March 25, 2022
by John Maxwell, 2019
October 10 is World Mental Health Day, and this week, both Mark and I want to talk about this relevant topic. I’m writing about the importance of mental health to a leader, and Mark will write about the importance of a leader caring for the mental health of their team. While we are not mental health experts by any means, we do take the subject seriously, both for ourselves and the people we serve.
Please hear my heart on this: seeking the help of a qualified professional counselor or doctor is healthy. If you read nothing else or take nothing else away from this blog post, I want this to be the lesson you remember and carry with you.
I encourage anyone and everyone who is considering counseling to go after it wholeheartedly and embrace the benefits it can bring.
I have made mental health a priority since early in my leadership because I understood that a leader cannot give what a leader does not have. I learned, as a young leader, that taking the time to invest in myself and my mental health was something I could never afford to shortchange.
The power of the mind, and of the way the mind works, is one of the leader’s greatest assets. And like any asset, it needs to be managed with care and consistency. I have long taught about the powers of mindset, attitude, priorities, and reflection in the life of a leader, and I teach those things not just as business principles, but as principles for a better life.
It just so happens that what’s good for your life as a leader often translates into what’s good for your business as a leader. There is little separation between the two.
What I am about to share are my observations about maintaining my own mental health. These are my personal habits and not prescriptive measures; they will never substitute for professional, certified counseling.
I encourage you—either on your own or with the help of a professional counselor—to find those habits that allow you to develop and maintain your mental health as a leader.
Here are four habits I consistently practice to maintain my well-being as a leader:
I talk about the power of reflection a lot. Setting aside time to regularly look back, look at now, and look ahead is essential for any leader. And while you’ve read or heard me talk about examining my calendar or my growth, what you might have missed is why I do those things.
I am not a slave to my calendar—what I put into it are those things that make me a better me. I am not a slave to my growth—what I do to grow is for my own health and improvement. Too often leaders become prisoners to the tools that are meant to make them better.
When I reflect, I look beyond those tools to consider what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, and what health looks like for me in those two areas. Reflection helps you assess the value of your tools by giving you time to assess where you are mentally as a leader—it helps you keep your mind sharp by keeping your tools sharpened.
As a leader, there are constant pulls on your time and attention. People will always seek to get you to adopt their agenda because they know your influence can add credibility to their efforts. Pausing to assess whether those opportunities are in keeping with your personal true north as a leader is essential.
Just as reflection helps me take stock of the tools I use, direction helps me take stock of where I’m going and growing. My purpose in life is to add value to leaders who multiply value to others, and so everything I do should point towards that mission. I must stop and look at the direction (and sometimes the pace) I’m going in order to make sure it’s in keeping with my true north.
You cannot lead if you’re constantly following—which means you have to know the direction you need to go and adjust course often to keep your heading.
Leaders never go it alone. Leaders need people. Period. We need to be connected to others because other people help us live to our potential.
I’ve taught about a leader’s need for an Inner Circle—people who come into your life and stay with you to help complement your weaknesses—and an Outer Circle—people who come into your life for a season and complement your strengths—and both are necessary for a leader’s mental health.
I have a select group of people to whom I stay fiercely connected because they help me stay strong. I have a select group of people to whom I stay intimately connected because they help me get stronger. I tell them things so they can help me see what I might otherwise miss, and I trust and empower them to speak into my life if they see a blind spot.
Don’t go it alone. Cultivate your Inner Circle. Build your Outer Circle. And there is nothing wrong with having a trusted therapist or counselor included in either group.
We live in a high-demand, high-access world that creates some unrealistic expectations of people who lead. Culture has a low tolerance of imperfections in leaders, which makes it seem like perfection is the only option. Perfection is not an option. It’s an ideal. And in this day and age, it’s a damaging one.
This is what I know: I am human, and I make mistakes. This is what else I know: when I have the freedom and authenticity to admit those mistakes, I can learn from them and get better as a result. My Inner and Outer Circles help me spot those mistakes (and often prevent me from making them), and they give me permission to embrace them and move on.
You will be imperfect as a leader. As your friend, I am giving you permission to embrace that imperfection, not as an excuse, but as a release. Treat your imperfections with kindness. Admit them when they happen. Seek to grow from them. But whatever you do, don’t hide them or beat yourself up with them.
This is a much longer post than I usually write, on a topic I don’t usually write about. But this is a serious and growing issue within the leadership space, and I don’t want to miss it, especially during a week the mental health community is stepping forward and asking us to pay attention.
I’ve said it before that we are in an age where there is a leadership deficit like I’ve never seen. We need leaders. We need healthy leaders.
We need you.
So please, take care of yourself.