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?
We’ve all had them. Bosses that not only fail to empower or inspire us, but actually make us dread going to work each day. Their positional authority has inspired volumes of writing on what it means to be a leader. After all, a person doesn’t need to be a great leader to receive a promotion; usually they performed very well in their subordinate positions and were rewarded with a higher position. However, just being great in one position doesn’t mean they’ll be great leaders.
I’ve had mostly good experiences with my superiors throughout my career and those people taught me a great deal about leadership. But, the few bad experiences helped reinforce those ideas. They taught me that there are bad ways of leading; that despite that fact that I’ve always had an interest in my positions, I could still feel completely passionless about them. I’m certain that this discouraging mindset resulted in not just decreased productivity for the companies, but higher stress levels and less happiness for my colleagues and me. With that in mind, here’s a few things that I’ve learned; things that I will avoid as I lead others.
For leaders and aspiring leaders, it’s important to take note of what works as well as what doesn’t. If you want to motivate, inspire and encourage people to do more you must defiantly avoid the types of actions that bring the opposite result. Give appreciation to people. Give them a purpose, lead them by example, give them credit and empower them to do more.
A number of years ago my family and I agonized over a decision that seemed so daunting and life altering, that no right answer seemed obvious. We had several job offers that could take us to Kansas City, Missouri or back home to Southwest Washington State. As my wife and I went back and forth, a kind friend offered this piece of advice: “Often, there is no wrong decision. You could go any direction and they’ll all take you down different paths and each of them could be right.” Basically, what he was trying to tell us was that once we’d made a decision, not to second guess it. A decision made consciously and deliberately yesterday, is very likely still the correct decision today. Beating ourselves up over what didn’t happen is counterproductive at best. That line of thinking holds us back because it dwells in the past. Unless circumstances have changed dramatically, what was right yesterday is still right today. Still, people tend to second guess themselves, often regretting a choice that felt right only moments ago.
Now, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t legitimate bad decisions that sometimes need corrected. Typically, when one alternative is bad, we know it before the choice is even made. I’m talking about competing “good” decisions. What is it that so often causes us so much uncertainty in those areas? Its human nature I suppose; we want it all. To combat the sometimes hopeless and almost always negative feeling of second guessing a decision, I’ve found the following practices to be helpful:
These simple strategies can help you develop a more confident mindset which in turn will help you become more confident in your decisions. As you learn not to dwell in yesterday’s choices, you’ll find yourself developing a more positive and hopeful attitude. Subsequently, you’ll find a greater measure of productivity and success in life.
According to bestselling author, speaker and leadership guru Brian Tracy, as much as 60 percent of a leader’s time is spent listening. By "listening" I don’t mean just listen with your ears. In fact, I'm suggesting that you make an effort to hear more than their words and seek to know what’s going on behind the words. Why are they upset? Is their idea a good one that their struggling to articulate? It’s important to acknowledge their words AND consider their underlying motivation.
Tracy emphasizes four listening strategies to maximize conversations.
1. Listen attentively- Focus on the speaker!
2. Pause before replying- Resist the temptation to simply respond for the sake of responding. Make sure they are finished.
3. Question for clarification- Not only does this show that you care about what they are saying, it helps flesh out what they are really trying to convey.
4. Listen without interruptions- Let them say what they need to say and give periodic nods that you’re actually paying attention!
There’s an important caveat to note here. Sometimes, when a person is frustrated they may have an exceptional idea but not communicate it effectively. For the leader, this means that when someone angrily makes a suggestion that you don’t simply dismiss it out of hand because of the tone. You need to ask follow up questions to get to the root of the idea and to convey to the person an open dialog. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to tolerate insubordination. Generally, you’ll find that asking follow up questions will help diffuse the frustration and empower the individual to act.
I was at the center of an episode like this once when I frustratingly complained about my company's corn trading program in front of the man who not only started it but was also the president of the company. The statement was born out of total frustration as I wanted to grow the trading program in a different way than what we were currently doing. The statement didn’t go over well and I can’t blame him for being upset. However, my underlying logic and the strategies I had in mind were legitimate. Further discussion would have been productive. It’s important for leaders to recognize when a follower needs to talk something out.
Even when there is no anger or frustration there’s no doubt that everyone has felt that they’ve been simply dismissed at one time or another; and it’s safe to say that nobody has enjoyed the feeling that accompanies it. In fact, the most common reason for employees to leave an organization is not pay, but a perceived lack of appreciation and recognition. It’s a small thing but simply listening to people can mean the difference between retaining top talent and losing it.
The goal is to not simply listen, but to make your people the center of your attention. Pay attention to their words and actions. Take heed of morale and intervene if necessary to improve the environment. A leader who truly places his people first will receive better performance and a much more loyal following.