It’s fair to say that spring of 2020 was one of the hardest times of my life. The world in a global pandemic, mass uncertainty, everyone coming to me for the answers, my routine thrown out and a new normal with tough restrictions really took its toll on my mental health.
I have suffered with anxiety for four years. In 2017 I had a breakdown and since then I have been on a road of recovery setting up Thrive Law in 2018 and growing my team. But this Spring I felt like I was back in a dark place. A place of sheer anxiety, sleepless nights and fear of the unknown.
The financial impact of lockdown 1.0 meant I wasn’t receiving any income for months. I didn’t know when I was next going to be paid or if we would survive. We didn’t know how long this would go on for. This, compounded with looking after everyone else and being socially isolated, being the ‘go to’ person for furlough and employment advice was tough. I had to put on a brave face to help others but inside I was petrified of what was going to happen to me and every-thing I had built.
I felt bad for feeling this way too as other businesses were forced to closed, we could still work from home. We were all in the same storm but a different boat. What I knew was that to lead my team through this I had to look after myself first.
ADHD and anxiety.
After months of turmoil with my mental health and being unable to even pay my mortgage or household bills, I was able to manage my mental health and bring myself back to a safe place.
“ I put in place coping mechanisms and a clearly defined morning routine to set my day up strong: integrating exercise, gratitude and meditation daily.”
But even with this in place something still didn’t feel right.
As lockdown started to ease I booked an appointment with a psychiatrist as I wanted to under-stand what was happening. I felt there was something more than anxiety happening in my brain but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I went through an assessment with a psychiatrist. He interviewed my family and friends and then me for two hours and was confident in a combined diagnosis for ADHD.
ADHD (“Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”) is a complex neurological condition. This had never been identified as a child and is very often missed in girls. When I say combined diagnosis that means I have both the inattentive and hyperactivity symptoms, combined.
If I’m honest, I had suspected it could be this as other ADHD’ers had indicated prior, that they believed I may have it but, without a formal diagnosis there isn’t much you can do.
There is really a misconception about what ADHD is. We automatically think naughty children and attention seeking right?
So what is ADHD like for me? I literally think about thousands of things at once, I have so much energy and hyperactivity I have to move and exercise every day to expend it to be able to sleep. I struggle to sit still and I become very impatient as my brain thinks and moves so quickly it can often result in me interrupting and even finishing people’s sentences. This can come across as rude or arrogant but in fact I just have weak impulsive control and exaggerated emotions at times – my brain just works differently to a ‘normal’ brain.
The diagnosis was actually a relief. It meant I could research and educate myself on how to make things easier for me and put in place further coping mechanisms. It turned out that the new routines I was putting in place to coping with my anxiety were fuelled by ADHD and were in fact a coping mechanism for this condition without me knowing!
But what does all of this have to do with leadership?
What does leadership look like?
Throughout this process I was honest and candid with my team about my struggles and my diagnosis and the fact that I was embarking on new medication, which may have an effect on me until we were able to establish the correct dosage.
Through my own vulnerability and sharing my story publicly and internally, my team felt empowered to reach out to me with their own issues which meant we could work through these together.
Leaders must lead with empathy. Gone are the days where being barked orders and being scared of your boss are effective (if they ever were!).
Despite everything that happened during lockdown I sent small gifts and cards of gratitude to my team in the post. Without them I would not have a business at all and despite my own struggles they were thriving in their new remote work place. I did a few things like this over the course of this year and it’s honestly those small acts of kindness and personalised touches that really make a difference.
One of the most difficult skills to harness, as a leader, is actively listening. This is essential in order for you to be able to truly lead your time. If you don’t hear them your leadership will be in effective. Through active listening you can find support for individuals that will have a deeper impact.
For example, when speaking about mental health in the workplace with your team, do not assume you know what they are going to say, even when you may have lived experience of a condition as it can manifest differently in every single person.
Consider cultural and religious issues which may be influencing a condition and explore solutions together which address the root cause of the issues rather than paying lip service.
This is why effective communication (coupled with active listening) is paramount. We all communicate differently, we all react differently, we all absorb information differently.
Communication and treating everyone in the same way is ineffective leadership. Tailor your communication to the situation; to the person. We need to put the human touch back into leadership. People will remember how you made them feel this year.
So, whilst leadership requires strength and the ability to burden difficult decisions, it also requires empathy, humility and vulnerability. Leaders who embrace this approach as we come out of lockdown will lead their team through adversity and beyond.
This is how you lead…