Leadership and Mental Health

In the dynamic landscape of the modern workplace, the intersection of leadership and mental health is becoming increasingly prominent. Leaders who strive to drive their organizations to success need to recognize the importance of addressing mental health concerns. Let’s explore this intricate relationship between leadership and mental health, and look at credible research findings and data.

So, how often anyway can a mental health issue be a problem for an employee?
A study by the Harvard Business Review in 2021, found that a striking 76% of employees experienced at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year. This is a noticeable percentage increase from 59% found in a similar 2019 survey. This trend underlines the escalating need for mental health awareness in organizational leadership. This growing trend shines a spotlight on the urgent need for leaders in organizations to really tune into mental health issues. 

It’s clear now that mental well-being isn’t just a personal matter; it’s a vital part of a healthy, functioning workplace. For today’s leaders, this means diving deeper into understanding mental health and weaving it into the fabric of their organizational culture and policies. It’s not just about caring for employees’ well-being; it’s also about maintaining the productivity and longevity of the organization.

Now we know that effective leadership is no longer just about strategic decisions, but also about understanding and addressing mental health. Leaders have a profound impact on the mental health of their employees. Research published in BMC Public Health reveals just how impactful different kinds of leadership can be. It turns out, that when leaders are supportive, employees’ job satisfaction skyrockets, and their stress level drops. This isn’t just a theory; it’s a reality that plays out in workplaces around the globe, both in traditional office settings and in the increasingly common remote work environments.

Health-Oriented Leadership is a three-legged stool…

… with each leg crucial to keeping it from falling.

  • One leg is about the leader taking care of their own health.
  • The second is about nurturing the staff’s well-being.
  • The third is about encouraging the team to take care of themselves.

There are several Studies in Psychology emphasizing that when leaders embrace this holistic approach, the entire team thrives, showing reduced stress and improved overall mental health.

Emotional intelligence is increasingly recognized as a critical component of effective leadership. Several studies on Emotional Intelligence suggest that leaders with high emotional intelligence tend to create more positive workplace environments that support the mental health of their teams. This points to the necessity for leaders to develop skills like empathy, self-awareness, and emotional regulation.

  • Recognizing the burden of mental health on leaders: The first thing a leader should do to become a Health-Oriented Leader is to realize that leaders themselves are not immune to mental health challenges. This means that leaders must prioritize their own mental hygiene to effectively manage stress and prevent burnout.
  • Promote Work-Life Balance: Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Flexible working hours and acknowledging the importance of personal time can reduce burnout and stress. 
  • Foster Open Communication: Creating channels for open communication where employees can discuss mental health issues without fear of judgment or reprisal is essential.
  • Invest in Mental Health Resources: Providing access to mental health resources, such as counseling services or mindfulness training, demonstrates a commitment to employee well-being.
  • Lead by Example: Leaders should model healthy behaviors and attitudes towards mental health, breaking down stigma and encouraging others to prioritize their well-being.
  • Regular Check-ins: Implementing regular one-on-one check-ins can help leaders stay informed about their team’s mental health and provide support when needed. This practice is especially important for remote workers, as it helps foster a sense of connection and belonging within the organization.

Training leaders to understand and support mental health is vital. Programs focusing on mental health awareness, stress management, and emotional intelligence can equip leaders with the tools they need to support their teams effectively.

As awareness of the importance of mental health in the workplace grows, future trends indicate a continued focus on this area. This highlights the growing importance of mental health awareness, the integration of technology and mental health tools, and the focus on holistic well-being programs. These advancements are not just trends but are becoming essential components of effective workplace management and leadership strategies. Keeping up-to-date with these developments will be vital for leaders who aim to foster a supportive and healthy work environment.

The intersection of leadership and mental health is a complex but vital area in the modern workplace. Leaders play a crucial role in shaping the mental health landscape of their organizations. By adopting strategies that prioritize mental health, leaders can create a more productive, engaged, and healthy workforce. The journey towards integrating mental health into leadership practices is ongoing, but it is clear that the benefits to both individuals and organizations are substantial.

Ethical Leadership

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, ethical leadership has emerged as a cornerstone for sustainable success. Ethical leaders not only drive positive organizational outcomes but also foster a culture of integrity and accountability. They set a positive example for others to follow and create a culture of trust and respect within their team or organization. Ethical leadership is essential for building strong relationships and maintaining the long-term success and sustainability of an organization.

 So what are the essence of ethical leadership, significance, challenges, and strategies for implementation?

Ethical leadership is the practice of leading by example, where leaders demonstrate ethical behavior in their decisions and actions, thus influencing their followers to do the same. It involves a commitment to values such as honesty, fairness, respect, and social responsibility. An ethical leader prioritizes these values over personal or organizational gain.

Ethical leadership can benefit not only organizations but society as a whole. Some of these benefits are:

  1. Trust and Credibility: Ethical leadership builds trust among stakeholders. This enhances the credibility of the organization.
  2. Employee Satisfaction and Retention: In an environment where leaders are ethical, Employees are more likely to be satisfied and loyal.
  3. Long-term Success: Ethical practices lead to sustainable business models, ensuring success and stability in the long run.
  4. Social Responsibility: By going beyond profit maximization and doing what is right, Ethical leaders make the world a better place.
  • Complex Decision-Making: Leaders often face dilemmas where the ethical choice isn’t clear-cut.
  • Cultural Differences: Global businesses must navigate varying ethical standards across cultures with respect and tolerance to these differences.
  • Pressure to Deliver Results: The pressure to meet short-term goals can sometimes overshadow ethical considerations.
  • Resistance to Change: Implementing ethical practices may face resistance from those accustomed to different values.
  • Clear Ethical Standards: Organizations should establish and communicate clear ethical guidelines.
  • Role Modeling: Leaders must lead by example with ethical behavior in their actions and decisions.
  • Training and Development: Regular training sessions with a professional can help employees understand and practice ethical behavior.
  • Encouraging Open Communication: Creating an environment where employees can voice ethical concerns without fear of punishment.
  • Accountability: Ethical leaders hold themselves and their teams accountable for their actions.

While carrying out these strategies is essential for ethical leadership, kind honesty is something to keep in mind. Kind honesty refers to the practice of being honest and truthful in a way that is caring, respectful, and considerate of others’ feelings. It involves communicating honestly and openly, while also being mindful of the impact of one’s words and actions on others. Kind honesty involves being honest about one’s own thoughts and feelings, as well as about the facts of a situation. It is characterized by a willingness to listen and understand others’ perspectives. It is an important component of healthy relationships and promotes trust, respect, and understanding.

  • Assess Current Ethical Climate: Understand the existing ethical climate of the organization.
  • Develop a Code of Ethics: Create a comprehensive code of ethics that outlines expected behaviors and decision-making processes.
  • Lead by Example: Leaders should demonstrate ethical behavior consistently and admit when they are wrong.
  • Foster an Ethical Culture: Encourage a culture where ethics are valued and discussed openly.
  • Evaluate and Adjust: Regularly assess the effectiveness of ethical practices and make necessary adjustments.

In the digital age, ethical leadership also extends to how organizations manage data privacy, cyber security, and digital communication. Leaders must navigate these new challenges with the same commitment to ethics.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Ernest Hemingway

The road to becoming an Ethical leader may require some dignified transformations. Dignified transformation refers to the process of making positive changes in a way that is respectful, dignified, and aligned with one’s values. It involves taking the time to reflect on what is important to oneself and others and making conscious choices to improve one’s life and circumstances. Dignified transformation can involve making changes to one’s personal or professional life, and may involve setting goals, learning new skills, or seeking out new opportunities. It is a process that involves growth, self-improvement, and the pursuit of personal and professional fulfillment. It is characterized by a commitment to personal responsibility and self-respect.

Taking everything into account, ethical leadership is not just a moral obligation but it has also strategic value in today’s business world. It requires a conscious effort to implement ethical principles in every aspect of the organization. By committing to ethical leadership, organizations can achieve not only financial success but can also contribute positively to society and build a lasting legacy of integrity.

The LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method

In January 2023, we at MagnoliaTree had a special team meeting. For the most part, we played with Lego®. Now you may find that inappropriate or childish. We don’t. Because we used it to work on our direction, our strengths and weaknesses as a team, and most importantly, our vision for the year.

Last year, our employee Elke Pichler took the training to become a Lego® Serious Play® trainer and accompanied us during our meeting. The method is not only fun, it brings interesting insights that are wonderful to build on.

What is the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® Method?

The goal of the Lego® Serious Play® method is to transform “lean backward meetings” into “lean forward meetings” that lead to more participation, more insights, more engagement, and ultimately more commitment and faster implementation.

The method is a facilitated thinking, communication and problem solving method for organizations, teams and individuals. It draws on extensive research from the fields of business, organizational development, psychology and learning and is based on the concept of “hand-knowledge”. As such, it is much more than a mere gimmick.

The fundamentals of the Method

To better understand the Lego® Serious Play® method, it is important to know the fundamentals of the method.

  • Leaders don’t have the answers to everything.
  • The success of leaders is based on hearing the voices of all employees.
  • People inherently want to contribute, be part of something bigger, and take responsibility.
  • Too often, teams work suboptimally because the knowledge of many team members goes unused.
  • We live in a complex world. More sustainable and successful companies are created when every member is given the opportunity to contribute and express themselves.

The Lego® Serious Play® method is not based on any new or groundbreaking science, but on findings from action research and a number of other existing scientific disciplines.

The beginning of Lego® Serious Play®

The story of the Lego® Serious Play® method began in 1996, when professors Johan Roos and Bart Victor of the Institute for Management Development (IMD) developed the concept and process of the method to give leaders the opportunity to describe, create and challenge their view of their company.

The Lego® Serious Play® method developed into a consulting method that is now successfully used by companies such as Daimler Chrysler, Roche, SABMiller, Tupperware, Nokia and Orange.

At the same time, Johan Roos and Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, the CEO of Lego®, founded the research department of the “Imagination Lab,” a Swiss think tank that published 74 research papers, numerous journal articles and four books between 2001 and 2006.

If you have stopped playing as an adult, you should start again now at the latest.

Conduct difficult conversations

by Susan Scott

Susan Scott is the master of positive change through powerful communication and author of Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. To be successful, you need to have difficult conversations at work (or even at home) using effective methods to get a message across – and get what you want.

In her book, Scott shows how you can:

  • Overcome obstacles to meaningful communication
  • Expand and enrich relationships with colleagues, friends, and family
  • Mehr Klarheit und besseres Verständnis schaffen
  • Deal with strong emotions – on both sides of the table
  • Connect with colleagues, clients and family on a deep level.

Watch the video below to learn more about how to successfully manage difficult conversations.

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT HAPPINESS

By Sabine Gromer

Happiness is an attitude toward the journey of life, not what you find at your destination.

That’s what happiness researcher and best-selling author Shawn Achor writes.

But what is happiness? And most importantly, how can we be happy and so, as researchers have proven, be 31% more productive than people who go through life with a negative or neutral mindset?

Happiness = a quality-of-life-increase

Happiness research, also known as positive psychology, has been dealing with the topic of happiness for years. Positive psychologists ask themselves how people, who are content and inwardly balanced, deal with difficult situations. What tools do such people have, and how do they manage to see a glass half-empty as a glass half-full? The answer, that ‘making’ happiness requires more than mere affirmations. You can’t achieve a positive attitude by chanting down “I-think-I’m-happy” mantras. Save yourself the trouble, happiness needs more.

The Pie Chart of Happiness

A study from the US found that about 50% of life satisfaction is due to genetics and 10% to external circumstances. Now, in the remaining 40% is the potential to manage our quality of life actively.

WHAT’S THE POINT OF HAPPINESS AT ALL?

Happiness is associated with lower heart rates and blood pressure. Happy people get sick less often, are better protected from stress because they release less cortisol. They are less prone to pain, dizziness, muscle tension, and heartburn, and overall, live longer. What’s more, happiness makes you successful. After all, with a positive attitude – as mentioned above – we are a whopping 31% more productive. Yet it doesn’t have to be “natural” happiness. We know that “experimental reinforcement” of positive emotions also equates to better results at work. People who are happy with their jobs are less likely to quit or take sick leave. In this regard, happiness and job performance are closely linked: happy people do better work, and people who do good work are more likely to be happy.

GOOD NEWS

The science is clear. We can increase our happiness levels by taking specific actions.

HOW DO YOU INCREASE HAPPINESS?

A list of my personal favourites for boosting happiness levels

Connect with people.

A Harvard University study conducted for over 80 years explains that interpersonal relationships are fundamental to happiness. This makes it all the more important to nurture your interpersonal relationships. Surround yourself with people who make you feel supported and loved. Nothing is more effective at increasing happiness.

Do good to others.

People who do good for others significantly increased their sense of happiness. So-called “random acts of kindness” – such as helping an old woman cross the street, giving someone a gift, etc. – lead to an increased release of oxytocin and dopamine, which boosts life satisfaction.

Use your strengths.

Find out what your strengths are – for example, using the CliftonStrengths Finder, and try to use them every day.

Gratitude Exercises.

Create a gratitude jar that you fill with notes and mementos of beautiful moments. Empty it at the end of a year and stick the contents in a book.

Practice mental hygiene.

Think for a moment about what helps you feel good. For me, it’s a piece of chocolate, nice music, or an episode of Pumuckl. Use these things to avoid descending into the deep valley of unhappiness and separate yourself from over-work.

Vision board.

At the end of each year, I create vision boards about how I want to feel in the new year. This strengthens inner alignment and provides moments of happiness.

Allow feelings.

Don’t push your feelings away – even if it can be hard to live through them now – you will feel better in the long run. So, allow them.

We are not born happy. We cannot buy happiness. But we have happiness in our hands, and we can shape it to lead us through life successfully. Work on it.

Good luck.

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Dignified Change

The Five paths to dignified transformation processes

Shortened Version

Changes are part of life and will accompany us from the cradle to our deathbed. Nothing stays as it is. Everything changes. That is the way of things. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in a new era of change. Everywhere there is a call for it, It must come quickly, and it must work. But hasty and ill-considered changes usually fail. In my view, the difference between  change that successfully supports us in our challenges – leading us down new, hopeful paths –  and  change that feeds on the old and the worn-outdepends to a great extent on whether dignity is the foundation of the change process.

Dignity is the key

Lasting change is, above all, inner work. It is necessary to recognize problems in advance and prepare to face difficulty. We may have to ask ourselves unpleasant questions and deal with the consequences of our personal decisions on surroundings, relationships, and work-life. Only when we have done this can effective change processes be set in motion. Everything but this type of prepared, dignified change are useless shams.

Because recognizing a problem and visualizing its consequences are not simple processes, we should ideally be accompanied by experts – often in the form of coaching. With an expert at our side – and dignity as a compass in our hands – leadership can be revolutionized to a standard suitable for the 21st century. Sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion, are necessary solutions to our biggest problem: the climate crisis.

How we can build on ourselves with dignity and thus grow beyond ourselves

All change processes are preceded by a vision or a wish. This is the beginning of the inner house building. Similar to architects, I ask three questions at the beginning of building a project:

The three qualities of change processes

From my experience in accompanying change processes, three qualities are essential for dignified change.

Appreciation

It is important to recognize and appreciate one’s own value as well as the value of others and their position. Appreciation should always be rooted in sincerity.

Interaction/Relationship

Ask yourself the following questions: What do my relationships look like? Are they secure? Do I have trust? Am I being seen and heard? Is my counterpart present in the decision making process? Are my boundaries being respected? Am I respecting the boundaries of others? Security of connections is of critical importance in one’s life, but also in change processes.

Inner Attitude

Inner attitude is about balance and perception – both towards myself and towards others. How do I see my counterpart? Smaller or bigger than me? How do I see myself towards others? Smaller or bigger than my counterpart? It is important to always meet each other at eye level, no matter in which position we see ourselves or others. Strengthening our inner attitude can set a lot in motion. But it always brings us to an inner (adult) place where our full resources are available to us.

The five pathways to dignified change

Since change is natural and we cannot avoid it anyway, it makes sense to accept it instead of fighting it – to change our attitude and, above all, to approach it with dignity.

In this way it is possible to

  • BE ACTIVE

Get actively involved in the change process. Think, what can I actively contribute? Find a place where you can actively contribute. Ask yourself, what do I want to keep? What do I want to change? What is the opportunity in doing so?

  • BREAK THE FORMULA

Even though we sometimes can’t control the event, we have power over our reaction to it. Often much more than we realize. It is this reaction of ours that has a decisive effect on the outcome. The event itself plays a subordinate role. Or to say it with the words of Viktor Frankl: Between stimulus and reaction there is a space. In this space we have the freedom and the power to choose our reaction.

  • CREATE A STORY

Think about what story you want to be a part of, how do you want your legacy to be remembered?. Then start writing it and living it. The story you writeis far more important than any story someone writes about you. Use the paradigm of a self-fulfilling prophecy! Tell stories that you would like to see turned into reality.

  • FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION

Listen to your intuition. Most of the time we know very well when a change is about to happen. The sooner we listen to our inner mood and give it space, the easier it will be for us to make a change. A walk or 5 minutes of silence a day can make you feel better and create space for your inner voice to sing.

  • DO

Don’t put off pending changes, uild necessary resources. DO nourish and recover from one change before tackling the next one, but don’t let this process drag on. Procrastination saps valuable energy.

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Let’s Singletask!

How the myth of multitasking robs us of time and energy every day

Shortened Version

In Michael Ende’s book, Momo, there exists the fantastical characters The Grey Gentlemen. They are tasked with stealing people’s time, slowly draining them of life. We’d like to steal that analogy for multitasking. Multitasking slowly robs us of our time, wasting away what might have been a productive day. In this article, we hope to finally put to rest the myth of multitasking. The truth is people are simply not capable of focusing on more than one task at a time.

Contrary to some expectations, the ability to multitask has very little to do with our gender. The human brain is simply not equipped for it. It has always been said that women are born with the ability to do countless things at the same time. Like a Hindu goddess with a hundred arms – they write emails, make phone calls, rock their children to sleep, and prepare lunch with a wooden spoon. However, this belief in the multitasking-woman harms us more than it helps us, because it puts women under pressure to perform the impossible. For people of all genders, multitasking does not lead to the desired goal. It doesn’t save time, nor is it effective. On the contrary, it costs us time every day, causing unnecessary stress and reducing our thinking power and mental health.

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Do you see yourself as living proof of successful multitasking?

Then try this: Memorize the following numbers – 27, 4, 13, and 1 – and simultaneously write an email to a business partner. You will most likely have one of two problems: either you don’t manage to write the email because your mind is stuck on memorizing the numbers or you forget the numbers but write an okay email. If you found yourself achieving one of these results, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Different multitasking tests conducted on a host of different individuals have all come to the same conclusion: multitasking doesn’t work.

Studies by psychologist David Strayer concluded that a total of 97.5 percent of people fail multitasking tests. Furthermore, they found that attempts to improve one’s multi-tasking ability have very little benefit. Further research by Stanford University even found that chronic multitaskers consistently achieve worse scores on aptitude tests than the occasional multitasker.

The reason for this: our short-term memory can only store between five and nine things at any given time. When we try to accomplish two different jobs at the same time, both of which require a certain level of concentration, we fail because our brain can’t concurrently store various different and complex sources of information into short-term memory without error. And if things are not stored in the short-term memory, they cannot be transferred to the long-term memory and are therefore not re-accessible at a later date.

The idea of multitasking often goes hand-in-hand with the mistaken belief that all tasks are equally important and therefore ought to be completed equally quickly. We try to pack more into the day than is possible instead of focusing on what is most important. Switching back and forth between tasks, our brain subconsciously chooses which information to process and which to ignore. If we are listening to something, our visual cortex will be less active. So if you’re on the phone and working on your computer at the same time, you’ll inevitably absorb less of what’s being said in the conversation.

So the fact is we suffer from a multitasking paradox: Instead of productivity, multitasking only creates an illusion of productivity.

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This graphic above is an impressive illustration of how much time we lose through interrupted and therefore unfocused work. Researchers estimate that we lose around one third of our working day by switching between different tasks in a semifocused manner. Calculated over the course of a workweek, that’s one and a half work days that we could have used productively if a focused methodology was applied.

6 steps to successful single-tasking

We won’t be able to reverse technological advances. But we can adopt certain strategies to help us avoid losing focus all the time. Here are six steps to improving your ability to single-task:


Step 1: Create calm before the storm

Take time for silence before each task. It doesn’t have to be long. One to three minutes is quite enough. And by silence, I mean complete stillness. Meditate on what you wish to engage with and reflect on potential distractions. That’s how we really focus in on the subject of our work. This is how we show appreciation for the task and the here-and-now. Thus, every one of my coaching sessions starts with a ritual of silence.


Step 2: Make a decision about what is really important

The most important skill for staying efficient and productive is prioritizing tasks. This goes hand in hand with saying goodbye to things that cost us too much time and energy while providing little benefit. Use the Pareto Rule, which I hold in high regard. According to this rule, 20% of your activities result in 80% of your success, just as 20% of your customers result in 80% of your revenue. So be selective in your choice of actions, but consistent in your implementation.

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Step 3: Do the most important thing first


You probably already know this, but we often like to put off things that are most important because they also cost us the most energy and time. Instead, we deal with tasks that are
easy to do, that don’t require much effort (checking emails, responding to texts, reading the news). But we must break away from this cycle. Always do the most important thing first. Not what comes easiest. Create a focused time slot – for example in the morning from 10-12 o’clock – in which you always do the most important task of the day. This creates immense relief and the rest of the day will flow without the nagging of a guilty conscience.


Step 4: Say NO and write a Don’t Do list

One of my favorite beliefs is: every no to the world is a yes to myself. This simple motto is a powerful prioritization tool. Only when we manage to say no to things that are less important to us can we fully focus on what really matters. Write a daily Don’t Do List with all the things you commit to not invest time into. In the evening, check off what you were
able to avoid doing and congratulate yourself on creating boundaries with your time.


Step 5: Schedule daily alone time


Block out some time for yourself each day to set your priorities, to meditate on your goals, and plan out how to make them happen. In this way, you can reset your focus and allocate your skills accordingly. We are often surrounded by people all day long resulting in a never-ending stream of conversations and stimuli that distracts us from our real work. If
we never have time to ourselves, it can be difficult to filter out irrelevant information and focus on what is really important. Such distractions in turn lead us to unnecessary multitasking and wasted time. This applies to both our personal and professional lives. Which is why it’s important to schedule time for ourselves on a regular basis.

Step 6: Tighten up your time, increase urgency, enjoy your impatience

We should take advantage of our inherent impatience when working, says author and leadership expert Peter Bregman. “Create unrealistically short deadlines,” Bregman writes for Harvard Business Review. “Cut all your meetings in half. Give yourself one-third of the time you think you need to accomplish something.” Because, the more time we have, the
more opportunity we have to put things off. We all know that when we’re pressed for time, we can activate almost unbelievable potential. Use this power. We also know by now that our attention drops after an average of 18 minutes. Accordingly, it also makes sense to move on to a new task after your attention begins to wane and to give the next task our full concentration.

So let’s finally bury the myth about multitasking and start to become wonderfully efficient single-taskers. Because in the desperate attempt to do a thousand things, with a hundred arms, we will only trip over our excessive limbs and fail to properly exploit our full potential. The secret of our success lies in prioritizing and focusing. Everything else only robs us of our time.

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Imposter Syndrome

The Struggle to Internalize Success
Part 1 of our Leadership Transition Series

Shortened Version

An Introduction

To begin this article, we’d like to reference an anecdote from famed author Neil Gaiman and his own experiences with imposter syndrome. On his blog, he writes:

„Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’

And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.“

To preface this article, we have to make a clear distinction between Imposter Syndrome and feelings of Imposterism. Although leadership language and articles often refer to ‘Imposter Syndrome’, this language is not precisely correct. What is often referred to as Imposter Syndrome is instead Feelings of Imposterism (FOI). Let us be clear:

Imposter Syndrome is a serious, psychological condition that is best handled by professional psychologists. Those with Imposter Syndrome suffer through chronic feelings of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of confidence (Gill Corkindale, 2008). It is also by no means uncommon, especially among the academic and business elite. It is estimated that between 25-30% of high-achieving individuals may suffer from Imposter Syndrome. If, after reading this article, you believe you might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome and not feelings of Imposterism – please seek professional help.

In a milder form, Feelings of Imposterism (FOI) on the other hand are much more common. A study conducted in 2011 found that almost 70% of all adults experience feelings of Imposterism at some point during their life (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011). So, it should not come as a surprise that many of our clients at MagnoliaTree – all of whom are senior executives and decision makers of strategy – suffer from this struggle to internalize success. What is surprising however, is how few of our clients know about FOI, its effects, and how to overcome it. This piece will focus heavily on the latter condition: temporary FOI associated with taking on new roles, transitioning to a new company, or during a period of crisis.

So, what is Imposter Synrome?

While many of the initial studies into imposter syndrome examined primarily women, contemporary research has revealed that imposter syndrome affects men and women equally and is likely associated with perfectionism. Recent studies suggest that between 25-30% of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome and around 70% of adults may experience Imposterism at least once in their lifetime. (Sakulku & Alexander, 2011) That is to say, FOI is by no means rare, and you should not feel alone or isolated by the experience.

FOI is especially prevalent as we take on new roles, or challenges. This is especially true during the current global pandemic, where many of us have had to transition into radically new work structures. In the words of Kets de Vries (2005), “To some extent, of course, we are all imposters. We play roles on the stage of life, presenting a public self that differs from the private self we share with intimates and morphing both selves as circumstances demand. Displaying a façade is part and parcel of the human condition.” Imposterism is a natural part of life and it should be treated as such. The feelings of inadequacy we face in new roles, or facing new challenges, can be overwhelming but are also often temporary. Fortunately, there are many proven methods of dealing with Imposterism revealed by psychologists and experienced professionals exploring Imposter Syndrome.

The unintended consequence of Imposter Syndrome and Imposterism

The psychological consequences of Imposter Syndrome can be severe. Although Imposter Syndrome is not an official psychological diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is often associated with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism.

Both Imposter Syndrome and Imposterism can also have significant motivational and performance consequences in the workplace. FOI sufferers internalize failure a lot more than positive feedback. They undervalue wins, while overvaluing failures. FOI can lead to a vicious cycle of perfectionism, wherein the subject strives for perfection and as a result drags out deadlines. These delays raise concerns amongst leadership, which is then internalized by the sufferer finds themself facing greater self-doubt which in turn fuels even higher levels of perfectionism leading to a downward spiral.

How to deal with Feelings of Imposterism

Here is a compiled list of methods by which you can resolve FOI:

  • The first step, and perhaps most important, is to recognize that you are experiencing imposter feelings. From there onward, you can consider how to deal with these feelings.
  • Seek support. Needing help is natural, everything doesn’t have to be done alone. A coach and a mentor are great pathfinders in helping you navigate through these emotions. A simple step to alleviating feelings of Imposterism is to talk. Seek out your coach, mentors, friends, and family and explain the situation. Often, getting the issue off your chest can help take off some of the anxiety and pressure you are experiencing.
  • The next step is to contextualize the imposter feelings you are facing, ideally together with a trusted advisor. Have you experienced a new challenge, and new career, or some other shift that is causing these feelings of Imposterism? What is the source of these feelings? Feeling useless right now is not the same as being useless.
  • If the source of your Imposterism is a failure, reframe your experience as a learning opportunity. Be kind to yourself. Mistakes are normal, especially in a new and challenging environment. Use your failures as a chance to grow.
  • Lastly, seek ongoing feedback and support. Don’t attempt to do everything by yourself, especially in a new position. This will only result in feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the situation, which can intensify the feeling of being an ‘imposter’.

For people leaders in the workplace, here are additional opportunities to institute organization wide programs to deal with FOI:

  • Consider instituting a program to help others deal with their own feelings of Imposterism. Both California Technology and MIT have instituted programs to debunk myths about belonging and help students to identify Imposter Syndrome tendencies. Many universities include counseling workshops to help students identify their strengths, deal with failures, and understand perfectionism to set more reasonable expectations for themselves (Cokely, 2013). Consider doing the same in your office.
  • Huffstutler and Varnell (2004) also encourage the development of peer group programs, mentoring opportunities, and identification of organizational expectations, especially those that produce high levels of anxiety.
  • They also recommend instituting a system of mentors to help new employees and long-term employees alike adapt to new challenges.
  • Other recommendations have included the implementation of multifaceted structured feedback systems (Cogner & Fulmer, 2004),

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Rituals for a New Year

Farewells & New Beginnings
3 Rituals to end the year and refocus yourself for the year ahead.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The german Rauhnächte have their origin in pre-Christian times and traditionally, they last 12 nights. Usually, these whimsical days are taking place in the period between Christmas and Epiphany. In some regions, they begin at the winter solstice and end with the new year. They are deeply mystical and dominated by ancient superstitions. But you don’t have to be spiritual to make these days work for you. For me, these days are a time to recharge, reflect on the past, connect and focus on the new year.I’d like to share three useful rituals with you.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

― Warren Bennis

We wish you every success in doing so and, above all, a Happy New Year.

Ritual 1: VisionBoard
What is Your Vision For the New Year? And How can you make it come True?

A vision board is a collage of images, pictures, and affirmations of your dreams and desires to serve as a source of inspiration and motivation. But above all, it is an incredibly powerful tool for achieving one’s goals. Sabine Gromer, founder of MagnoliaTree, has been making annual vision boards for ten years now and says: “I am amazed at how powerful it is in manifesting goals. Almost everything I’ve included in my collages has come true, albeit sometimes in unexpected ways.”

STEP 1: ALIGNMENT – AN EXERCISE

Focus for the New Year

  • Which 10 goals make it onto your priorities list for the new year?
  • Reduce the list to 5.
  • This may hurt: Review it again, and now cut it down to 3.
  • why are the remaining 3 so key?
  • Now circle the most important goal of the 3. This represents the essence of your new year.

STEP 2: Divide the board into segments

Divide the vision board, if you want, into nine areas. Define your 3 most important goals for the year in each area.

STEP 3: The Visionboard

Hang the finished vision board in a place where it is easily and regularly visible. Leave it there all year. At the end of the year, reflect. What has changed? What desires and qualities have you been able to fulfill and live? Finally, give thanks for all you have achieved.

Ritual 2: Make a mental movie
Become the director of your own life

Make a mental movie. Why? Dr. Srini Pillay demonstrates that there is undeniable evidence that imagining motion stimulates areas in the brain that coincide with said motion. This technique has been successfully used by both stroke patients and top athletes to stimulate muscle control.

Your imagination functions as the brain’s “warm up” routine. It can help to “jump-start” your brain. This technique can be especially helpful if you find yourself procrastinating or facing mental blocks. A mental movie is an incredible motivator and a useful map for the brain. It helps you find your way to achieving and exceeding your goals.

Ritual 3: Your Written reflections
What is really important to me? And what do I need to change?

The holidays before the end of the year are an ideal time to do some simple but powerful reflection and refocusing. Take some time, grab a notebook, and work through the following sets of questions covering 4 areas of your life: Values, Achievements, Learning and Relationships.  

Values

Our values and our actions are often two sides of the same coin. Work towards an awareness of what is important to you and reflect on how you are spending your time in relation to those ideals.

Questions about the outgoing year:
What values did I live?
Did I have to bend them?
What will I never bend to do?

Questions about the coming year:
What are my true core values?
How can I live them more?
How much am I willing to give (up?) to live them?

Goals

Your accomplishments are the most tangible evidence of your progress. This is especially true in a professional context. What did you accomplish this year? What didn’t you accomplish? What do you want to accomplish?

Questions about the outgoing year:
What did I accomplish this year?
How satisfied am I with it?
Why am I satisfied or not satisfied with it?

Now do the Preliminary exercise – Alignment I as in the section on the vision board.

Learning

Everything in nature grows or dies – growth is the essence of our life. Even more so, growth gives us purpose. We grow and develop constantly, whether we are aware of it, or not. Why not give yourself deliberate learning goals for the new year?

Questions about the outgoing year:
What did I learn about myself?
How satisfied/dissatisfied am I with it?
How can I use what I have learned?

Questions about the coming year:
What do I need to learn in the coming year to achieve my goals?
Who or what can support me in this?
What does my learning plan look like?

Relationships

Your relationships – both personal and professional – have a huge impact on your well-being and ultimately what you can achieve. This is what Positive Psychology posits. And we find it to be true. Did you nurture your relationships with those that you care about? Did you form new relationships?

Questions about the outgoing year:
Who took up most of my time this year?
Why?
How do I feel about this when I see who I prioritized?

Questions about the coming year:
Who are the top five people I want to spend the most time with?
Who of these people do I want to prioritize?
Which relationships do I want to let rest?

Books for Leaders

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

While Oluo’s book is a hard look at systemic (American) racism through the author’s personal anecdotes and research, it is broadly applicable to racism in all walks of life. The book includes direct feedback and instruction on how to approach racism in conversation with others, in your own subconscious, and in systems at large. It can be difficult to look inwards and recognize the inherent biases we have, but “So You Want to Talk About Race” is a handbook towards profound reflection and future action.

Amid global uproar over the veiling of systematic racism, no other book could be more topical.

Become an #antiracist.
The leadership book of this week is “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

#grit – firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger

In her book, Angela Duckworth explores the quality of grit as a true measure of #success over talent.
She uses case studies to explore how grit can be found in the lives of our leaders, athletes, and elite students.

After explaining the importance of grit, Duckworth shows how we can foster it in our lives and through this nurturing become more passionate and resilient people.

This book is a great read for #leaders, but is useful to anyone, regardless of their field.
“Transitions” by William Bridges
This book is an essential read for anyone in a position of leadership to better understand the transitions they face in their private lives and in their business ventures.

“A dozen little endings, hardly noticed in the day-to-day rush, plunge us into little wildernesses; and a dozen little beginnings take shape in the confusion.” – William Bridges

While his book primarily focuses on personal transitions, many of his insights and suggestions are deeply interrelated with organizational transitions and #businesstransitions.

Bridges begins his book by identifying what is a transition and giving all transitions a general structure.
1. An Ending
2. A Neutral Zone
3. A New Beginning

He also makes a key distinction between #change and transitions: change is situational, while transitions are psychological.

The book then explores examples of transitions in both private and work life.

Bridges ends by ruminating that with every ending, a dozen new #beginnings emerge.
„21 Lessons for the 21st century“ by @YuvalNoahHarari

Since knowledge is a valuable resource and value driver for leaders, we decided that this book must be on the list for our #LeadersBookClub. #Leaders have to be able to make well-informed and well-considered decisions from multiple perspectives. This book offers a broad picture of key future trends which any leader should reflect on.

Yuval Harari in his usual storytelling writing style provides us with a significant amount of information on current subjects such as A.I., data and the privacy concerns that come along, global issues, fake news and so many other challenges we are about to face as human race. Through his work the well-known historian manages to start a pressing global conversation.

This fascinating book pieces together a series of essays – some of them also published in different newspapers like @NZZ or @NYTimes – and has the purpose of confronting the author’s fears about the present. Overall the 21 chapters cover topics like new #work, nationalism, religion, education or immigration. Here and there the author offers pieces of advice, including tipps for dealing with #fakenews news or fighting terrorism.

„The one thing“ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Everyone craves for something – for some it might be time, for others it could be #success. In times of crisis the constant #change disrupts people’s expectations of the future. This book guides you into adopting a #leadership #mindset and helps finding the one thing that delivers extraordinary results.

“What’s THE ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” is the main question the The New York Times best-selling authors are focusing on.

Beside the journey of finding your one thing, their work also teaches you about productivity, the importance of setting yourself up for big goals or having a schedule. Although both authors support the idea of creating a habit, they speak against the „myth of a balanced life“: „The reason why we should not pursue balance is that magic happens, not in the middle, but in the extremes“.

In addition to the book you can get help in forming your first power #habit on Geoff Woods’ official website. As the VP of The One Thing states, their mission is to teach people how to live a life of focus so you can have more by doing less.

Have you already found your one thing? If so, let us know in the comment section below.
„The power of habit“ by Charles Duhigg

In the middle of the COVID-19 #crisis, many of us find ourselves in unusual situations. Plenty are working from home facing a host of new challenges such as falling from our usual routines. In these situations, it is essential to maintain awareness of both the habits we have lost and the new habits we are forming to preserve a healthy balance of social and physical activity.

In his book, Duhigg explores the #routines that drive on average between 40-45% of our daily decisions. The author focuses on #research studies that reveal the realities of forming and breaking habits. Crucial to this understanding is “the habit loop.” He explains that every #habit loop begins with a CUE, which starts a practiced action (the ROUTINE), ending with a REWARD.

C. Duhigg teaches us through his work that in order to break a habit, we need to preempt the cues and rewards associated with it. We can do this by premeditating how we will respond to a specific cue with a specific response. To learn more about the intricacies of habit breaking and forming, we recommend acquiring a copy of the #book.

Have you picked up any good habits during the #pandemic? If so, please let us know in the comment section below.

“Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath

“Strengths Finder 2.0” accentuates a novel way to celebrate diversity by helping people understand their individual #strengths and how to use these to their advantage.

Based on years of research and studies, Gallup together with Tom Rath introduced the #CliftonStrenghts test and the book as a guide. 177 questions and approximately 30 minutes later you get the results. A list of 34 unique strengths that a person can possess, five of which tend to dominate one‘s talents. Once complete, you get pages worth of tasks, ideas and suggestions on how to best lead your life and career.

This is not a book. It’s a tool to foster #success and #self-fulfillment. Having said that, we would like to recommend the book to everyone but especially to #managers, #leaders or just in general to people working in teams since knowing each other’s strengths is a must in the work field. Similar to the author’s ideas, we also believe that opposing strengths can lead to the strongest #partnerships.

My top three strengths are Deliberative, Futuristic and Relator. What are your top strengths? Please let us know in the comment section below.
„Leading Change“ by John Kotter

What can we do to have a better chance to implement change?

The retired #HarvardBusinessSchool Professor of #Leadership comes up with an 8-step-process that can help any organization to lead in an everchanching world. According to him, all organizations that go through a change process should have a clear image of how the future will look like and leaders determined to get there.

I summarized here what I believe to be the most important of his teachings:
– If leaders do not convey a great sense of urgency, most likely no change will happen.
– Change can be considered a success when a critical mass of individuals adjusts so that the rest follows.
– Integrating employees into existing systems and cultures is a lot simpler than asking them to change.
– Staying flexible is essential, since no plan can be perfect.
– Last but not least: prevent regressive behavior! One should make sure the right systems, procedures and processes are in place so that going back to the old way is impossible.

There is no shortcut for change management. As the author advises, leaders should take it step by step or better said: one person at a time.

What do you think is the most important thing when trying to implement change?