Monday, 28 November 2011

Leadership and Mental Health

The Shaw Trust reported in 2010 that only 2 in 10 employers have a reactive or proactive mental health policy to support staff with mental ill health. What role does leadership have in addressing this challenging issue?

Employee mental well-being should be an integral part of the boardroom agenda, on a par with physical health. Leaders should insist that regular monitoring of progress or issues is reported to the board. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has found that 70% of employee mental health problems are either directly caused by work or by a combination of work and home. In light of this, there simply is no excuse for this not be a mainstream issue for leaders to address. By proactively managing mental well-being in the workplace, leaders are not only dealing with their legal and ethical responsibilities, they are also looking after their bottom line as well. Absenteeism and presenteeism are responsible for losing British organisations billions of pounds, so how can this subject be ignored.

All employers should include safeguarding mental well-being into their standard operations, particularly when employees and/or organisations are embarking on change processes, which can be and are very challenging times for everyone. Training from the leadership down in proactively managing mental well-being, including offering additional support to staff or simply leading by example, is essential. Safety net support such as coaching and occupational health needs to be incorporated into health and well-being policies.

Leaders should be ensuring that management have a huge positive impact on mental health. Good line managers are essential in spotting early signs of distress and initiating early intervention, whereas poor line managers may make the situation worse or even be the cause of mental health problems through their approach, management style of behaviour.

Leaders should be insisting that comprehensive and, more importantly, mandatory mental health training for line managers is introduced and embedded into the culture and development plans for their employees. This training and change in culture will ensure that the organisation develops employee resilience and emotional well-being.

Will the boss help?

7 out of 10 people said their boss would not help them cope with stress. (Mind 2011)

Psychological health reporting

Only 15% of FTSE - 100 companies report on proactive management of psychological health, while 97% report on physical health. (Business in the Community 2011)


41% of people are currently stressed or very stressed by their jobs - making work more stressful than money worries, marriage, relationship or health issues. (Mind 2011)

Effective Leadership - Is Competency Enough?

Effective Leadership - Is Competency Enough?
The role of competency frameworks for deciding what is crucial for effective leadership is now being questioned on the basis that, whilst they are important, they are not the only skills required. A whole set of leadership behaviours and qualities are also necessary for both organisational and people development and it is these behaviours and qualities that maintain the leader in the leadership role rather than the leader operating more as a manager most of the time.
It is important to draw a distinction between personal qualities and values and leadership skills. Personal qualities and values are those cognitive and emotional characteristics of an individual that are necessary in order to capably manage and lead. Qualities such as being tenacious or resilient demonstrate an aptitude for achieving results, whereas effective communication is necessary for developing relationships and team-working. Having these qualities, however, is no guarantee that they will be used and effectively used. It is only with conscious practice that leaders will deploy these qualities and behaviours to good effect. It is with conscious practice that the leader will achieve the necessary consistency in their actions with themselves and their teams.
The competencies of leadership can be seen as being the 'what' of that which leaders do and the 'how' is the way in which the leader engages in transformational behaviours. The participative leader is, therefore, one who encourages and enables the development of both the organisation and its people using a culture of integrity, openness and transparency and the congruent valuing of others, their skills, experiences and their contributions.
Participative and engaging leadership is open-ended, enabling organisations and individuals to not only cope with change but also to be proactive in developing the shared vision.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Challenges of Leadership

What is the role of the participative leader?
The role of the participative leader is one who is there to serve others, to be an enabler, a role model for best practice for their managers who must exercise their transparency, accessibility and individualism.
Participative leadership has a consistent theme of team-working, collaboration, and connectedness. It must also demonstrate that it can remove obstacles to engagement, opportunities and ideas from individuals at all levels of the organization and from external stakeholders. Empathy, i.e. the ability to see the world through the eyes of the other, is an essential capability of the effective leader and, coupled with this, is the willingness to take on board the ideas, concerns, and perspectives of others. Other basic skills the leader must learn and practice at a conscious level are constructive questioning and active listening in order to fully understand others and to be able to challenge the status quo. To do this, the leader must create meaningful relationships that encourage feedback and a willingness to engage where the others feel valued and respected.
It is vitally important that there is a culture that supports both organizational and personal development. Here, the leader must become a role model for learning and positive risk-taking and that mistakes will be made but that they become learning points rather a stick with which to foster a spirit of blame-culture. The leader must embrace the fact that they alone are the purveyors of good ideas, innovation and leadership. Everyone in the organization should be encouraged to become leaders as well, that they all committed to same goals and are allowed to utilize their unique blend of skills and experience and to help the organization and themselves realize their own potential.

Mini Series – How to Overcome Anxiety

No. 4 – Lifestyle Changes for Reducing Anxiety.

In addition to medication and thinking/behavioural changes, making changes to your lifestyle can help you deal with anxiety and its effects. So, how you live your life day to day, week to week, etc., has an impact on your overall wellbeing. Developing and sustaining a healthy lifestyle can contribute enormously to keeping you in good physical and psychological condition.

Healthy in the above context means looking after your physical health, which includes diet, exercise, environment, personal activities, etc.

According to research carried out over the last twenty years, a good diet can positively help with anxiety disorders. This research has identified that some foods can create more stress and anxiety whilst others can create feelings of calmness.

The principle of a good diet is relatively simple. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast and ensure you eat three healthy meals a day, with plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods.

Caffeine is well known for triggering panic attacks so you should examine how much you are consuming each day. Caffeine is contained in coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa and soft fizzy drinks, such as cola. Caffeine increases the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain and this has the effect of making you feel alert and awake. This state is similar to the release of adrenaline when you are faced with stressful triggers (fight or flight!) and caffeine has a tendency to keep some people in a state of tension and arousal. Even decaffeinated drinks contain a small amount of caffeine so don’t let this fool you. A word of caution, reducing caffeine intake, particularly if you consume a lot, some people might experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headache and fatigue, so it is advisable to phase the reduction slowly over a few months to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.

Nicotine is a strong stimulant and contrary to popular belief, contributes to anxiety rather than help it. Many people who are anxious have cigarettes to calm their nerves and whilst, initially, there may appear to be a short term calming effect, it actually increases the heart rate and thus can actually lead to additional anxiety and panic attacks and causes problems with sleep patterns.

Sugar is needed by the body in order to help with survival, it is our energy source but it is the naturally occurring sugar, glucose, that is required rather than the manufactured and refined sugar found in honey, white and brown sugar and sweets. The main factor at play is the rate at which glucose is broken down by the body and then used as energy. Most carbohydrates, such as some breads, potatoes, fruits and pastas contain starches that are slowly broken down to form glucose. The refined sugars, however, are quickly metabolised and overload our body, which can result in diabetes and then hypoglycemia, which strongly resemble the symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. By cutting out as much refined sugar from your diet can help reduce the chances of hypoglycemia. Start eating more whole grain breads, brown rice and pasta, fruit (but not fruit juices) and vegetables. This will assist your resilience to stress as this can create blood sugar swings which can increase anxiety.

In today’s modern society there is a culture of eating food on the go, at the desk or on the train. But this creates rushed eating and reduces the chance to really chew your food. If food is not chewed properly it is not digested properly thus depriving yourself of the nutrients contained within the food and the goodness these can provide for your body. Rushing your eating also means that your stomach does not tell your brain that you are full and, therefore, there is a tendency to overeat. By sitting down to eat your meal and giving yourself the time to eat it properly gives your body time to absorb those important nutrients and allows time for your stomach to signal to the brain when you are full.

In terms of changes you can make, here is a simple list:
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit
  • Make sure you eat 3 balanced meals a day and never skip breakfast
  • Chew your food
  • Drink lots of water, at least 8 glasses per day
  • Eat more whole foods
  • Eat more fish, particularly oily fish, and less red meat,
  • Reduce your caffeine intake
  • Reduce your intake of refined sugars
  • Give up smoking

Exercise More
Exercise has shown to be one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety. It is very beneficial to both physical and mental health. Exercise programmes can:
  • Help with sleep patterns
  • Improve digestion
  • Reduce depression
  • Improves circulation
  • Helps metabolic rates and reduces levels of adrenaline in the blood
  • Creates endorphins which raises your sense of well-being

One word of caution, you should always consult your doctor if you haven’t exercised regularly for some time.

Aim for a minimum of three sessions per week of physical exercise lasting 20-30 minutes each session. Aerobic exercise is the best for reducing anxiety and panic attacks and this exercise requires you to use your larger muscles and is the best for improving cardiovascular condition by delivering oxygen to your tissues, muscles and cells. Aerobic exercise could be running, walking, swimming, squash, cycling, aerobics, dance, etc.

It is entirely possible that your anxiety may have taken precedence over activities you used to enjoy and wanted to enjoy but could not. Instead of allowing your anxiety to rule in this way, take the lead and generate some ideas about what activities and hobbies you can take part in despite your problems. How about making a list of what you would like to do again or would like to start doing. Build time into your daily and weekly schedule to allow yourself to create a better balance in your life between work and play. The key here is to convert these ideas into action rather than just thinking about it. Set yourself timescales for when you are going to start these activities or hobbies and stick to it. You’ll be amazed at how these activities will take your mind of your anxieties.

Time out for yourself
Sometimes we are so busy looking out for other people or dealing with work we can forget that we have needs ourselves and that we can be forgotten. Simple things such as a hot, foamy bath with candles and soft music can really let the anxieties disappear. Give yourself a treat or take care of yourself on a daily basis and have a few extra treats when you have done well or at weekends after a long, hard week. These treats need not be expensive; they may be watching a good movie, playing your favourite music, reading a good book, or just watching the television.

Changing your lifestyle is an important part of recovery and managing your anxiety. The benefits of a new healthier lifestyle is not only going to help you manage your anxiety and stress better, but the other health benefits far outweigh any excuse you may have to not wanting to make these important changes.

Next Chapter: How yesterday can help your tomorrow.

This special report was written by Steve Scott, accredited life, business and executive coach, of Stepping Stones Coaching and Chatting-Scott Partnership LLP. You may reproduce this report as long as it is in full and includes this resource box. ©