Every life is peppered with trials of one sort or another; challenge is simply a part of the process. Put in their proper context, those challenging experiences can be used for personal growth and development for ourselves and others. And, since every individual experiences different challenges, we’re all blessed with unique perspectives that can be a source of strength to many. I believe depression is one of many challenges that some people face. It may or may not be more difficult than other challenges. But, it does offer those who struggle with it a different perspective; one that can be used as a source of growth and development for us and those we influence. As Nassir Ghaemi puts it in his book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness, “Their weakness is the secret of their strength.”
Depression comes in different forms, but there are a few universal benefits for the leader struggling with it.
Empathize with People
Depression can give us the ability to better empathize with people. Having been through the mental anguish that depression can bring, depressed leaders often have a better sense of the morale of the people they lead. They bring a more human touch to leading. Rather than focusing entirely on quantifiable measurements of success, these leaders tend to measure success based on the satisfaction and morale of their people rather than on overall organizational achievement. They often see long-term success in empowering and motivating people to build the organization rather than making top-down decisions that impact everyone. That is, they find it easier to seek and utilize input from the team in making a decision than other leaders often do.
Connect with People
Depression can give leaders the ability to connect with people through a very humanizing struggle. Of course, the leader must be at least somewhat open about her challenges in order to use them to connect with others. Candid conversations about personal struggle essentially put the leader at the same level as their followers; it humanizes them. Seeing their leader press through challenge can be inspiring and motivating to people, particularly when they can see that she is no different than they are. Leading by example after a real connection is made is by far the most effective means of having a long-term, positive impact on others.
Depression actually strengthens those struggling with it, if they allow it. I know it may sound absurd, particularly to somebody in the grips of major depression but it’s true. The key is to change your perspective on the topic. The oft-used weight lifting metaphor holds true here. The more stress we put on our muscles over time, the more growth we’ll experience. The more stress we put on our lives, the more mental growth we’ll experience. Mental growth is called “wisdom.”
Yes, depression can be a blessing for leaders and aspiring leaders. Though not something that anyone will seek out, like any challenge in life it can be used for our benefit. If it’s something that you presently struggle with, I encourage you to seek professional help to help you understand what’s happening and appreciate the value that you have. Your experiences are unique and can make you a better leader, but you’re not alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has depression helped you grow?