10 Warning Signs A Leader’s Emotional & Mental Health Might Be At Great Risk – I

As we prepare to host leaders for Dr. Abiola Salami International Leadership Bootcamp in Mombasa, Kenya next month, we consider it important to discuss Emotional and Mental Health (EMH) in leadership this month of May. 

10 Warning Signs A Leader’s Emotional & Mental Health Might Be At Great Risk – 1

One thing most leaders give little, or no attention is their Emotional and Mental Health. Generally, your state of mind as a leader is directly correlated to the quality of decisions you make. The need to drive peak performance considering the size of your organization and the complexities of managing internal and external stakeholders exposes you to a degree of stress that impacts greatly not just on your physical health but also on your emotional and mental health. 

Research has shown that leaders who prioritize their mental health demonstrate higher levels of emotional intelligence, empathy, and resilience, creating positive work experiences for their teams. On the contrary, leaders who neglect their mental well-being may exhibit signs of burnout, stress, and reduced productivity, which can negatively impact team morale and overall organizational performance.

In developing countries that are steeped in cultural and religious ideologies, emotional and mental health hasn’t gotten the kind of focus it ought to get. While most of the budding conversations focuses on the employees’ mental health, considering John Maxwell’s submission that everything rises and falls on leadership should inspire us to pay attention to EMH in leadership.

A survey conducted by Deloitte found that 94% of professionals believe it is important for leaders to openly discuss their mental health challenges, indicating the need for destigmatizing mental health in leadership positions.

Leadership requires a delicate balance between delivering results and promoting a supportive work environment. Here are some tell-tale signs that a leader’s emotional and mental health has been compromised.

A. When The Leader Keeps Overcompensating

One of the ways that a leader who has mental health challenges tries to mask such condition is to do the most in one or other areas to take attention from the real issue. The pursuit of result is always welcome from everyone in an organization especially a leader but where it becomes excessive, it might be fuelled by clandestine reasons. For example, working late or overtime happens when deliverables need to be met outside regular working hours – it’s an exception, not the norm. When a leader continuously stays late after the day’s work in the office without any urgent project deadline in sight, it could be that he or she is using work as an escape, possibility from some other personal issues. There is a colloquial saying that “too much of anything is a disease” – in this case, overcompensating could be a sign of mental health challenges.

B. When The Leader Manifests Schizophrenic Behaviour

Everyone has signature temperaments – sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic. In most cases, there is a dominant temperament and recessive temperament. This means that a leader’s persona is somewhat predictable based on his or actions overtime. However, mental health challenges bring stress into the equation and literally makes a person act out of character. For example, if a leader is known to be the friendly type or one that gets along rather well with colleagues, one sign of emotional and mental health challenges is that he or she might suddenly become feisty. This can be followed by an apology and a seeming return to normal behaviour – only for the erratic cycle to perpetuate itself. These mood swings are signposts to an underlying mental health challenge.

C. When The Leader’s Focus Depreciates

Leadership is more strategic than operational. A leader therefore requires a healthy mind to successfully joggle many things almost at the same time. Even when the leader is not multi-tasking, when there is a mental health challenge – tasks that are ordinarily routine will become laboured and herculean. Since a leader’s work is done more with the mind than with the hands, a mentally-challenged person will find it difficult to process information and thoughts with the same scrutiny and intensity as when the leader is healthy – hence there is a breakdown between inputs to the brain and the result it churns out. What could be done with ease before then becomes a chore. 

D. When The Leader Becomes More Isolated

The idea of a leader being isolated is counterintuitive because leadership means working with people and directing their actions towards achieving a specific goal. This means that not only are leaders supposed to be visible and hands-on, but they are also supposed to be in constant communication. When a leader over-delegates, becomes more distant and unusually silent at critical times – that could be a pointer to emotional and mental health challenges. Isolation doesn’t just happen on a physical level; it can also be on be on an emotional level. In the cartoon depiction Prince of Egypt, Moses was a great leader and witnessing the people he guided out of slavery constantly complain made him distraught. In his complain to God, he would say, “I am alone”. This was interesting because Moses was hardly ever alone, except for when he climbed a mountain. He was really saying that he was lonely despite the crowd around him. According to the National Institute on Aging the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. When you experience this feeling as a leader, it might be a sign you need emotional and mental intervention.

Growth Opportunities

To further position your leaders for peak performance, you can download a free copy of the latest edition of The Peak Performer Magazine You can also enrol your Mid-level  Leadership Team for the Made4More Accelerator Program and your Senior Leadership Team for the Dr. Abiola Salami International Leadership Bootcamp MOMBASA 2024 We also have an upcoming training for leaders in public service

About Dr. Abiola Salami

Dr. Abiola Salami is the Convener of Dr Abiola Salami International Leadership Bootcamp and The Peak PerformerTM. He is the Principal Performance Strategist at CHAMP – a full scale professional services firm trusted by high performing business leaders for providing Executive Coaching, Workforce Development & Advisory Services to improve performance. You can reach his team on hello@abiolachamp.com and connect with him @abiolachamp on all social media platforms. 

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