Leading when you’re depressed. In the final part of this three-part blog series, we are going to take a look at some actions that can be taken to gain control and begin moving in a positive direction.
When it comes to leading through depression, different approaches and resources will be required at different times. It might be that these are unavailable within your current organisation, or that the triggers for depression are embedded there i.e. constant change, abrasive culture, unsustainable level of challenge etc. If this is the case, consider removing yourself from that environment rather than fighting a battle you cannot win.
Let’s say you have recognised some symptoms, accepted there is a problem and have some understanding of the triggers. What next?
1. Improving your authenticity
If the perception of authenticity revolves around what you believe, what you say and what you do, then the challenge is to line those areas up. That’s difficult to achieve even in fair weather, and depression will make leading with authenticity even harder. What can be done?
The opportunity here is to re calibrate. If you could better articulate what your purpose was, what mattered to you and which behaviours support that, the “believe, say, do” triangle becomes clearer and more relevant.
- Review your vision & values. What is important to you, really?
- Define and commit to new behaviours consistent with your value set.
- Make a conscious effort in your communication with others and be as transparent as you can.
- Commit to those actions you can complete, take responsibility for those and worry less about what you can’t control.
2. Leading and inspiring others
The main thing here is to reflect on what “inspiring” looks like, and challenge preconceptions. It’s not always about running marathons or being the top performer in your role (although those things do inspire some people).
Consider instead the simple things which require courage, discipline or grit. Some of those areas will be invisible to others – for you it may take a huge effort just to open the door into the office in the morning and walk in amongst your colleagues.
By matching the level of challenge to your level of ability and motivation now, you can grow your capability over time. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
There are practical exercises to look at here, focusing on visioning, motivation, strengths building and positive regard both for yourself and those around you.
- Articulate your vision.
- Discover and focus your sources of motivation and those of your team.
- Learn Positive Regard & ensure your star qualities shine.
- Improve your PIE: Physical, Intellectual & Emotional well being.
- Address your current anti-inspirational behaviours; negative intent and language, lack of energy, too much self-focus in conversations etc.
3. Building Trust
We often work with leaders to encourage them to be the first to trust, even when there is some risk of hurt. You may have reduced capacity to accept that hurt when you’re depressed and may become naturally distrustful of those around you – and often yourself too. As a leader, the emphasis is on how trustworthy you seem to others. To be trustworthy, we must be seen as consistent, authentic, values-driven and to be considerate of the needs of others.
Remember here that good intentions really mean little to the outside world. What people really care about is how you behave, and how that behaviour impacts on them.
On a basic level, people need to feel safe, feel valued and feel heard. When we’re depressed and those lights are dimmed outside, it can be especially challenging to genuinely empathise with others even if we do have higher natural empathy.
- Understand your own and others’ values/behaviour systems.
- Psychometric analysis of working groups.
- Be authentic.
- Find and focus on the common ground and shared objectives.
4. Developing Others
The biggest challenge here will be your motivation and effort, because to support others we need to invest time and energy.
To some, the act of helping others in a tangible way is part of their therapy, and they find it cathartic to focus on the needs of others rather than their own.
Others will find this almost impossible while all their emotional energy is invested in basic functioning. The top approach here is coaching. By learning to coach professionally, we can better tap in to future-orientated actions and find individual solutions to problems.
- Learn and practice professional coaching.
All of the techniques we have discussed require effort to materialise. The central question you will need to answer when leading with depression is, why?
What is my purpose here? Where am I trying to go? How do I want to behave?
By engaging with a professional coach or counsellor, you give yourself that golden time to be listened to. In all likelihood, you do have the answers inside you – but you need to think about the right questions and verbalise your thoughts to someone else first. Finding some structure amongst the confusion is a must.
You may not feel like you have choices, and perhaps pressures of finance or status in an impossible situation are feeding the depression. I would gently challenge that – we do always have choices.
Finally, try to put things in perspective. Keep your goals immediate and achievable, and focus on the things you CAN control rather than the things you can’t. Little steps can take you a long distance over time.
Education can really help. We cover many topics discussed here on our executive leadership courses – find out more information on the courses page!
If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised in these articles, or if you’re happy to share an experience which may help others, you can contact me directly. I’d be delighted to hear from you via firstname.lastname@example.org
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Associate tutor of In Professional Development