This month, to accompany our theme around Curious Conversations, Michelle Gant, Coach, Mentor and Director of the Engaging People Company, has shared some tips and advice on prioritising mental health as a leader. A summary of her Masterclass with the 2021 Eastern Leaders core participants will be shared shortly, with some valuable highlights from the session.
‘And love is when somebody quietly listens to everything you’ve got to say.’
This line, taken from one of my daughter’s beloved story books, always pops into my mind whenever I think about what is, for me, absolutely key in having conversations about mental health. Listening. It’s at the very heart of it – and if you do nothing else but listen then that’s a lot. Listening is one of the kindest things we can do for another person; we show people that we value them, that they matter, that we care when we give them space to talk. But how tempting it is to jump into a gap in conversation, or sometimes, as we do, even climb on top of the words of another to get our point across. And yet, by listening, by letting the silence be, we are wordlessly showing our support for another.
As well as listening, the other point I always make to Leaders and Managers who want to have conversations about mental health and wellbeing with their colleagues is to remember your role. You are not a counsellor, you are not a therapist, you are not a doctor. It is not your job to diagnose, tell, or fix someone. Absolutely not. Your role is to be a leader – a supportive, empowering leader. And you can empower people in your team by listening, empathising, and offering choices within your control. Has your company got an EAP line? Let your colleague know. Are your able to offer flexible working? Tell your team member. It is not the leader or manager’s job to make and take those choices; however, that’s down to the individual. We are all adults and should be treated as such. But what a manager can do is give the employee options that come within their remit.
There are other things to think about when having conversations about mental health, things such as confidentiality – don’t promise what you cannot provide; timing and time – perhaps don’t squeeze it into a five-minute window; where these conversations happen, and always being non-judgemental. And of course, this isn’t just about a one-off conversation. It’s a dialogue and ongoing.
Another crucial thing that leaders and managers can do to empower their team members, to build trust, and create a culture where it’s ok to not be ok is to role model. Take care of their own wellbeing and talk about mental health in the everyday not just when someone’s struggling. It’s not what we say but what we do that has the most impact, and when managers are leading by example and making their own mental health a priority, they are giving people in their organisation implicit permission to do the same.
We will all experience ups and downs, it’s likely we will have times in our lives when we struggle. But empowering leaders and managers who listen, know their role, give options within their power, and role model wellbeing will have a positive impact within their teams. And who knows what difference that could make to someone.