I walked into work today listening to a podcast with Bob Iger, the Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. A fascinating man whose career would make any aspiring leader envious, I was taken by two particular areas he talked to. The first was the Japanese philosophy, kaizen 改善, or the relentless pursuit of unattainable perfection. Many of you may know what this is but it was an enlightening concept for me. Over the years, ‘trying hard’ (or as Dr Tim Cantopher calls it, ‘the curse of the strong’) has been both a North Star and a Black Hole in my career. Iger talked about this phenomenon in the positive sense, that it wasn’t about trying to be a perfectionist, but rather that accepting a mediocre state of play isn’t doing you or your colleagues any favours. It’s not delightful to coast and it doesn’t inspire those looking up to you. The second point he covered was the concept of fearlessness and how he felt blessed with an inability to feel fear. He is convinced that it is this, together with his belief that you can’t lead if you’re a pessimist, that has helped him succeed in his career.
This World Mental Health Day (WMHD), I’m struck by how pessimism, fear and the curse of trying too hard have all contributed to my struggle with mental wellbeing over the years. The magical ingredients sprinkled on Bob Iger’s brain sadly haven’t reached mine. Enter years of learning coping mechanisms to try be more glass half full around my colleagues, to not beat myself up when I fail, and to cope with fear: the fear of putting myself into extrovert situations day in and day out when I’d much rather hide.
When MullenLowe salt’s social mission team – whose purpose it is to drive positive change in the mental health among our employees and beyond – sat down to talk about what we’d do to celebrate WMHD, we landed on the topic of ‘certain uncertainty’. You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice that the new normal is change every day; at work, in politics, or indeed to our physical environment. We talked about how unsettling this can be for salties (as we affectionately call our colleagues) to feel their once solid ground shaken, to not instinctively know the answers or how to cope when every day seems to bring nothing but change.
In this climate, clients are understandably becoming more short-term in their financial commitments with agencies. The result is more short-term project than long-term retainer work, which can be exciting and refreshing to the optimistic, but to the more cautious, this can induce genuine fear. Furthermore, MLsalt is filled with nationals from around the world so the B-word brings extra uncertainty, not to mention the fear of being unwelcome on this beautiful island; one that on the whole celebrates differences – well at least in my echo chamber!
So this WMHD, ML salt settled on the theme of ‘The Art of Thrival: how to thrive in this certain uncertain world.’ salties passionately took part in co-creating a video of tips they adopt when they feel uncertain to share with others; we created a Wall of Wellbeing to help salties access coping tools and mechanisms to feel more stable; we launched Thoughtful Thursdays to equip salties with moments of mindfulness, escaping from the scary. I’ll be hosting a panel event at MadWorld Summit, with M&S, FarFetch and HSBC among others to talk about the practical stuff: evidence of what successful companies are doing to help underpin their mental health talk with long term programmes for driving change.
And it’s not just happening in the workplace. My son’s school this week announced a series of activities on WMHD to educate young minds around mental health. If our schools and 8 year olds can figure it out – how to talk about what is fearful, uncertain and not so positive – I’m sure we can too. WMHD is one day in the calendar year where the spotlight is shone on this taboo. Wouldn’t it be great if we made this less of a one day wonder, a ‘mentalwash’ extravaganza, and more of a longer term commitment to take the fear out of supporting open cultures in the workplace, the pessimist tag away from those who perhaps are struggling with coping day to day, and the pursuit of better in an area that quite frankly should be a no brainer?
Here’s to a kaizen World Mental Health Day, wishing you all well and a better pursuit of mental fitness.