Therapists' lockdown advice for founders
Author: Will Allen-Mersh, Partner at Spill
Extended remote working and restrictions on socialising look set to continue over winter, making it more difficult to lead a team and motivate others whilst also staying mentally healthy yourself. What advice do the experts on emotions have for founders and business owners?
Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others
As a business owner, it's all too easy to fill your day constantly worrying about how people on your team are doing. Are clients happy? Has the new joiner settled in? Do managers need more training to adapt to remote work? Good leadership requires empathy, yes, but also good boundaries. Giving all of your energy to others leaves you drained and ultimately less effective. Some words from the safety announcement you hear before the aeroplane takes off are apt here: "Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others." Making time for yourself — whether that means a morning coffee break, a lunchtime run, or a hard stop for dinner — ultimately gives you the energy to better support and motivate your teams.
Encourage self (and group) efficacy among your teams
Self and group efficacy are one of the five elements of psychological first aid, an approach for helping people in the emotional aftermath of a crisis. Psychological first aid recognises a fundamental paradox: a person in crisis often feels powerless, but by stepping in and helping them you essentially further their own powerlessness. One of the core tenets of psychological first aid, also a phrase commonly repeated among care home staff, is not to do anything for people that they can do themselves. This doesn't mean having no empathy; far from it, in fact. The 'help' you give should predominantly take the form of active listening, understanding and empowerment. It doesn't need to involve you fixing things for them. As humans, we have a tendency to leapfrog straight to solutions when often what people most want is simply to be understood. When managing teams through a difficult time, remind them of what they can do (not what they can't), the personal strengths they have, and the resources at their disposal — both literal and relational.
Make life decisions based on 'enlargement', not happiness
Being a founder means having to make important decisions, both in work and in life more generally. Sadly, as humans, we often don't make great choices by instinct, being easily swayed by our natural desires for immediacy or control or completion. We think we know what makes us happy, but we're actually pretty poor at predicting it: above $75,000 annual income per household our emotional wellbeing doesn't actually increase any further, according to research by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton. Concertedly thinking about a decision through the lens of "will this enlarge me or diminish me?" — rather than "will this make me happy?" — provides a better starting point for a rich internal dialogue. It forces you to think about long-term personal growth rather than short-term personal ease. It makes complacency harder to accidentally fall into. And it makes continued reappraisal and renewal start to become muscle memory.
Spill is a mental health startup on a mission to rid the world of unnecessary emotional pain. See Spill's guide to preventing burnout in startups for advice on how to help teams avoid this common issue.