The Heart of Leadership: Cultivating Emotional Health for Success

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Exploring leadership is like tending to a perennial garden—it's a task that warrants ongoing attention and assessment. Whether you're guiding people or championing ideas, fostering the qualities and principles associated with effective leadership is paramount. But what exactly defines effectiveness? Perspectives from various experts and leadership professionals abound, yet it falls upon individuals to meld these insights into a personalized strategy aligned with their unique disposition and approach. It may seem daunting, given its multifaceted nature and inherent variability, but that's precisely because it is.

Navigating the journey to discover your leadership style can be complex, chiefly due to the nuanced emotions entwined with personal growth in leadership roles.

We recently had the privilege of conversing with a seasoned leader and consultant who shed light on the essence of emotional well-being in leadership and its significance.

Rev Dr Brian Birkett MACMN, MACSA is a Managing Director at Springboard Consulting, an organization with a mission to empower people for purpose. Dr. Birkett’s organization specializes in providing comprehensive training, strategic coaching, and personalized mentoring to empower both leaders and their teams. Springboard Consulting offers a range of specific programs as well as customized coaching and mentoring services, all designed to support individuals and organizations in fulfilling their purpose and reaching their goals.

“The human condition comes under attack when our emotions are under attack.” -Dr. Brian Birkett

Dr. Birkett believes that research in sociology, psychology, and theology is playing a crucial role in helping people understand the human condition, particularly when our emotional well-being is threatened. It's intuitive to recognize that when our emotional state suffers, it impacts every facet of our lives. While other aspects of life are undoubtedly important, our emotions hold particular significance. For instance, if our relationships are strained, it can negatively affect our performance at work.

“Intuitively we know if we’re not doing well emotionally than it affects every other part of our lives. Not that other things are unimportant, but our emotions are critical…If we are in negative spaces in our relationships, it affects our work.” - Dr. Brian Birkett

Employers and managers are increasingly recognizing the importance of emotional health in their teams. While skills and experience are essential, there's a growing emphasis on understanding how individuals will interact with others. Assessing emotional health has become a deep-seated way for managers to gauge an individual's potential for effective collaboration and overall success in a role.

Dr. Birkett researched emotional health through 200+ books and more than 150 individuals, and came across the conclusion that there are three factors to emotionally healthy leadership: Authenticity, Transparency, and Community. Dr. Birkett also concluded that emotionally healthy leadership is crucial to an organization. He shared an example of an unhealthy leader who caused chaos and led to a toxic work environment, who was ultimately determined not to be a good fit for his organization by the board and eventually ousted. Dr. Birtkett said, “So what he sowed he reaped, he was unhealthy, he affected many staff, and he reaped the whirlwind and it affected his life.”

A truly effective leader is one who has acknowledged their own vulnerabilities and actively addressed personal challenges through counseling and therapeutic support. They understand the importance of self-reflection, regularly looking in the mirror to identify areas for personal growth and change. They recognize that life's purpose lies in supporting and encouraging others, understanding the profound impact of focusing on the well-being and success of those around them. This other-centered approach is not just a philosophy but a way of life that bears rich fruit for both the leader and those they lead.

“I go to many different countries and sometimes I’m just sowing into these leaders lives but I reap so much reward through relationship building and seeing lives change.” -Dr. Brian Birkett

Dr. Birkett provided insights into challenges observed leaders face in maintaining emotional health, both personally and within their teams. In the realm of emotional health, several factors can impede effective leadership. One significant barrier is temptation, which encompasses anything inconsistent with a person's values. Additionally, interpersonal issues such as unforgiveness, unresolved relational conflicts, management issues, and general unresolved conflicts can hinder emotionally healthy leadership. 

Selfishness and self-centeredness are also major obstacles, as is the struggle between pride and humility. Leaders who exhibit a sense of always being right due to pride can face difficulties in fostering emotionally healthy environments. Autocratic leadership, while sometimes effective, can also be damaging. In contrast, a genuinely collaborative leadership style, which involves taking others along on the journey, tends to yield more positive outcomes.

It's worth noting that some leaders may adopt a dictatorial style due to underlying insecurities. Insecurity itself can be a significant barrier to emotionally healthy leadership, leading individuals to resort to controlling behaviors.

Fear, in its various forms, is another root emotion that can hinder emotional health in leadership. Fear of failure, fear of performance inadequacy, and other similar fears can all act as barriers to emotionally healthy leadership. Addressing these issues and fostering a more emotionally aware and open leadership approach can lead to more positive outcomes for both leaders and their teams.

Dr. Birkett recommended the following strategies and practices for leaders to cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence:
Authenticity: It's important to make time for reflection, avoiding busyness that hinders deep thought. Studies indicate that people of faith often achieve 65% greater success in life. Authenticity involves reflecting on personal values, such as a Christian leader's focus on their relationship with God, or for others, on consistency and integrity. 
Transparency: Build friendships gradually, taking a full year before fully trusting. Allow the friendship to develop naturally over time. Initiate friendships wisely, with transparency, sharing, and vulnerability progressing gradually to assess trustworthiness.
Community: Seek to be in a community where you are appreciated, not just tolerated, as that is where true belonging is found. Aim for a lifegiving community. Ask yourself these questions: What can I contribute? What can I receive? How am I valued? How am I accepted? How am I received? How am I appreciated?

As the world and subsequently the workplace becomes more varied and globally focused, leaders should also look to strategies and practices that foster healthy work environments in the midst of all this diversity. Leaders should demonstrate love and acceptance towards every individual, regardless of their personal choices, gifts, or values, and irrespective of factors such as race, gender, or culture. It's crucial to embody the behavior we wish to see, as our actions often reflect what we ultimately reap. However, deeply ingrained biases can present significant challenges, hindering our ability to model this inclusive behavior. In such cases, it may be difficult for staff to overcome these biases without intentional effort and support.

Similarly, leaders should be preparing to deal with inevitable crisis situations that will rise within their organizations. “Each emotionally healthy leader would respond depending on how emotionally healthy they are,”  states Dr. Brian Birkett, “The test of their healthiness is how they respond in crisis and in success.” Fame and recognition can test a person's spirit, pride, and self-awareness. If not managed well, it can lead to emotional health issues, pushing them towards a self-centered or narcissistic mindset. To maintain balance, individuals should rely on the principles and practices they've developed through a sustainable rhythm of life. Being an emotionally healthy leader is incredibly rewarding as it enriches the lives of others. The impact is often transformative and life-giving.

“It's akin to the concept of "pay it forward," where the little boy's actions weren't driven by an expectation of return, yet he received one. Similarly, when we invest in others, we often find unexpected returns in our own lives.” -Dr. Brian Birkett

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Curious to learn more about the subject or the interviewee? Reach out using the contact information provided! 
Industry Insider: Rev Dr Brian Birkett MACMN, MACSA
Managing Director, Springboard Consulting
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +61 430 180 950 (Aus)

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