Is Poor Leadership Fuelling the Mental Health Crisis?

mental health
Mental Health matters for all leaders and employees.

Leaders impact mental health.

Leaders can impact the mental health of their team, significantly more than doctors and therapists. In fact, according to 69% of people surveyed across 10 countries leaders have the biggest impact on their mental health1.

What is your leadership standard?

Have you ever reflected on your leadership skills? Whether you perceive yourself as a good or bad leader, or if leadership was even a deliberate pursuit? How can you measure the standard of your leadership?

Leadership is the ability to understand others and their motivations, and working with them to leverage their strengths to achieve a shared goal. It can be formal (e.g. hierarchical a manager role) or informal (e.g. someone people look to, but has no title). Many leaders fall into a leadership style through trial and error. Unfortunately, the majority don’t get chance to reflect and hone their leadership style.

Despite leadership being a multifaceted endeavour, the average age at which individuals receive formal leadership training is 42, a decade after assuming supervisory roles2.

Leaders influence mental health.

As humans, we have the opportunity to influence 2.8 people per day, in either a positive or a negative way. This is much higher for leaders, who are responsible for making the greatest impact on organisations. 50-70% of an employee’s perception is linked to the attitudes and behaviour of their leaders (Business Leadership Today, 2022).

Leadership encompasses guiding and influencing individuals or groups within an organization, yet stories of poor leadership abound. How often do people make you cringe at how they have been treated at work? Currently, the top reason employees leave organizations is poor management3, with 1 in 3 citing this as the direct cause, whilst many others contemplate departure. This contemplation leads to poor performance, lacklustre engagement and a focus on the negative.

The ramifications of poor management extend beyond turnover; it breeds stress, diminishes performance, and reduces productivity. Research by the CIPD underscores the link between leadership quality and mental health issues, with inadequate management perpetuating stress and exacerbating mental health challenges4.

Despite these alarming statistics, only 53% of organisations had standalone wellbeing strategies in 20235. Concurrently, with 1 in 3 employees currently quitting their jobs due to leadership there is a critical need for organisations to prioritise wellbeing initiatives alongside leadership development.

So, what can organisations do?

1. Assess the quality of leadership

Firstly, assess the quality of leadership and management. This evaluation isn’t punitive but catalyses tailored development and training programs, fostering psychologically safe teams. High-quality leaders don’t manage everyone in the same way, they tailor their approach to the needs of their followers. Managers who understand the motivations and strengths of themselves and their team members are much more successful (Clifton & Harter, 2019).

2. Help leaders

Secondly, fosters self-awareness and interpersonal understanding among team members. Recognising diverse responses to stress and providing space for reflection cultivates supportive environments, essential for mental well-being. Leaders need help and support to achieve this. Strengthscope® empowers people to bring their best selves to work and is a fantastic first step to helping leaders understand themselves, and their impact on others. So often organisations focus on improving weaknesses they miss the power of focusing on strengths.

3. Focus on strengths

Thirdly, design roles that empower employees, leveraging their strengths and fostering autonomy. Organisations with high role clarity are 25% more productive than those without6. A lack of role clarity, where employees are unsure what needs to be achieved, has a proven link to an increased stress response, which when prolonged can lead to burnout.

4. Focus on leading others

A culture which helps everyone be successful creates more successful organisations. Much research shows helping others leads to higher success for leaders (Anderson, 2019). In fact, Managers should view their team’s success as an extension of their own, not as a threat. Often when a team member is performing highly and getting positive feedback, managers can feel threatened and step back from supporting the individual. Ironically, this is normal as humans have innate attentional cognitive biases, just knowing this is ‘normal’ has helped many leaders to adapt their behaviour (Very Well Mind, 2019).

5. Gain feedback

Prioritise feedback mechanisms and support systems. Ensure employees know where to seek assistance and evaluate the efficacy of existing programs regularly. Feedback can come in many different forms, including surveys, focus groups and observations.

6. Update leadership training

Despite advancements, the delay in leadership training persists. Leaders may operate for ten years before receiving formal development opportunities. This trend perpetuates outdated notions of ‘learning on the job,’ hindering progress in leadership effectiveness. Every leaders’ learning experience may come with unintended consequences for employees who bear the brunt of suboptimal leadership practices

7. Align leadership and wellness

Let’s not overlook the profound impact of leaders on mental health. By integrating this understanding into leadership discourse, we can pave the way for holistic organisational growth and individual well-being.

Now is the time for action. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation, reach out to Think Organisation.

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact.

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  1. Work Institute (2023) ↩︎
  2. HBR (2012) ↩︎
  3. Guardian (2023)  ↩︎
  4. CIPD (2023) ↩︎
  5. Personnel Today (2023) ↩︎
  6. Effectory (2019) ↩︎

Think Performance. Think Excellence. Think Impact. 

Check our Insights page for more valuable information.

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