Lieutenant Colonel Will Meddings is an infantry officer in the Royal Anglian Regiment. Throughout his career he has commanded soldiers on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in teams sizing from a 12 man patrol fighting alongside the Afghan Army in Helmand, to a 100-strong company protecting advisors in Kabul. He now commands a battalion of 500 soldiers.
In 2016 Will was one of the founders of the Centre for Army Leadership at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a small organisation designed to improve leadership across the British Army. Around the same time he also set up The Army Leader, a leadership development website sharing practical leadership advice for junior leaders. It now has over 150,000 visitors a year.
So join us now as Will discusses the role of the Army leader and the delicate skill of balancing the task, the team and the individual and also discuss the differences between the armed services and the police.
Joanne began her career in publishing as an Editorial Assistant. Her passion for helping writers and her drive to achieve enabled her to excel in a demanding role. Known for her innovative ideas and strengths in collaboration, Joanne soon ascended through the company’s ranks, from Editorial Assistant to Assistant Editor to an Editor with oversight of her own projects.
But once Joanne became a Managing Editor and took on leadership responsibilities, things began to go wrong. She made decisions quickly and without input from others. She multitasked and interrupted people during meetings. And she struggled to connect with her new team, focusing instead on her next career move.
Research repeatedly shows that power can inhibit emotional intelligence. And those tasting power for the first time are particularly susceptible to negative changes.
Dacher Keltner at UC Berkley describes this as the “power paradox,” in which power causes people to lose some of the abilities them enabled them to gain it initially. His research finds that those in corporate power become three times more likely than those in lower positions to “interrupt coworkers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things at the office.” In this way, people under the influence of power people may become more impulsive and less empathic.
Research at the Kellogg School of Management also supports this hypothesis. Investigators found that those in power “are prone to dismiss or, at the very least, misunderstand the viewpoints of those who lack authority.” They also experience more difficulty interpreting others’ emotional expressions.
On a neurological level, this lessened empathy is the result of impaired neural mirroring. Mirror neurons throughout the brain attune us to others’ feelings and intentions. This unconscious connection enables us to practice emotional empathy, in which we experience how another person feels.
Sukhvinder Obhi, the researcher behind this work, theorizes that the ability to ignore peripheral information enables individuals in positions of power to focus on goals. But in social settings, this translates to an inability to relate to and empathize with those with less power. He found that the more power an individual has, the less neural mirroring they experience. Instead, those in positions of power “tend to rely on stereotypes” when meeting new people. This reduced ability to understand others’ perspectives can have a range of consequences, including isolation, groupthink, and diminished resonance.
What can leaders do?
Practice self-reflection. Pay attention to how you treat others, and remain attentive to any changes in your actions. This is particularly crucial if you have recently taken on a leadership role. Additionally, introspection and mindfulness are both simple practices you can incorporate into your routine. They can help attune you to your guiding values and keep impulses in check.
Stay grounded. Competencies including influence and teamwork can become less crucial to a leader with decision-making power and command of resources. To combat this, ensure that you don’t insulate yourself from criticism. Ask for feedback from a variety of people, and incorporate external perspectives into your decision-making process when possible.
If you need to ground yourself, try to recall a time during which you felt powerless. In the studies above, this was found to temporarily mitigate the negative effects of power. It is also important to express vulnerability and connect with your team on an emotional level. Leaders who show a willingness to open up often excel in teamwork and get better results.
Extend gratitude. Great successes rely on the efforts of many people, not just a single leader. Thank employees for their hard work and the value they contribute and give credit where credit is due.
It is also important to make an effort to connect with those “below” you; ask about their life outside of work, their career goals, and interests. And when you ask, try to utilize active listening.
Above all, it is important that we lead with empathy. While the neurological impact of power makes this more difficult, mindfulness and emotional intelligence offer us the tools to both become successful leaders and empathic human beings.
One of the reasons our company consistently wins “Best Places to Work” awards both regionally in San Diego and nationally is because we believe in a working environment that is inclusive of everyone, and that includes people who have been open about dealing with mental healthissues.
We still have a long way to go, but we are trying to be a company where people feel comfortable talking about mental health because it’s the right thing to do and also because the next generation of workers are going to be demanding that their places of employment recognize the importance of mental health.
Mental health has been labeled the “next frontier of diversity” in the Harvard Business Review by the authors of a new study done by representatives of Mind Share Partners, SAP, and Qualtrics about the prevalence of mental health issues and stigma in the workplace.
The researchers polled over 1,500 employees across the United States from a diverse range of backgrounds and demographics. This study was of great interest to me because we’ve recently done our own in-house research and analysis about the subject of health (including mental health) in preparation of our new corporate wellness program.
In the published study, 86 percent of respondents believe workplace culture should support mental health and that’s especially important to Millennials and Gen Zers who are more likely to leave a job due to mental health reasons. Fifty percent of Millennials and 75 percent of Gen Zers have left roles because of mental health reasons compared to 20 percent of overall respondents.
The researchers point out that providing employees with the support they need helps with employee engagement, recruitment and retention. Doing nothing, however, reinforces outdated stigmas about mental health issues, which is not helpful considering that, according to another study quoted by the researchers, up to 80 percent of people will have to deal with a mental health issue at some point in their lives.
So, how can businesses change their culture around the subject of mental health and become a more positive place for people to feel comfortable discussing mental health?
Here, I combine the findings of the published study with our own humble, in-house research with our employees.
1. Change starts at the top.
Not only for mental health, but for any cultural change you want to enact, it has to come from the top down. This is something we know well, as we’ve worked hard to establish a positive and welcoming working environment at our business.
Leaders can help to destigmatize discussions of mental health by leading the discussion themselves. I still rely on the fallback answer of “fine” when I’m asked how I’m doing regardless of how I’m actually doing, but I’m trying to open up a bit more. Leaders need to be open about discussing their own mental health in the workplace, especially since, according to the researchers, CEOs and managers are just as likely to have issues with their mental health as employees.
Business leaders can also help by advocating for things like employees practicing mental health exercises like meditation and mindfulness and by eschewing so-called “hustle culture” where people believe they have to be working an inordinate amount of time every week to really be considered productive.
2. Training is required.
Some training will be required to help managers deal with and normalize addressing mental health at work. That’s not to say managers should become therapists, but some education about what to look for and how to talk with employees about potential mental health issues would be a good idea.
I can’t say that we are leading by example in this category, but we do encourage our managers to be understanding of any outside influences on a team member’s performance. If a company invests in first-aid training, why not some training in how to talk with someone who might be dealing with something outside of work?
3. Support is needed.
At the minimum, you should have mental health benefits in your corporate benefits package and make sure employees know about them by talking about them during a new employee’s orientation and to all employees throughout the year. You will need to ensure employees can use their benefits with privacy and discretion.
Some companies go further and have started employee resource groups for mental health, where employees can share experiences and materials with each other.
To help companies beef up their mental health plans, our business is rolling out a type of corporate wellness program that uses online surveys and saliva-based neurotransmitter tests to help employees identify potential mental health risks, something we also plan on doing within our own company.
PUBLISHED ON: OCT 22, 2019The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.