I enjoyed reading Jo’s thoughtful piece on the Blog discussing mental health (It's OK to Not Feel OK). It did occur to me that the participants in the various QuoLux™ programmes are in a very fortunate position. I worked extensively on the original LEAD concept in a number of organisations and was fortunate to often be there at launch and at graduation. When I asked the participants what they had enjoyed most, at every session the benefits of the effective and supportive network characteristic of LEAD came up with enthusiasm. From my standpoint, I would say that the cohorts of the QuoLux™ programmes probably represent some of the strongest networks I have come across. With a subject as powerful, and paradoxically delicate, as mental health, this support mechanism will show its worth repeatedly.
Last year I had a bit of a damascene conversion. I was asked to collaborate with Philip Dyer, a well-known business mentor in the North West of England, on the subject of “Healthy Leaders”. I assumed initially that I had been selected as the equivalent of the “Before” example in the slimming ads. I was the fat, stress-ridden lump, and athletic Philip, the “After”. Philip has been working with leaders of SMEs for many years in various guises and has progressively become alarmed at the very high proportion suffering from mental health issues, poor diets and general unfitness. He suggested a holistic approach to business based on organisational health, mental health, nutrition and fitness. Philip himself has been, since his teens, very much into fitness (he is international standard in Karate and latterly, indoor rowing) and diet as his family has a history of diabetes. Over the years he has studied the subject from the perspective of business effectiveness.
We duly put the programme together and launched at the University of Central Lancashire with some uncertainty as to whether the subject would appeal. The response has been overwhelming. It is now apparent that the demands of leadership in so many instances have led to a neglect of the Leader’s own personal health. Anti-depressants, blood pressure tablets and antacids seem commonplace in the profession. Most are aware of the issues but are caught in a vicious spiral where the business always comes first. It is a matter which rarely gets discussed as it is often perceived as a sign of weakness to talk about it. But the problem is nevertheless widespread.
Lockdown could be seen as an opportunity for these Leaders to reflect on whether they are sacrificing too much for the business and whether there is a middle ground where both the leader and indeed the business could benefit by doing the four elements differently in a co-ordinated fashion.
Looking back on a career dominated largely by a series of extremely difficult turnaround situations, I would have said at the time that I thrived on pressure and enjoyed the challenge. I would have said I relished the workaholic nature of the demands and willingly accepted a skewed work : life balance. Listening to Philip and some of the stories he related from the response to Healthy Leaders, I now think that I was kidding myself. It was in retrospect all too easy to get wrapped up in a bubble that places work at the centre of everything.
If you do decide to take a review of leadership style and your general modus operandi, can I urge you to think along these lines?
There is little doubt now that an engaged workforce will not only provide an overall ambience characterised by less stress but the associated necessity of extensive delegation will ease the load on the leader(s). If the financial and general performance benefits don’t attract, then perhaps the prospects of a quieter life will!
There are many approaches to losing weight, most of which don’t seem to work. One analysis endorsed by Philip can be found on the YouTube podcasts of “The Fat Emperor” aka Ivor Cummins (Irish Heart Foundation). A self-confessed data geek, Ivor tackles the issues from the standpoint of proven science. I would recommend listening to his philosophy as it is not based on fads or theories but research endorsed facts. When you hear about the consequences of the carbohydrate dominant diet of the western world in terms of heart disease, diabetes, IBS, dementia and vulnerability to Covid 19, it will certainly make you think.
This is an area of such complexity that I would be loath to comment. However, when meditation (now termed mindfulness) was introduced to the majority of the workforce at Leyland Trucks, it produced some significant benefits collectively and individually. At the very least, I would strongly advise finding a mentor, someone to share your problems with in a dispassionate and objective fashion. It is good to talk. The team at QuoLux™ strikes me as being very good at listening.
Most of the more recent generations of SME leadership have already got the message here, but the benefits of regular exercise to combat the stresses of working life in the twenty first century are now unquestioned.
Above all, don’t think of pursuing the path of a Healthy Leader is a selfish pursuit. The heathier you are, the more likely you are to succeed in tackling the challenges of the post-Covid era. As I said earlier, the impressively interactive nature of the QuoLux™ programmes gives you a major advantage here to talk about stress, to talk about health and to talk about fitness. Hopefully attitudes are changing from those of the late, last century where excessively long hours, drinking and tension were embraced as badges of honour. But if they are not, then the QuoLux™ family can show the way.
Professor John J Oliver OBE