Do You Understand the Impact of Your Leadership?

April 06, 2023
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

Many years ago, I was told that the person you report to at work can be more important to your health than your family doctor.

I was taken aback when the person told me, but as with so many other things we’ve learned over the years, I sadly wasn’t surprised.

That finding came from the research of Dr. Casey Chosewood, the Director of the Office for Total Worker Health at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Chosewood spoke to us at length on our podcast about his research in 2020.

Just recently, we have seen more research that backs up this claim.

Forbes recently published an article detailing the results of a new study by The Workforce Institute at UKG which included 3,400 people across 10 countries, “Managers Have Major Impact On Mental Health: How To Lead For Wellbeing.”

“According to 69% of people,” it says, “their managers had the greatest impact on their mental health, on par with the impact of their partner. And this was more than the impact of their doctor (51%) or therapist (41%).”

The article detailed several other findings from this study:

  • 43% of employees report they are exhausted, and 78% say stress negatively impacts their work performance.
  • 71% say stress at work negatively impinges on their home life, 64% say it detracts from their wellbeing and 62% say it degrades their relationships.
  • However, when people have positive mental health, 63% say they are committed to their work and 80% say they’re energized.
  • A third of people say their manager fails to recognize their own impact on others’ wellbeing.

It also offers recommendations for leaders, similar to things written on this blog for many years:

  • Emphasize empathy because it’s the right thing to do, and because it has positive impacts on innovation, engagement and retention.
  • When people feel a connection to purpose and a bigger picture, they tend to feel better about their work as well. Remind people about the vision and mission of the organization and be clear about how their work matters.
  • Be sure you’re giving people opportunities to learn and develop. Ask them what they want in their current roles and in their next role.
  • Empower people with as much choice as possible in where, when and how they work. Give them control over the projects they work on and the way they get things done.

This realization that your leader can have such a profound affect on your life – even more profound than the doctor you choose and trust with your health and the health of your family – is so important. It represents the awesome responsibility of leadership.

It represents the need for better leadership.

It represents the need for leaders who have the courage to care because the impact of that leader has such an affect on the whole of a person’s life. Not just from the so-called “9 to 5” hours when you are able to shake the workday off and go home. How you are treated in the workplace (virtual or in person) affects every aspect of our lives.

On a recent podcast, Jennifer Wallace, an author and writer who has written a book on mattering in children and adults, detailed her observations of our BW Papersystems facility in Phillips WI. She said:

The stresses of work, of feeling depleted at the end of the day, of wondering, what is my impact here? Do I have an impact? Do I have a voice? Ruminating about office politics, who doesn't have my back, where's my psychological safety? All of these things come home with a parent, and then they have to go and be there as first responders. As one of the researchers that I emailed said, parents are first responders to their kids. To be a first responder, you have to have your support. So, when I think about the alignment between what you guys have done and my work, is that you are giving parents the skills in the office to support each other. You are giving communities the skills to re-village their communities so that parents are not one-person villages, that parents can go home to their kids, be there with the epidemic levels of anxiety, stress, suicide ideation that the kids are feeling today, and parents have the resources, because they are no longer villaging alone, to actually be there and a source of true support for their child in a way that you cannot do it if you are depleted. You cannot do it. You cannot do it…

We are not made to go through life alone. Our bodies are made to co-regulate each other. And that's what these offices do. They help you co-regulate to get back into a nice equilibrium before you walk in the door and your kid hits you with whatever is upsetting them for the day, that you have the resources now to help. You have the energy. Like that mother I met who works as an engineer, she can come home to her newborn baby and have the energy to give to that baby, to be responsive.

Before you went to college, got a degree, got a job and got promoted to “manage” others, I doubt you thought much about the weight of responsibility that would eventually be on your shoulders. Most people don’t.

They appreciate getting promoted because, often, it’s a recognition of hard work. They like receiving more money in their paycheck. They like the status. They like having an office.

There’s not anything necessarily wrong with any of those things. You can still be a good person and enjoy one or more of these things. But how many times do those with an “upward career trajectory” take into account the awesome responsibility of their leadership over the status and material things it brings?

So many threads have been lost as we look at the history of business and capitalism. Maybe the true responsibility of leadership and its ripple effect was never really a thread to begin with, but now that we’ve realized its tremendous importance, wouldn’t now be the time to pick it up?

There is a quote by Maya Angelou that is very important to me: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

Leaders, we know better. The research is clear. The way we lead impacts the way people live. The way leaders have been leading – good and bad – has had a tremendous impact on the people within our span of care, their families and society at large.

I often say that business could be a powerful force for good if it only cared about the lives it touched. The evidence can’t be any more compelling.

I’ll end with another quote from the above referenced Forbes article about how we can begin to do better:

Leaders can make big impacts by tuning in, listening and demonstrating empathy and compassion. The stakes are high, but the chances of success are also high, when leaders are intentional about doing their best.

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