Mental Health and Good Leadership

This is a hard topic to broach, and an area where leaders can become defensive; however, it is an important one to discuss. 

I believe that there are elephants in the closets of our nonprofits that few people are taking the time to bring them to light.

This is not to say that problems exist in ALL nonprofits, I know many many amazingly successful leaders and staff who produce profound impact in our community. That said, the more and more I work with nonprofit organizations the more I see a need for help…and want to help. 

For some reason there are many hurting people working throughout our nonprofit community that have been struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Staff and leaders, of all levels, who pour their heart into their jobs simply to receive burn out, frustration and lack of direction. This affects them personally, emotionally and psychologically as they struggle with keeping jobs, receive poor performance reviews and even display mental health symptoms. 

I know this because I’ve hugged them amidst their tears, and I’ve been a shoulder over coffee.

Mental health in the workplace is a very important new discussion that is, in some cases, a symptom to a larger problem…there must be a root to the problem somewhere?

Leaders and board members struggle to recognize or fail to see what is right in front of them. Why is this? So many, well intentioned serving people lead nonprofit organizations as paid staff or volunteer board members who do not understand what it means to be good leaders or even how nonprofits should operate. This is a bold statement but sadly we’re not all cut out for it or we overstay our welcome and forget to make room for fresh new leaders.

Often senior leaders have worked their way up the ranks from front line positions, I know I did. As they raise through the ranks and do not balance it with proper education, good mentors or outside experience they can become blinded by the status quo within their singular organizational culture.

Many times board members are well intentioned business people looking to 'give back'. Their hearts are all in the right place but they haven’t taken any governance training they don’t understand how to run a proper meeting or how to interact with their Executive Director. When problems arise, they are not sure what to do or where to go for help.

For the past seven years I have worked inside organizations and consulted with organizations who want someone to help 'fix' the problem but they don't know what the problem is. They want team building to make things more fun but the real root of the problem is never addressed. 

There is poor governance, uneducated leaders, fraud, abuse, harassment, bullying and many more problems discussed daily in all levels of leadership across our city. 

The Mental Health Commission says: "The workplace can be a strong contributor to mental wellbeing, giving people the opportunity to feel productive and achieve their potential. Yet it can also be a stressful environment that contributes to the rise of mental health problems and illnesses such as depression and anxiety."

So, what do we do?

Well, we need to talk about it. We cannot be ashamed, take blame or be afraid to speak out. Sometimes as leaders we think that if we admit there is a problem that we may lose our jobs, gain a bad reputation or have to deal with a big mess if you open that can of worms…but, by not dealing with problems we are contributing problems to the basic health and well being of the people in our ‘care’…those who work for us.

Let’s open the closets and kill the elephants, together, you're not alone.

What is the root of the issue?

It will be different in every organization. Leaders need to listen to what is not being said. The typical complaints will show the symptoms (ie: tired, burned out, bullying etc.) but some root problems can be insufficient resources, poor leadership, poor communication, inability to change and be flexible in the new nonprofit environments, or stuck in the status quo…just to name a few. It takes a skilled listener and systems thinker to see the big picture and help you spot the problems.

In the work of Marcus Buckingham in “First Break all the Rules” we learned that “the responsibility of the local supervisor or manager to his or her organization can be daunting. The profound impact of this person on the working life of others and performance possibilities is critical to an organization’s success. Practical and effective leadership skills are the lifeblood of the organization.” He clearly states that “people leave leaders, not organizations”.

It is time we help each other, as leaders, to grow and evolve and put the care and concern of our employees first. To put our worry about our role, and the ego that comes with that, on the back burner. We should encourage education of all leaders and board members so that everyone knows how to do their jobs properly. Stop allowing people to lead who do not understand this and stop being afraid of doing the right thing.

This can be done positively and with graceful encouragement. There are fabulous ways to position you with success. If you feel you need help, reach out. We have amazing leaders in our community and consultants you can work with. Ensure you find the right fit for you. Let’s work together to make healthier community and healthier workplaces.



A Breath of Fresh Air