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Leading Well: 5 step guide to build strong, capable and confident leaders

Leading Well: 5 step guide to build strong, capable and confident leaders


We all know the impact a happy and healthy workforce has on performance. Our wellbeing influences the way we see our world, interact with others and undertake our responsibilities. Yet in reality - the pressure that many of us are facing at work is far from what we would consider conducive to a happy and healthy workplace. Technology, resource issues, stakeholder demands, customer demands; the list is endless and it all affects our wellbeing.

Occasionally we are inspired by individuals who have been able to create a life of balance and purpose. Many of us look on in envy as we struggle to see past our day to day responsibilities and how such a life could be possible. We block out the possibilities and continue to juggle our proverbial balls, hoping that the few we occasionally drop don’t cause too much of a ripple. And worse still – we learn to accept and tolerate the things in our world that cause poor wellbeing such as our energy levels or our mood.

And whilst we advocate individuals taking ownership of their own self-care, organisations do play a part in supporting and guiding wellness. 

Over the last 15 years, Organisational Improvement has been helping organisations with the concept of healthy workplaces. Not a day goes by when we don’t see a fabulous example of great practice. Nowadays, many organisations have wellbeing programmes and advancements in thinking have seen a rise in both the psychological and physiological aspects.

So why do we continue to see absenteeism linked to mental health increasing? In a 2018 survey by Business in the Community, 6:10 employees suggested that work is their main cause of stress (Workplace Stress Report, BITC 2018). In the same year CIPD claimed that absenteeism in the private sector has increased to 5.6 days per employee compared to their 2016 survey (reported at 5.2 days). The same survey suggests 51% of organisations have seen an increase in common mental health conditions and a third have noted an increase in stress-related absence. (CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey 2018).

As mentioned, we are starting to observe organisations putting in a lot of effort to support wellness and reduce stress, however, the intention often fails to change the culture or beliefs and as such has limited impact in changing behaviours in the long-term. Our work with organisations has identified the incredible impact that leaders can have on the organisation’s ability to adapt and embed wellbeing principles – both positively and negatively and it is them that will help achieve such a strategy succeed or fail.

There are 2 questions which organisations should consider when it comes to wellbeing: how confident and capable are leaders at supporting and guiding people effectively? And through their own values and behaviours, are Leaders seen as an advocate of health and happiness?

Confidence and capability:

Many organisations place a lot of emphasis on leaders managing absence yet less than 30% of private sector organisations train managers in mental health awareness (CIPD Health and Wellbeing at Work Survey 2018).

Developing capability is not about developing Practitioners. It’s about developing their knowledge and skills to get the best out of our people. We recognise that training plays a part - particularly in recognising the symptoms of ill-health. But it goes much deeper than this. Leaders need to have a genuine interest in the people around them and buy-in to the value of workplace wellbeing.

We offer a 5-step guide to help organisations build strong, capable and confident leaders:

1. Understanding the Whole Person: how well do your leaders know the people around them? Gone are the days where we leave our troubles at home. We recognise wellbeing issues can be linked to personal circumstances and this affects the way that we behave, interact and engage with others. Encouraging Leaders to develop their knowledge of the whole person will enable them to provide support in a much more holistic way – and in turn have a greater opportunity to maximise an individual’s performance at work.

2. Recognising the signs: lack of confidence stems from 3 things:

  • Lack of knowledge of an extremely complex area;
  • Fear of saying and doing something wrong – and making matters worse;
  • Lack of proactivity resulting in issues escalating.

Knowledge will enable Leaders to be much more proactive in the way they support people – making it much more manageable and less intrusive.

3. Tackling the stigma of Mental Health: there is no doubt that it is starting to be tackled – however there is still a long way to go. It is the role of the leader to stand up and challenge the negative views that sharing mental health concerns is considered anything other than positive. Sharing our own vulnerabilities is a step towards tackling the issue.

4. Building trust, honesty and openness: none of the above can happen without the foundations of positive and constructive relationships. Developing self-awareness of how actions and behaviours instil trust or indeed distrust.

5. Keep it simple: this is not about creating an overcomplicated process. This is about having a chat – having a genuine interest in the person in front of you – without judgement or prejudice. Being able to listen and offer the support that’s needed – whether that’s an ear or indeed signposting them to professional help.


Role Models

We recognise the important role of leaders to create mentally healthy workplaces, but who is looking after them? The ones that are looked upon to be role models are often the ones with the poorest wellbeing. How can an organisation be truly happy and healthy, if its leaders are not? Only when one is in control of one’s own psychological and emotional wellbeing can you start to support the wellbeing of others.  It’s like the gas mask on the plane - you need to put your own on first to ensure you are safe before you can support others.

Many factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of developing a mental health condition but the high demands of a leadership role, the squeeze on time for self-care, poor quality sleep and diet and the fact that it can be lonely at the top, all combine to increase the risk.

This is an area which is lacking in many wellbeing programmes. Offering Leaders the time and energy to look at their own physiological and psychological wellbeing and helping them make the steps changes necessary in creating a happier and healthier workforce that’s driven from the top.

Our Leading Well programme, delivered in conjunction with Manchester Stress Institute is designed to meet these increasing needs of leadership teams in driving a cultural change to ensure workplace wellbeing is truly embraced.

Hear from NW Ambulance Service who undertook a 6-week wellbeing programme with Manchester Stress and the positive impact on staff.

Visit our website for more details on how to start Leading Well