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Lead With That: What Naomi Osaka Can Teach Us About How Leaders Can Support and Manage Mental Health

image with microphone and lead with that podcast episode title, What Naomi Osaka Can Teach Us About How Leaders Can Support and Manage Mental Health

In this episode of Lead With That, Ren and Allison explore what we can learn from tennis star Naomi Osaka about the role leaders play in supporting and managing mental health.

In June 23-year-old Naomi Osaka, the No. 2 ranked tennis player in women’s tennis, withdrew from Wimbledon. This happened in the wake of Osaka withdrawing, in the second round from the French Open in a storm of controversy caused by her decision to skip mandatory post-match news conferences.

Osaka revealed she had been dealing with anxiety and depression since taking the spotlight after winning the U.S. Open in 2018, the first of her 4 grand slam titles. The pressure of the media and expectation was causing Osaka to pay a big price.

Our collective mental health was thrust into the spotlight during the pandemic, but what happens as we transition to the new hybrid work reality? Let’s follow Osaka’s example and have an open conversation about the role leaders play in managing and supporting mental health.

In this episode we explore how Osaka’s acknowledgment of her own anxiety and depression is helping to normalize the conversation around mental health, and what leaders today can do to lead with that. 

Listen now or read the full transcript below. 

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode, Ren and Allison explore what Naomi Osaka can teach us about how leaders can support mental health.

Interview Transcript:

INTRO:

Welcome back to CCL’s podcast Lead With That. We talk current events and pop culture, we look at where leadership is happening, and what’s happening with leadership.

Ren Washington:

On June 17th, 23-year-old day Naomi Osaka, the number 2 ranked tennis player in women’s tennis, withdrew from Wimbledon. And this happened in the wake of Osaka withdrawing in the second round from the French Open in a storm of controversy caused by her decision to skip mandatory post-match news conferences. Osaka then revealed she had been dealing with anxiety and depression since taking the spotlight after winning the US Open in 2018, the first of her four grand slam titles. The pressure of the media and expectation was causing Osaka a price to pay that was just too big, but for some her reasoning wasn’t good enough. Osaka has come under fire for her decisions.

Most notably tennis legend, Boris Becker recently said, “you’re 23, you’re healthy, you’re wealthy, your family’s good. Where’s the effing pressure?” Today we’re going to explore the important role leaders and leadership play in managing and supporting mental health.

Our collective mental health was thrust into the spotlight during the pandemic, but it’s something that has long been a dirty little secret. Something whispered about behind closed doors and in tight circles. But we don’t have the luxury of ignoring this serious issue any longer as the world thaws and we embrace the new hybrid work reality, leadership plays a vital role in making sure we help people be their best by ensuring they are at their best. I’m Ren Washington, one of the partners here at the Center, and as usual, I’m joined with my cohost and another CCL partner, Allison Barr. Allison, what’s been the worst injury you ever sustained?

Allison Barr:

I’ve had the luxury of having lots of physical injuries. I assume you mean a physical injury.

Ren Washington:

I mean whatever you think.

Allison Barr:

So, wow. I played a lot of sports growing up, I still do. And I had a high ankle sprain once that also resulted in a partial tear to my Achilles tendon. And that was horrible. That was probably the worst injury that I’ve ever had. What about you?

Ren Washington:

Wow. Well, I had a grade three shoulder separation when I was a younger version of myself when I played football. And so it was a labrum tear and it’s something that still never healed to this day. At one point I thought it was the worst pain I’ve ever felt, but not too long ago I had kidney stones, and maybe kidney stones is the worst injury I’ve ever sustained. It was easily the worst pain I’ve ever felt. So that’s what I’m going through, but it’s funny because both the shoulder and the kidney stones are recognized as a pain that men, they’re the only glimpse that men will get into the pain of childhood. And so I heard that everywhere I went with kidney stones was, well, you have a better appreciation for your wife, don’t you? And I looked at them and I said, I’ve always appreciated my wife. And yes, yes, you’re right.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I’ve heard that about kidney stones. My dad had those once a long time ago when we were growing up. And I remember just the anguish, just the anguish that he faced. And I recently had a cyst inside my body rupture. I forgot about that. How could I forget? I must have blocked it out, but I have heard that that is akin to kidney stones as well, because you have to wait it out. It was horrible. Yep. It was horrible. You just need to wait.

Ren Washington:

And see, it’s so interesting when you’re talking about this anguish, you use that word in this, and when I think about anguish, I think, okay, these recognizable anguishes, whether it be a dislocation, or a tear, or an internal pain, but somehow some internal ailments, or pains, are recognized and others aren’t. And I think that’s a lot of what this Osaka situation has really brought to the forefront again, because it’s not the first time we’re hearing about this secret mental health issue.

Allison Barr:

Yep. Yeah. Also, what was interesting to me about that story is that the same week that Osaka withdrew, Roger Federer also did from the French Open citing injury. He’s had some knee problems. And when he spoke about withdrawing, he said, and I quote, I’m air quoting here because he literally said, “I need to listen to my body.” And what’s the difference between Osaka and him listening to their body? There’s no difference. She was also listening to her body. It’s just to the point that you just made, one injury is visible to others. And the other is mostly unseen.

Ren Washington:

Well, and the same day that Osaka said she was dropping out of Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal, the other big tennis icon, he said he was dropping out of Wimbledon and the Olympic Games citing exactly the same language, listening to his body, and to prolong his career to continue to do what makes him happy.

Allison Barr:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it’s interesting.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Yeah. What is interesting specifically for you?

Allison Barr:

Well, shortly after Federer’s withdraw from the tournament, specifically there were droves of publications in support of him taking time off to recover, which was a far cry from the treatment that Osaka received, questioning her ability to handle pressure, calling her selfish, calling her entitled. And it just highlights the stigma to me that surrounds mental health illness, that’s been around for a long time, we’ve known that, but it was definitely highlighted for me in the differences in treatment to both things that are injuries.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Have you ever seen something like this show up in the work that we do?

Allison Barr:

Well, yes and no. There’s definitely conversation from clients around concepts of mental health. However, I can’t say that I’ve ever, in a group setting, in a group setting I can’t say that I often hear people, clients, talk about their own mental health, rather they might talk about it as a concept, this conceptual thing. And I believe the reason is because of the stigmatization of mental health. So I think if there wasn’t that stigma, we’d be talking about it a lot more.

Ren Washington:

I think you’re right. Before the pandemic I noticed a trend where if someone were to take a mental health day, and I’m doing one of our favorite things, Allison, I’m air quoting now, if someone were to take a mental health day, it was like this tongue in cheek, little smirk, where we look at someone and we say, oh, okay, Allison, you take your mental health day. And it’s like, or I’m going to work from home. I just need to recharge. And everyone knew what that really meant was that you had the laptop by your feet and you were just moving your toe on the mouse pad every once in a while so your icon on Skype would stay green. But I think the pandemic really brought into light this idea of, okay, burnout recognized by the World Health Organization. And people were really put under the strain of having to work from home, or really live at work.

Ren Washington:

And now I think there’s this rising willingness, like a lot of things, to talk about the impact that our mental wellbeing has on leadership effectiveness, on team effectiveness, on an organization’s wellbeing, on how people perform at their best.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. Absolutely. And someone said to me, two days ago in a conversation, human beings are not robots, which is, we know this obvious, right? We know this, we can’t be expected to produce, produce, produce, especially in times of tremendous pressure, and for some, trauma that came from the pandemic last year and still lingers on right now. So I think you’re right that the year of 2020 highlighted a lot of areas in the workplace that remain swept under the rug, mostly because I think people don’t know how to address them. I think most people are well-intended and want to support one another. And I think, again, there’s that stigma and people don’t know where to start.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. I wonder when I think about where to start, I was thinking about your injury. What did the support structure look like around your biggest injuries?

Allison Barr:

Yeah, I’m laughing a little because I look back at the ankle injury and the Achilles injury that I talked to you about a minute ago, and I was, how old was I? Maybe 19, I think. And so with that specific injury I was quite stubborn and a little bit in denial about having the injury, which, of course, made it worse because I did not follow instructions. I did not follow what my friends and family were telling me to do, and the doctor, right? Like you can not put weight on it. And I’m like, I’m fine. Just being a stubborn teenager who wanted to go back to playing sports. But if I think about the more recent one, which was having a cyst on one of my organs rupture, I did everything that I was told to do. I let people help me. Right? Because I didn’t want it to get worse.

Ren Washington:

And you say two things there, the first instance you ignored the ideas of the best practices, you were stubborn, you were like, I’m not feeling this. And then the second time around you took all of the help that you could get, you were willing to accept it. And when I think about mental health in the workplace, as a leader who’s trying to help people manage through those things, or as a leader who has their own issues, or just any employee, it’s amazing how often one of those two things you said is true.

Ren Washington:

In my experience one of them is like this, and you said the word stigma a couple of times, there’s this a toxic achieving that I think happens all over the globe, but happens with a lot of the clients that I work with where the old adage, I’ll sleep when I’m dead, or work, work, work. And there is no time for me to say, well, I’m feeling anxiety, or depression, or cloudy, and there’s no time for me to pause. It’s like, well, ignore that. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m stubbornly going to push through, or even maybe the other part of it is because of all that stigma, it’s dangerous, it’s scary, it’s hard for me to ask for help, or willingly accept all the help that I might get around those things.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I believe all those things are true and probably very relatable, they are to me and probably to a lot of our listeners. And if we go back up a little and look at Boris Becker’s, Boris Becker is also a, well, he’s a retired tennis player. And if we look back to his statement, it was, and is, an all too common response to people who have mental health challenges.

And so some of what he said that was the rest of that quote is, “is it really pressure? Isn’t it pressure when you don’t have food on the table to feed your family, you don’t have a job? When you have a life-changing injury, isn’t that more pressure?” And what just really stands out to me there is that depression, anxiety, they are life-changing injuries, and there’s stigma around people not acknowledging mental health challenges as very real. And so if you think back to having kidney stones, Ren, what if somebody had said to you, that’s all in your head, or you’re being so weak, just get up and deal with it. This is all in your head. What would you have thought, or felt, if somebody had said, or if the majority of people were saying that to you?

Ren Washington:

Well, I would have said probably first a couple of expletives, but then I’d be able to say, well, actually I can point to the CAT scan that shows the calcified object that’s stuck in my body.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

But as you make me think about that, it’s funny because I can’t show someone the hard details of, well, this is my anxiety and you can see it stuck in my body here. And it almost goes back to our conversation last time around that hard, soft skills where hard skills tend to be more tangible around technical accomplishments, soft skills tend to be more amorphous, or those intangibles. And I wonder too, as we’re so unfamiliar with helping mental challenges, or normalizing the conversation, people without seeing the doctor’s note or the proof, shrug it off and say, well, suck it up, too bad. It is all in your head. What do you tell someone when they tell you it is all in your head though?

Allison Barr:

Aside from some expletives, myself I would say, I’d be hard pressed not to have an intellectualized response to pull out research, right? And images of the brain, that would be very hard for me not to do. So I might share my own story depending on who the person is, but when I was in college, in graduate school rather, I was also working full-time, I had a diagnosed anxiety disorder and it was horrible. Right? But that’s me as a human, I would have been willing to share that and risk the repercussions and the punishment that can come from admitting such a thing, but I believe in normalizing the conversation and I think it’s important.

Ren Washington:

I think it is important. And something you highlight there is really connects to the psychological safety that we’re always talking about, or you would feel safe enough to share. When I think about Osaka and her poster in the French Open, posted on Instagram this two-page pouring out of the heart, talking about, hey, I apologize to all the cool media people who I’ve let down, this isn’t me. This is hard for me. This is painful. This is damaging. I can’t do this. I need to step down. And the support structure around her, not from her fans or family, but also from her ad partners, her brand parts, it was really interesting where there was a time where there would have been this huge plan about Osaka walking out to Wimbledon in her Nike shoes, in her new smartwatch, in her muscle relaxer and all of a sudden this beautiful marketing opportunity.

Ren Washington:

And instead these organizations aren’t worried about when she gets back out there, but have come out in massive support saying we support Naomi. We understand that these ailments are serious, that without being addressed people can’t be their best. And so when I think about leadership’s role in this, it really centers around the idea of how can I, as a leader, when asking someone how they’re doing, or what they’re feeling, or what they’re going through, to believe them, and then provide the same kind of willingness that I would for a physical element to the mental anguish.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And gosh, there’s a lot that came up for me when you were just talking about her and her brand and her sponsors, and being supported in that way, which is really wonderful because, I would imagine for a professional athlete, which I am not, but I would imagine that they feel a lot of times owned by brands, and owned by corporations, and owned by the media, because they are, a lot of them at least, contractually obligated to speak to the media, as we know from Osaka, because she got fined for not doing it, it was in her contract. And so I can imagine that was a huge relief for Naomi Osaka to feel a little bit of pressure, hopefully, taken off so that she can take care of herself. And when I think about the workplace, it certainly it shows up there too. And Osaka, of course, can’t necessarily take a hybrid workplace option, that wouldn’t work. However, a lot of organizations are moving toward that option and I wonder is hybrid work the great equalizer? And if it’s not the great equalizer, is it at least a step in the right direction for people? What do you think?

Ren Washington:

I wonder her hybrid experience is she goes to the tennis court, she finishes her match. She goes home. She logs on to Zoom. She takes her media from there. And yeah, maybe she doesn’t have that luxury, but when I think of the hybrid workforce, part of what I think the pandemic gave people a chance to do was to recognize this mental stress, this burnout, to try to build in strategies, or think of ways to maintain their wellbeing. I was reading about a couple of articles about people getting back to work and they were concerned, this person lost 50 pounds at home because they were able to make some more exercise and healthier eating habits, or people who maybe didn’t have the healthiest relationship with substances. They’re worried about, well, what does a happy hour look like now? What does socializing with my colleagues look like? And how is that going to damage the benefit that quarantine has had for me?

Ren Washington:

And so I don’t know if hybrid is the great equalizer. Maybe it’s one of those things where it’s going to put us back into some old habits, or what if we lose sight of our mental wellbeing as we try to now find the new normal? Get used to getting back to work, or maybe I’m the person who’s not coming back into the office and then I’m feeling separated from my team, does that add to my mental anguish? Does that damage my mental health?

Allison Barr:

It depends, and it always is going to depend on the person. It’s really hard to, I think that’s what makes this difficult, is that organizations are going to need to take time to adjust to whatever the new way of working is. There will be logistics and strategies that will need to be adapted, and that’s going to take some time. Management styles are going need to be adapted. However, I think the effort is worth the time spent on that. You highlighted a couple of things already, but the hybrid workplace can allow for a new environment in which people can reduce these added stressors that lead to acute pressure. So a few stressors for some people might be, for example, commute times. There are some people who have, when it’s all said and done, they have a 10 and a half hour day, or longer, because of commute times.

Allison Barr:

Some people have a hard time leaving, truly leaving the workplace and spend extra hours at the office. There are some people who work in toxic work environments and the hybrid option will allow for some people to use that discretionary time to their benefit to be spent on wellbeing instead. I think it can also provide people with more autonomy to schedule their Workday in a way that’s going to suit their needs the best. And again, I know it’s going to take some time to adjust, it’s not going to be perfect. And I think the effort’s going to be worth it.

Ren Washington:

It would be worth it if the organization can support it. And I was working with a woman the other day and she was talking about the experiences that she has with her work. And she was saying, it’s just not a safe environment here. We can’t admit fault. We can’t show weakness. It’s highly competitive. It’s really driven. And so I wonder, and maybe this is a part for a little later, or maybe I can just spring it on you now. It’s like, what about the organizations who say, no, we’re not doing hybrid work, we’re going to bring you back full-time, or there’s really no more flexible work schedules. How do I then put in the strategies that I might have used in my hybrid space?

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I think if we’re simply focusing on mental health right now, there are still ways that you can do that. I think that the hybrid option, or the remote option, gives more options to support people and their mental health. I think that leadership, regardless of you being in-person or not, can start reducing stigma by acknowledging that people have mental health obstacles that can infringe on their work. Right? And so organizations are better suited to acknowledge those things if they’re looking at it from productivity standpoint. If you want your employees to be the most productive that they can be, then you better allow them to take care of themselves. So I get it. There are some workplaces who will be the way that you just described. We don’t accept failure and XYZ, which I don’t think is a healthy way to be. And if they want to be successful, they have to acknowledge that people are going to have hardships, period.

Ren Washington:

Undoubtedly, I talk a lot around, I think the generationally it’s really interesting. First time in American history we have four generations in the workforce at the same time, all the way from Gen Z up through the Boomers and with Millennials and Gen Xs in between. And the implications of that, from a leadership standpoint are, as the market diversifies, talent diversifies, people don’t have to stay at the same job for 30 years anymore. And because of that, they don’t have to put up with some of the same behavioral expectations that an older generation may have. Maybe that’s too part of why that ethos of no crying in baseball. It’s like, keep your complaints to yourself, your job is to clock in, and you’re going to die in this building. And you should count yourself lucky. And if it hurts on the way, then good, that means it’s working.

Ren Washington:

And I think, I don’t know if that’s uniquely American, but it’s definitely a culture of that drive, drive, business first, but now people have, and I wouldn’t say it’s just limited to the newer generations, but all people have more options. And because they have more options, especially as it relates to choosing work that they care about that’s mission-driven, or choosing work that they care about that also is better for their mental health and wellbeing, it really is an interesting opportunity for all of us to change the way that we have these conversations, to create a new way that say, okay, we’re in this hybrid workforce, and part of the hybridization is that we’re going to have less rigidity about the hours that you have to work.

Ren Washington:

And in so far as, maybe it’s not just a straight nine to five, maybe it’s a seven to 10, then you hit the gym, or you take your kids out to lunch, and then you come back and you finish up your day. And maybe that’s what the new hybrid looks like, or how can people manage their personal and professional on the work from home days, and then still get the office connection when they’re in the workspace, in the actual physical office.

Allison Barr:

Right. And everybody’s different. Mental health aside and included, everybody’s preferences are different too. So if you said to me, Allison, you have the option, you can work from home exclusively. You can be in the office hybrid, or you can be in the office full-time, what would you pick? It depends. So I suppose I would pick the hybrid option. I love going to the office and some days it’s really wonderful to not have to go to the office. I still get my work done. And that’s the point, right? One of my clients said the other day, I don’t care how you get your work done, just get it done. I don’t care how my team gets their work done. I just want it to get done. And so I think for managers, measuring success based on outcome versus how and where you get it done, is the most important thing that they can do. And then if people want to show up at the workplace, okay.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Well, you were talking about Morgenson in our last conversation and the team’s needs framework and team success model. And when we think about how do you know if an effective team is working, or what are the markers of an effective team? Yeah, success, the results matter, but did we learn how to do it? Could we be better today than tomorrow? And maybe most importantly is, do I want to come into work again with you people at this place? And if that’s not met, then it doesn’t really matter if the project is won. And I think that kind of awakening is happening, or that’s what that person is saying. I don’t really care how you get your work done as long as you get it done. And we find, I was reading a LinkedIn post, you may have seen it, where this woman was talking about she got her dream job, six figure salary, she was working at, I think it was a marketing firm or something.

Ren Washington:

And she noticed that people were staying really late, but she thought, hey, what if I start my day early so I could get out right at five because she had the family to consider. And then a couple of weeks later, she was called into the office of the leadership and said, it’s not a good fit. You don’t really fit here. You’re fired. And it’s because she just wasn’t staying until 10 o’clock. And she was saying in the quote, “people would just stay later, but they wouldn’t be doing any work.” And a lot of times when I think about those people who are rigidly tracking time, or all the anxiety added to the time clocking, or the culture of, well, see and be seen, you can’t leave early, even if you’ve put in a full day’s work.

Ren Washington:

In most of my experience, I just see that has people just sitting around, or streaming on social, or looking at the news because culturally we’re not allowed to leave before eight o’clock, but no one’s doing anything from six to eight. Whereas maybe one person who, in the hybrid workforce, hit the gym in the middle of the day, but they actually are working from six to eight because their creative mind it’s the sharpest then, and they actually have the energy to do it because they exercised. And they’re not anxiety ridden or depressed, because they have to stay in the office for 14 hours, even when though four of those hours is playing Tetris.

Allison Barr:

Right. Right.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

I’m laughing because, again, I had a conversation with that same client recently, who’s in a new position at her workplace, she was promoted. And I said, what time do you go to work? She said, I leave my house at 7:30, I get to work by 7:45, and I stay till about 7:00 PM. And I said, is that the expectation that you stay till 7:00 PM? And she said, no, but I can’t be the first one to leave, that would send the wrong message. And I said, what are you doing in that time? And she said, mostly I’m on Facebook. And we had a laugh about it. And what message are you sending then? What is the message that you are sending? Right?

Allison Barr:

The message is that perceived busy-ness does not equal productivity. That’s not how it is. So you mentioned generations too, and I have a lot of hope for the upcoming generations who will be eventually our CEOs and the leaders of the organizational workforce who are more apt to say, I’m going to take the two hours off to go to therapy, for example, right? There’s no shame that’s attached to taking care of themselves. There’s no shame attached and they still get their work done. Right? They still get their work done.

Ren Washington:

And maybe better than some.

Allison Barr:

Right. Right.

Ren Washington:

And I think the leaders of the future, and the leaders of today, listeners, as you approach this new normal, and you and I have talked about this, I think now I’m seeing it with the vaccine roll out the way it is, and with my clients, people are excited to get back to it. People are over the social distancing. And then I know there’s a group of people who really hit their stride work from home, or don’t want it to change. You were talking about the commuter person. I knew a woman who was commuting two hours both ways [crosstalk 00:25:53].

Allison Barr:

Oh, boy.

Ren Washington:

… Yeah. Four hours of commuting. And I thought, my goodness, that can’t possibly make you better at work or at home. And so I think the new leaders of today are going to have to manage their two different groups now. A manager, whether or not they’re in the office or virtual, is going to have to manage the virtual group and the in-person group, or leaders are going to have to lead teams that are split virtually and in-person. And so when we look at the hybrid, there’s this idea of the amplification theory for virtual work, is that if you’re a good leader, virtual will amplify your good leadership characteristics, the hybrid interaction will be amplified by them. And if you’re bad, your bad characteristics are amplified in the virtual environment.

Ren Washington:

And so a lot of this stuff, especially as it relates to mental health, is getting the team aligned, saying, what are our new expectations? How are we going to operate? And what does it look like for us to actually work hard versus look busy? And the good news is for the hybrid people working from home, I think we all have a greater appreciation and the realization that, actually when I work at home, I work a lot more hours than when I was in the office. That’s absolutely true for me because I just find myself working all the time when I’m at home and my systems here works. And so I think that’s an advantage for the hybrid workforce going forward and leaders managing hybrid teams, is now when you’re at home, Allison, I don’t just think that you’re eating Bond Bonds and the laptop is at the edge of your toe and you’re just swirling it around to stay active, I know because we all were stuck in the home office for 12 months that, oh, you’re likely being productive.

Allison Barr:

Right. And I could be sitting in, I’m not by the way. However, I could be sitting in my office at the workplace, in my actual office, at our building, with my door shut eating Bond Bonds operating my laptop. So there’s no guarantee that just because someone is at the office they’re getting work done. So that’s what I mean when I say measure success by way of results. And I like what you said about alignment. It’s really important as we know we talk at CCL a lot about this, is making sure the team’s clear on the direction at hand, and are we aligned on how we’re going to work together? And oftentimes that alignment piece is the messiest and takes the longest to come together. And it might be the most important.

Ren Washington:

It’s going to have to be. It will clearly be. And I think too, it’s already hard in-person to do that. So, again, we’re in a interesting slow down to power up focal point, this is happening. And what does it look like for us to be effective in these new teams? And there’s going to be some pain. There’s going to be some tension. There’s going to be the community that in-person teams can have sitting there at the same table being on that and the way that people might feel separate when they’re on individual computer screens at home, and a tactical hybrid solution to that is, well, whereas everyone take a team meeting from their individual office on their individual machine so we’re all in equal footing, or maybe just simply you ask your team, does that matter?

Ren Washington:

Or even maybe if you ask the team on the front end, hey, do you want to try this? And everyone says, yes. And then after the first meeting everyone recognizes, hey, it felt like an us versus them vibe. Maybe we should switch to all of us being on our own machines. Whatever the answer is, we’ve got to provide the space for it.

Allison Barr:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Ren Washington:

Yeah.

Allison Barr:

And I think it’s okay if you’re a leader, or a manager, to acknowledge this might be clunky and we will figure it out together. And I want us all to be able to have input in this situation. So to your point, if it feels like us against them, also could be super awkward if there’s four of us in-person huddled around the camera lens, right? And then four or five people virtually individually, it’s body language, it becomes hard to read body language. It becomes hard and to communicate for a lot of reasons. So I think it’s okay to just admit, we’re learning, we’re doing this together. Here’s what the plan is. And we might have to realign as we go.

Ren Washington:

And I think that’s full circle back to the idea of helping manage mental health.

Allison Barr:

Right.

Ren Washington:

Is that still, maybe as a leader, now I’m not saying that you have to open up all your team meetings with the mental health share, but it’d be interesting as a leader as we cultivate intention around hybrid working and being open to have the conversations, what does it look like too, to say, as we continue to do this new forming and norming, as we team, let’s keep top of mind these revelations that we’ve all had around the importance of maintaining our own mental health, these invisible injuries, these things that still cause us anguish, or pain, but maybe aren’t healed with an ice pack, or with traditional medicines, but instead other kinds of support.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And I’m glad you’re bringing this back. You’d mentioned a few minutes ago, psychological safety, and that’s so important in the workplace in general, it’s also important with regard to supporting people in their mental health. And those who struggle, or have struggled with mental health illnesses, know that sometimes symptoms can come at the most inopportune times and you can’t plan for it, and it’s debilitating so much to the same respect that Osaka spoke about having this acute pressure and depression that prevented her from doing her, air quoting, her job to speak to the media. Those people, and those who have those symptoms at the workplace, shouldn’t be penalized for making choices that help them to mitigate symptoms. And trust is incredibly important there because for some, it’s going to mean tending to symptoms in a private way, it can, right?

It might mean that Susan’s going to step away from the office and she’s got a private meeting in her calendar, and we need to respect that and trust her. It’s up to her, whether or not, she discloses it. And again, I think there are more working adults than we would even begin to know that could benefit from this kind of environment. Ultimately be more productive and less stressed at work. I would be remiss if I didn’t throw out a statistic here, which is, one in five adults have diagnosed mental illnesses in the US, and I believe that number is likely much higher because stigma prevents people from seeking support and ultimately millions of people remain undiagnosed. So I think organizations are best served to address this, whether, or not, they know that there’s mental health challenges within their team, it’s irrelevant. Right?

Ren Washington:

Right. Whether, or not, you know it, it is there.

Allison Barr:

Yes.

Ren Washington:

Like you’re saying, you got a team of 10 people. The odds are, two of them are probably diagnosed with some kind of mental health thing. And there’s likely a few more who are undiagnosed, or not admitting it. And so too, I love what you said. It’s not too enough about just mitigating the symptoms, but maybe as this person takes care of himself, they’re not only mitigating, they’re making themselves better.

Allison Barr:

Right. Exactly.

Ren Washington:

I think shifting that part of the dialogue too, is it’s not where I’m doing everything to keep the house from falling down, but if I can do this maintenance, we can build higher and stronger than we ever have before. And so for me, I think as I reflect on what can someone do? What can a team leader do, or an individual do, is to help change the conversation, remove the stigma. I think just because something cannot be seen does not mean it’s not happening. And maybe there’s a generational shift where you say, well, maybe a Gen Z right now might be more comfortable than ever saying, hey, I’m taking some time for therapy so that I can come back and work harder and better. But whatever that is, I think the big takeaway here is, in leadership, or as a leader, the goal is to help people be their best.

Ren Washington:

And if people feel like they belong, if people feel like they’re part of a team, if people feel like they’re cared for, then all of a sudden they might increase their belonging. And then, so what if we provide an environment where people felt supported and cared for as it related to their own wellbeing. The same kind of they’re taking care of their wellbeing is heralded and rewarded the same way as them taking care of their business. What an interesting idea. So as a leader, how can you change your own thinking where you say, hey, self-care is as important as our wins, and likely the more people take care of themselves, the more wins we’re going to have as a team, or an organization, or an individual. So those are my major takeaways, I think.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. I would echo what you just said and lead with that and I’ll add, success at the workplace shouldn’t depend on face time in the office, and we’ve learned that, right? A lot of organizations can have success with their employees working outside of the office. Some can’t as well. I want to acknowledge that if you work at a restaurant, you have to be at the restaurant, right? I want to acknowledge that. However, success shouldn’t depend on that face time, it should depend on results and impact within the organization. So I think if you are a manager, you’re a leader, understand that perceptual busy-ness is not the same as results, and measure the outcome, not the activity, or how, or from where it gets done.

Allison Barr:

And I think it’s important to reduce the mental health stigma regardless of what you know about your teammates, because you might have a team that does not have mental health obstacles, and they might disclose that to you. And if that’s the case, you can still lead from a place of support and validation, and encourage those around you to also be operating from a place of support and validation, and minimize judgment in the same way that Roger Federer had some knee problems, that’s just as like Naomi Osaka’s mental health obstacles are just as valid. And so I think it is acknowledging that whether you have a visible illness, or obstacle, it’s all valid. And to your point, encouraging your teams to take care of themselves so that they can perform.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. And take care of each other so we can perform.

Allison Barr:

Yes. Well said, well said. Well, thanks for his conversation, Ren. It’s an important one, and I think close to my heart and a lot of people’s hearts, and I always enjoy hearing your perspective as well.

Ren Washington:

Yeah. Thanks for it.

Allison Barr:

Yeah. And to our listeners, as always, thanks for tuning in.

Ren Washington:

Yep.

Allison Barr:

You can find the show notes for this episode and all of our episodes at ccl.org. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast. You can find us on Podbean, Spotify and Apple podcasts, and you can also find both Ren and I on LinkedIn. I admit that I love TikTok, and I’m very active on TikTok. We’d love to connect with you there. And we also want to add an extra special thank you to Ryan, Emily and the other Allyson who are behind the scenes making our podcast possible. So thank you so much. We’ll catch you next time folks.

Ren Washington:

Thanks everyone. We’ll see you next time.

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