9 min read
This article has been translated from our English edition.
The opinions of the employees of You are personal.
I met Jake * two years ago when overwhelming fear drove him to therapy. Jake was the founder and CEO of an early startup. He built it from scratch and worked tirelessly to scale the business, often at the expense of his own mental and physical health. Jake seldom exercised and mostly ate what he could find in the corner shop. He also hated asking for help.
Jake believed that his ability to figure things out for himself was a superpower and considered it a source of pride. But it was also his Achilles heel. There is a unique psychology for founders and entrepreneurs: Often the very things that make them successful in this business are their downfall, if not checked. And crises accelerate this process.
About six months before meeting Jake, his company lost a lot of money to a small group of important people. This wasn’t exactly Jake’s fault, but he felt deeply responsible. The company’s morale plummeted, bad press poured in, and Jake didn’t sleep for months.
His fear became so debilitating that he found it difficult to do the job he knew he had to do to fix it. This made him more anxious, which made the problem worse. When Jake got to my office, both his health and his company were on the verge of collapse.
Mental health can propel or slow business
Jake’s situation isn’t unique. Throughout my practice, I’ve seen hundreds of clients who were in a similar position and held together long enough to keep moving forward.
What most founders fail to realize is that being sane is like making sure you have a full gas tank. Many startup founders typically wait until they run out of gas to stop, charge, and recharge. The problem is that if they run into an unexpected detour or an obstacle on the road, they break the engine or, worse, permanently damage it.
A year of the COVID-19 pandemic and long-term economic ramifications are upon us. As a clinical psychologist specializing in founders and entrepreneurs, I worry about all of the Jakes and Janes who haven’t made it into a therapist’s office, but probably should. Not just for your business, but for all of us who need business to continue to thrive in these dangerous times.
Studies show that 72% of entrepreneurs have mental health problems, but a similar proportion of entrepreneurs are currently not in therapy. Although at my company, Coa, the number of employee mental health planning requests has increased by 900%, the founders who brought us in generally don’t attend when we run the workshops.
That’s a problem. In times of persistent uncertainty, psychological problems at the entrepreneurial level can lead to unstable leadership, a lack of freedom of choice and a lack of trust. Executives often fail to create spaces for community, belonging and play, critical traits for individuals and companies to be resilient when faced with problems of their own. This struggle at the top negatively affects morale, retention, motivation, performance, productivity and production, and creates negative associations.
Harrison Metal’s Michael Dearing said, “There’s a lot of money in technology and more than enough talent. The real clue founders typically forego is the ability to handle the grinding of gears that is required for the life of the startup. “
But Jake’s way isn’t the only way to do things.
The problem of being stoic
Let me tell you about another customer, Sam. As a child, Sam grew up in a military family that insisted that hard work was important and that problems came right away. His main mantra was “dealing with it”. Sam took pride in his ability to weather difficult times. After college, Sam started a tech company that grew rapidly. But after dealing with a difficult experience at work, his girlfriend urged him to try therapy where he met me.
Working with Sam started slowly. It was difficult for him to allow me to help. But Sam was adamant. Over time, Sam realized that his ability to “deal with” was both a strength and an obstacle. He was beginning to allow himself to see how lonely and overwhelming it felt at times, pretending that everything would be fine when it wasn’t. And when he was a little more comfortable trusting me, he also more trusting his team at work.
Sam’s performance and endurance improved along with his care. She stopped sacrificing sleep for work, started delegating things that weren’t her strong suit, took light morning meditations, and gave up the habit of typing her phone as soon as she woke up. He found a trainer who held him accountable for his fitness and began treating his therapy / self-employment time as sacred.
Then came the pandemic. It became clear that everything in Sam’s company had to change overnight. The only way to survive was to turn around completely and it would be a lot of work.
When the crisis hit, however, Sam was disenchanted with the idea that he could change everything himself. Instead, he relied on the idea that seeking support is not a sign of weakness and that the results will get better as more people collaborate and work on it. Sam now had the energy, both physical and mental, to weather the storm. He crashed into a barricade with a full gas tank and had the energy to change route. This made a difference in the world.
Sam focused his emotional energy on the present. He wasn’t worried about layoffs before they had to happen. He wasn’t worried that the company would fail before it failed. Where Jake was overwhelmed by all of this, Sam turned to his co-workers, investors, and looked for ideas to solve the problems at hand.
Sam’s company is coping well with the pandemic. The team’s morale is strong and trust in the company is high. Sam brought in resources to support the team’s mental health and opened his virtual door to listen to staff’s fears instead of walking away. This, in turn, has helped make business decisions. His team had no significant layoffs.
Resilient founders are not born, they train
By investing in key areas of their lives, founders can develop emotional fitness the same way a bodybuilder works a six pack. By investing in 7 key traits that keep showing up in emotionally healthy leaders: Self-confidence, empathy, willingness to play, curiosity, mindfulness, resilience, effective communication, A founder who started his career as Jake can become Sam. And that’s exactly what happened to Jake and Sam. You are the same person. I first saw Jake after the crisis his company faced and we worked together for two years before the pandemic broke out. His ability to deal with this unexpected crisis, which ended up being much worse than the first, was a remarkable change. His development and how he saved his company is a testament to the importance of proactive mental health work.
And it is a job that many founders fail at the expense of many others.
Business and work are not only the backbone of our economy, they also determine the quality of our lives. And when founders neglect their emotional talents, they have a negative impact on society.
When emotionally fit founders set up an emotionally fit company that attracts emotionally fit employees who develop emotionally fit products, the benefits are exponential.
As we enter another period of stress, uncertainty, and rapid change, it is time for the founders to take a step back, evaluate their fuel tank, and invest in building their mental and emotional health supplies. The only way to travel into an uncertain future is with a full tank of fuel.
* The patient data has been changed to protect confidentiality.