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Featured Leader Q&A: Margie Ireland, Author of “The Happy, Healthy Leader”

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A healthy mind and a healthy body go hand in hand for people in high-pressure positions. But keeping sane amid a global health crisis can be difficult, and leadership can be affected by poor mental health. Author of The Happy, Healthy Leader, Margie Ireland shares her thoughts on maintaining a work-life balance that supports one’s mental health better.

HCC: There has always been the image of a leader being on top of everything, when in fact leaders may also crumble under pressure. What do you think contributes to this misconception?

Margie: Many leaders I have worked with feel they have to be superhuman, when in fact they are actually, human. Leaders also experience stress and self-doubt like the rest of us. While many leaders feel a sense of shame or imposter syndrome if they show any signs of worry about their abilities or the future.

The irony being that if leaders were prepared to show more vulnerability, they are demonstrating courage and that its okay not to always get it right.

This opens the door for people in their team not to hide worries of their own abilities, which could circumvent mistakes or catastrophes.

HCC: Some workers have a hard time saying no at the expense of their time/wellbeing. What’s a good way to get around this problem?

Margie: Quite simply, we all need to develop a healthier relationship with our fear of saying no. What I mean, is many people relate to saying ‘no’ as being negative. Saying ‘no’ can actually lead to very positive outcomes, such as your boss realising that you need additional resources, or a new way of doing things that may be better for everyone. On a personal note, ‘no’ is one of the best ways to create healthy boundaries around your work. And if the idea of saying ‘no’ is a bridge to far for you, think of it as ‘no for now’.

HCC: Staying confident while under pressure can be trying nowadays. What’s your advice to the younger leaders in high-pressure positions?

Margie: Learn to Pause, breathe and connect with values.

  • Pause. when you feel you under pressure, it is perfectly okay to feel stress. Rather than react, with amygdala (flight, fright, fight part of the brain), we need you to turn on your PFC (pre-frontal cortex, which is your logical part of the brain).
  • Breathe. Take 3 slow deep breathes, in for 3 and out for 3. I often say to leaders of all ages to pretend they need to go to the loo, so they can do their 3 breathes in private!  Breathing slowly sends a message to your nervous system via your hypothalamus, that you don’t have to go into flight, fright or fight mode. The Pause and the breath create a space, and a moment for your PFC to switch on, and take over.
  • Connect with values. Now that your PFC is back on you can now make considered decisions or actions that are connected with your values as a leader and/or organisation.

HCC: Resilience is a valuable skill, especially in the face of a global pandemic. As members of the community, how can we help uplift those who have been losing hope, especially in the workplace?

Margie: Keep up with team social events and, team building webinars and workshops. Let them be heard, while those who are feeling more hopeful may come up with ideas on how to solve any issues or worries, they have. At an individual level, I love the daily gratitude practice. Write down every morning or night, 3 things you are grateful for. This can be as simple as first coffee in the morning, cuddle with your pet, and a comfy bed to sleep in.

HCC: What, to you, constitutes a healthy, happy leader?

Margie: A leader who has a healthy mindset towards themselves and their people. A healthy mindset, is one that is able to adapt during times of stress, using skills such as curiosity, acceptance, accountability and compassion. A healthy, happy leader, has decided that their own wellbeing (mind and body) is just as important as the team they are responsible for. This means making time for mind and body, every day. This requires the leader to shift from a fixed mindset (“I have no time”) to a growth mindset (“I will make the time”). When I see a leader learn, that even during a crisis they can continue to take care of themselves and their people, happiness evolves and is highly contagious!

Note: Content has been edited for style and length.

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