I was recently invited onto a podcast by the free mental health app Sidekick. I am fortunately and regularly invited to talk on podcasts, panels and workshops on all things wellbeing, resilience and positive leadership. As a consultant and a psychologist with specialisms in these areas this is fairly in my comfort zone, and even in my flow. I’m extroverted, I love the work that I do and I am full of enthusiasm for talking to others, being curious about life and sharing what I have learnt through my research and work and am still learning – developing others is one of my strengths too. Being empathetic to my family, friends and clients’ mental health is something I pride myself on and part of my work.
I was also looking forward to talking to the Positive Leader Matt Halstead who runs Sidekick. He is an impressive being, in life and work, as a Chartered accountant and CFO, charity trustee, and dad who loves spending time with his child and studying for a PHD in Quantum Chemistry. He’s also the type of leader that warmly makes an effort to connect with you.
And then I read what the podcast goals were:
Really? Talk about MY mental health journey? As often the listener rather than the talker, that threw up a lot of issues for me. Do I need to talk about this? What would people think? What would my clients think….and on and on. And then I realised how my biases and my mindset were all part of the leadership challenge or even problem we ALL face right now. Walking the tightrope between offering strength and being honestly vulnerable; talking the talk or actually walking the talk. As Liz wrote in her recent blog of our need to be much more radically candid, did I want to move away from the space of radical candour and towards manipulative insincerity? Did I want to cave into obnoxious aggression that I have experienced over the years in hearing people talk about an ill-informed understanding of mental health, and did I want to move into a space of ruinous empathy and/ or just be quiet even though I didn’t really want to be?
At this point I reflected on two things. Do I want to be a Positive Leader – the type of leader I know brings the best out of themselves and those around them? And where was my Chutzpah?
I’d never thought much about the word Chutzpah until a fellow psychologist shared this concept with me while I was mulling on what I felt was this dilemma (to talk about my mental health publicly, what sits behind some of the challenges I have faced, or not to). Chutzpah has many definitions in different languages and cultures, one of which he explained was taking on a challenge as a moral imperative. The word itself appears to have two meanings – sheer gall and audacity in the negative but also being required to challenge as a moral imperative or you take responsibility for the other’s audacious/outrageous actions. Maybe talking candidly about my mental health in a more public way would be a way of challenging the status quo and stigma on mental health and help others do the same.
Positive leadership is about the integration of what we know about positive psychology (the scientific study of optimum functioning and wellbeing) with leadership. Positive Leadership behaviours I have identified in my current research and work through research reviews and interviews include: abundance, limberness, inspiration, grand design, health and tribe. Talking with limberness and in line with my grand design and values of connection, courage and contribution are all important to me. To not speak about my mental health – the patches of illness and the high successes I have had would be to deny myself and deny others, and not live with the positive leadership behaviours I try to.
Having reflected on these two concepts it felt important to me to talk about mental health and to go on the podcast. It’s not about bearing my soul to all and sundry – I do not know all the listeners of the podcast, so I will keep myself safe and boundaried as I will when writing this blog. However it is not a case of either/ or thinking – it is a case of ‘AND’ thinking. And at this point I am reminded that we do not need to be disparate in our thinking of individuals, teams, organisations, and systems – work and life. We can be much more integrative than we currently are about people holistically. I’ve realised I can go on the podcast and talk about mental health and not feel it needs to be a soul opening exercise but an opportunity to normalise the fact that all of us – we all have a mental health story to tell. As Corey Keye’s research (2002) has shown we all sit on a dual continua of BOTH mental health AND mental illness. These stories are worth talking about whether we realise it or not, especially when it might feel out of our comfort zone. Me refusing to talk about this or share this only does more for a narrative of suppression and illusion of “we’re all OK”. And sometimes we’re not OK, or maybe at one point in the past, or a coming point in the future we won’t be OK, and that’s OK.
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