At thirty-five years of age, when he was the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Philip J. Burgières was a beacon of success. Two decades later, having built billion dollar companies in the oil sector, his protective wall shielding the world from seeing the clinical depression plaguing his daily existence came crashing down. When he checked into a rehabilitation facility the company’s stocks plummeted by 10 percent.
It’s often been said that without our physical health we can become stagnant, but we have the benefit of our minds still being sharp. We can still communicate to ask for the help we need. However, without good mental health, the consequences can be catastrophic. Emotional and cognitive darkness can proliferate into a black fog that pervades several areas of your life, not just the professional.
But a chance conversation with an acquaintance, John Sage -- football professional turned real estate entrepreneur -- enlightened Burgières that he was far from alone in his experience. They became each other’s confidante. Their friendship was forged in stone as the two men shared their fears, disappointments, failures and tragic experiences throughout all aspects of their lives, not just business. From that point onward, each became a support to the other.
Burgières continued to achieve monumental business success. He became a highly sought-after advisor to many other CEOs and led the charge on being more outspoken about his illness and struggles particularly in the context of entrepreneurship and business. Despite his passing in 2016, Burgières left behind a legacy of putting a spotlight on the extreme suffering this rare breed of leaders endure in their plight, one which most of us cannot fathom.
What research says about the entrepreneurial mind.
Research by psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman, who specializes in working with mental health issues and illness in business and entrepreneurship, showed that 49 percent of the 242 entrepreneurs reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions. Also, entrepreneurs were more likely to report a lifetime of depression (30 percent), attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (29 percent), bipolar spectrum disorder (12 percent) and substance abuse (11 percent).
Freeman’s results alone should make us realize taking a remedial approach to our mental health is prehistoric. The very combination of traits which propel CEOs to the top can also plunge them into darkness. When you’ve climbed so high, you have further to fall. You simply can’t afford to be reactionary anymore.
You are the key asset. Only you have the power to engage strategies that improve your mental health are in place to help you meet the challenges of leading your business and/or team to success.
1.) Seek a mental health specialist in executive leadership.
We’d all love to have a Dr. Michael Freeman at our beck and call. In fact, you can. You just need to proactively search for one whose approach is both remedial and forward-thinking. Find a practitioner who can help you not just regain your previous level but support you to surpass it.
You want an expert who can demonstrate familiarity with the complexity of demands, pressure and issues you face as a business leader.
All areas of your life are linked and overlap in some way or another like the workings of a watch: turn one cog and all the others turn. Similarly, do initial analyses of your mental and emotional strengths, weakness, threats and opportunities not just as they relate to your business or role as a leader but how they pervade all other areas of your life.
Your combined mission should be to better recognize your capability and identify thresholds for managing challenging situations and people. Forget your fantasies of overnight changes and you’ll discover an untapped, more permanent resourcefulness and resilience you never knew.
Regardless of whether you’re in charge of a mass empire or are a solo entrepreneur start-up, invest the effort to get very familiar with yourself. You’ll discover all your traits function as both strengths and weaknesses.
Develop the courage to identify and admit your vulnerabilities. It’s often in facing the deepest darkness that opens your eyes to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
2.) Protect and optimize your physical health.
Research has indicated many times over that exercise alone can improve mental fitness beyond what anti-depressants can. Give your body the best chance you can to support you physically and mentally for the challenges you have chosen. Working for hours on end is not noble, nor is boasting you can function on four or five hours sleep a night.
You are an elite athlete of the business world. Fuel your body wisely, like such an athlete. Train like one by working with personal trainers, massage therapists and nutritionists. Listen to what your body is telling you. Hear its messages, monitor its energy and turn attention to discomfort and pain. You are getting strong clues that there is an imbalance that needs to be restored. Given your responsibilities, you cannot afford to ignore them.
3.) Find someone you can support.
Success in terms of our mental health comes in giving. A study led by Professor Tristen Inagaki and Professor Naomi Eisenberger found reduced stress responses in individuals who were supporting others as well as in those who were receiving the support.
Turning your focus outward -- without your own agenda -- to help someone else in need can reap incredible benefits for your own mental health. It also does not have to involve someone or a project relevant to your current plight. It can be even more beneficial if it’s not because it’s not about you. It’s purely about helping someone else with what’s important to them.
Prioritize being in a partnership which entails such a structure where you can both give and receive support, either within your business or external to your business. Not doing so robs you of satiating nourishment that can catalyze improved mental health to help you reach new levels of business success.
In becoming your own mental health management expert, don’t be surprised to see yourself achieving success beyond what you thought possible with a far greater sense of purpose and satisfaction. Burgières turnaround success is a prime example of just that.