sector differences, in influencing leadership style, which has a cascading effect across their teams and colleagues. When leaders are in a positive state of mental health and well-being, they are more likely to exhibit transformational and goal-focused leadership styles. This means that they encourage creativity, care about the needs of their team, and do regular check-ins. This is not just beneficial for the team, but it creates a healthier, more positive work environment for the leaders themselves too.

Conversely, traits like destructive leadership and laissez-faire leadership pose psychological risks to teams. Identifying negative leadership traits not only offers clear evidence of their impact on employee health but also signals potential issues with the mental health of managers. To support effective leadership, it's essential to cultivate positive leadership styles and enhance workplace culture for improved overall well-being. It makes it even more important to ask leaders simple questions like 'How are you feeling today?'

Leaders are role models with influence

Scott Armstrong, founder of mentl joined us for the 2022 Cosmic Conference sharing just how important it is for leaders to prioritize their own well-being: "... it comes back to the leaders, unfortunately, and the leaders fitting their own oxygen masks. Because if you can’t see the wood for the trees, then you’re not going to make great decisions and you’re going to pass that down.”

He added, “But mental health needs to cascade through organizations, and it needs to be championed from the very top. If the leader actually does talk about it [mental health], and if they do see the benefit, they themselves will be better leaders. But it needs to cascade through because if the middle management doesn’t think their boss will walk the talk, if you pay lip service to it and nothing changes, then nothing changes."

Armstrong's words echo the sentiment that the mental well-being of leaders is not merely a personal concern but a core factor influencing the entire organization. One core group of leaders is middle managers, who play an important role in both the performance and culture of the organization by managing both upwards and downwards. When leaders prioritize their own well-being, they not only enhance their decision-making capabilities but also set in motion a positive ripple effect that cascades through every level of the organization.

The How: Strategies for Prioritizing Leaders' Well-being

Well-being is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Leaders have varying needs and the same strategies will be different for everyone. Here are just a few things leaders can do:

Be Vulnerable

Only 24% of senior leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable at work and it is the fear of diminishing team trust that often holds leaders back. But, the data tells a different story – employees are actually 5.3x more likely to trust leaders who regularly show vulnerability, and leaders who acknowledge their failures and shortcomings are trusted 7.5x more by their teams.

Vulnerability is a powerful tool for building trust and fostering authentic leadership. Leaders can express vulnerability in various ways such as admitting mistakes, asking for feedback, sharing their emotions in the face of uncertainty, or being the first to open up in a discussion.

Cultivate a Supportive Network

Leaders need a strong support network to navigate challenges effectively. At first thought, this network may be other leaders in the company, but actually, a leaders’ team can be their first line of support.

Leaders should be explicit about this, letting their teams know that they are part of their support network and that they may be called on when needed. This type of inclusion not only helps to diminish the double standard, but it makes well-being the collective responsibility of everyone at work, regardless of hierarchy or designation.

Set Boundaries

In the words of Prentis Hemphill popularized by Brené Brown, "Boundaries are the distance by which I can love both you and me at the same time." For leaders focused on well-being, this isn't just a personal practice; it's a strategic decision for the benefit of their teams.

Boundaries are not about detachment but about establishing a foundation of mutual respect. At work, this can be a time boundary, such as limiting interruptions during focus time, task-related boundaries, which clarify one's roles and responsibilities, or even space boundaries related to where teams are physically co-located or working in distributed settings. When leaders set these boundaries for themselves, or for others, they are creating clear parameters within which teams work and that structure can be liberating.

Where do we go from here?

So, as leaders navigate the challenges at the top it is important to remember that your well-being is not just personal; it's a strategic choice that shapes the very essence of your approach and, consequently, the destiny of your team.

And to the employees who look up to their leaders, recognize your role in shaping a positive organizational experience. More importantly, be human and extend empathy to foster a culture of well-being and reciprocity.

In this journey of well-being, leaders are not isolated figures bearing the full force of the wind at the summit. Instead, by prioritizing their own well-being, they carry the torch for everyone. It's a transformative ripple effect that starts with a leader caring for their well-being, inspiring a culture where everyone's well-being becomes a shared responsibility.


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