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Unmasking the Mental Health Challenges of Leaders and Shattering the Stigma

Leaders have feelings, just like everyone else, and they aren't always brimming with positivity and confidence. In this high-pressure world, it's not uncommon for leaders to grapple with overwhelming stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and even periods of loneliness and depression. However, the expectations placed upon them often lead them to conceal these struggles, fearing that showing vulnerability might be viewed as a sign of weakness.

In the realm of this anxiety provoking, fast paced, and highly competitive world, it's vital for every leader to have a trusted network of peers—a kind of mastermind group—where they can open up and seek support.

Before I shed light on common stigmas that leaders and executives face, I want to first define what a leader is and who this blog pertains to.

Anyone that has a group of people looking to them for guidance is a leader. This can be a manager, captain for the sports team, a business owner, anyone in the healthcare field, and every chief executive. When people are looking to you, they are also watching how you handle yourself in stressful situations.

For this very reason, leaders and executives face mental health stigmas that I would like to unmask below:

1. Vulnerability: Leaders are expected to project an image of invincibility due to their authoritative positions. Regrettably, this perception may deter leaders from seeking assistance or sharing their concerns with colleagues, as they fear that exposing vulnerability might tarnish their professional reputation.

2. Concerns About Reputation: Speaking of reputation, leaders are supposed to exude unshakeable confidence and resilience. Yet, let's face it, self-doubt can infiltrate even the most accomplished leaders. However, revealing their internal struggles could alter how peers perceive them. Would they be seen as less effective or strong? Maybe, which is why every leader needs a support network they can lean on and confide in with confidence.

Pearl: What truly sets a leader apart is how they navigate and address their struggles.

3. Fear of Weakness: Society often teaches us that anything other than happiness and positivity is undesirable or a sign of weakness. In fact, if the leader reveals that they are struggling mentally, there may be concerned about losing credibility or authority among their peers. The truth is strength lies in acknowledging and addressing our emotions head-on instead of ignoring or suppressing them until you can’t any longer. However, the fast-paced world of a busy executive may not always allow for immediate emotional processing. Nevertheless, setting aside time later to process these emotions is crucial.

4. Impact on Team Morale: Leaders are expected to remain resolute and unwavering, especially during challenging times.

However, internally, they may grapple with self-doubt, fear, anger, or shame. The act of suppressing these emotions can only last for so long.

Therefore, it's both essential and non-negotiable for every leader to have a trusted confidant, someone they can lean on personally and professionally, who exists beyond their immediate team.

Mental health challenges affect all of us, regardless of our position. As a leader, you can play a pivotal role in destigmatizing these issues and empowering your team to proactively address them. Here's how:

Lead by example.

1. Be Vulnerable: But follow it up by sharing what steps you're taking to grow and improve.

2. Normalize Anxiety and Depression: Discuss the tools and resources your organization provides for team members to navigate these challenges. As a leader, lead by example and use these resources yourself. This is a compelling form of leadership by demonstration.

If nothing else, remember that battling your struggles silently and in isolation is the least productive approach. Cultivate a social network of trusted colleagues, mentors, and friends whom you can confide in. Research underscores that social support is among the most potent means to overcome depression or anxiety.

Ultimately, by leading through example and demonstrating that it's alright to feel a range of emotions, you'll guide your team towards healing.

This approach can foster healthier and happier work environments, boost team morale, all while acknowledging and respecting the internal battles that leaders grapple with.

Interested in inviting Dr. Lexi out to speak to your organization about mental wellbeing? You can contact her here today:


Dr. Lexi


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