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Mental Health Practices to Enhance Your Leadership

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An aging man sits quietly by a warm fire with cracking logs hissing and spiting. Gazing into the flames he offers a quiet reflection: "I know why logs spit. I know what it is to be consumed."

These words are from a man who throughout his life had become so consumed by despair that he would lose focus on his work, interest in things that matter, and would spend weeks in bed, feeling that his life had been futile. Yet, at the same time, these are not the words of a defeated man. These are the words of Winston Churchill, the iconic leader during WW2; the man who defied Hitler to lead Britain successfully through peril.

 
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the month that we set aside to bring much needed attention to an illness that can affect everyone at some point in their life. The aim is to end the stigma associated with mental health and increase resilience in others, arming them to face life’s challenges with greater clarity, confidence, and courage. This is so important because depression has long been associated as a debilitating weakness—so much so that far too many people avoid talking about it and instead simply sweep it under a rug to fester untreated—but people like Winston Churchill serve as encouraging role models, demonstrating that you can be a deeply passionate and emotional person and still be an effective and charismatic leader.
 
Mental Health Practices to Enhance Your Leadership
Though we tend to put iconic leaders on pedestals and ignore the very traits and states that make them human, we will do well to take a step back to see their whole character as an encouraging reminder that despite our own faults, we all share valuable characteristics with even the greatest of leaders. In keeping with the spirit of this special month, here are two valuable mental health practices that we can learn from Winston Churchill’s leadership.
 
1. Reframe Your Perceived Weaknesses
A woman imagines having profound strength.
Psychologists suggest that in times of crisis it is often those with mental disorders that show the greatest leadership. For example, mania is said to enhance creativity and resilience, and depression is said to increase realism and empathy. With this in mind, consider these words from a speech Churchill gave in October 1941:
 
“Never give in! Never, never, never, never! In nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
 
Consider the holistic context of these impassioned words. Churchill wasn’t just leading the charge against Hitler, “he was simultaneously leading a personal charge against his own depression.” To promote mental health, a valuable practice is to reframe potential weaknesses and harness the strength of their power for good; diminishing the liabilities and enhancing them as assets.
 
2. Take Care of Yourself
A person sits in a studio and paints a vase and flowers on a canvas.
It’s said that on gloomy days in London, Churchill would turn to his secretary and say, “Let’s go and find the sunshine,” and then steal away to the south of France to engage in oil painting, his favorite antidote to a predisposition for negative rumination. Churchill knew the importance of taking care of himself and made “finding the sunshine” a priority. To promote mental health, one of the kindest things you can do for yourself and the people you lead is take care of yourself, by finding and taking in your own “sunshine,” in whatever sparks joy.
 
Reflection
  1. How might you reframe your character liabilities as valuable assets?
  2. What does your sunshine look like? Is it a partner to confide in, meaningful work to engage in, or a fun activity that you really enjoy, or something else? What can you do to take this “antidote” more often?
  3. What would you tell a loved one who wants to improve their mental health?
 
Final Thoughts
Winston Churchill took ownership of his vulnerable mental health traits and states and turned them into leadership assets, knowing that to be an effective leader he had to take care of himself. Following the example of this iconic leaders, we will all do well to take care of our own mental health, not only for our own benefit, but for the value of the people we influence.

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