The era of the invincible and invulnerable CEO is thankfully over. Today, in many leading organizations, the warmth of emotional intelligence is valued as much as the cold, hard facts often found in an analytics culture. As a champion of all their stakeholders, every CEO is responsible for supporting the mental health of their employees and, at the same time, being mindful of their own.
Most people wouldn’t mind finding the time to take advantage of the restorative healing power of going to the gym, where exercise is physical meditation for the body. Over the years, I have relied on several techniques that also trained my brain.
Listening is Healing
One of the most transformative conversations I had was with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “Listening is healing.” This profound statement had two meanings. The first is that the ability for a person to share honest thoughts and feelings is calming and thoughtful for them. And second, for the listener, being present in the moment and paying attention with compassion is a form of meditation.
With so many traumatic externalities and a relentless avalanche of dark news – from the pandemic to political chaos, from climate catastrophe to the ongoing war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis – on top of daily struggles, it can create the conditions of discomfort and destruction in thinking. One way to look at this is this: you don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.
At AKQA, we have appointed 220 mental health advocates to our workforce around the world who aim to eliminate all mental health stigma. The role of this network is to listen and point out resources that can help with whatever a colleague is going through.
The most important characteristic a leader must demonstrate is respect for all team members. Research shows that being treated with respect is the most critical aspect of the relationship with an employer. Leaders can set a good example in meetings by being careful. If you check your phone during a meeting, you unsubscribe from the conversation.
The elephant in the room (or maybe these days, the elephant on the Zoom) is when the boss gets distracted by his phone. You can turn down the volume on your life by simply turning off notifications so you’re not continually on high alert. It also changes your relationship with a device, from the device controlling your behavior to being responsible for it.
Use expressive writing to feed yourself
Journaling, or expressive writing, can be a life-transforming practice. Studies show that when we write about stressful events, we deal with trauma better and strengthen our immune system. While listening is healing, there are many people who don’t want to talk about how they feel.
Expressive writing can be done anytime for as long or as little as the person wishes. It has been proven to have many therapeutic benefits, including reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and clarity. Getting started in expressive writing is as simple as answering questions like what advice you would give your younger self or what problems you are currently facing and their potential solutions.
Get closer to inbox zero
While “zero inbox” may be an impossible task, “manageable inbox” is something I can research. An inbox that seems out of control can have the strange effect of weighing me down physically due to its overwhelming cognitive load.
We do our best when it gets our full attention. For me that means an inbox with less than 20 emails – a tough goal as we have people in almost every time zone. Phone or video calls are much more productive than a long email thread and definitely more fun.
Meditation – morning and evening
The sense of tranquility, balance and well-being that meditation brings is well documented. By focusing your attention during meditation, you eliminate the stream of confusing thoughts that can clutter your mind and cause stress. Like any practice, meditation requires patience and commitment. Without regular meditation, at least daily, I start to feel misaligned. There are a variety of meditation techniques available to help achieve inner peace. It is even possible to meditate while reading or walking.
A good organization is one that leads with a meaningful purpose and values that make a positive contribution. Good work is one that uplifts and enriches you and your colleagues. Leaders should aim to provide this in the workplace by practicing what they preach and promoting a more respectful, supportive, open and tolerant culture where everyone feels valued. Companies should also provide mental health resources, flexibility and encourage regular breaks to avoid burnout.
Ajaz Ahmed is founder and managing director of AKQA
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