A while back, after a much-needed vacation, I scheduled some time for writing and research. During this time, my interaction with my coaching and training clients was limited to text and phone conversations.
About 10 days into this period, I noticed something unusual.
I was starting to get a little down. Not an all-out depression, but I was noticing something declining in my overall mood. I felt like I was sinking. Nothing bad happened, really. In fact, I had just come off a very restful vacation and had plenty of work to accomplish.
Nonetheless, there it was; the feeling of not having enough connections that sustain love for my work.
A lifeline is defined as "a rope or line used for life-saving, typically one thrown to rescue someone in difficulties in water or one used by sailors to secure themselves to a boat." Things can happen to us in our lives that give us a similar feeling of sinking or being stuck. If we don’t have some help to secure us, we can begin to feel alone and hopeless.
From time to time, we all need a lifeline of care and compassion from others.
BASIC HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY
It is fairly common knowledge amongst psychologists that the feeling of isolation can be a key determinant for a wide range of human ailments, from depression all the way through to premature death.
The Wall Street Journal reported there are very few public health initiatives to combat loneliness, even though this state of being is riskier to “health and survival than cigarette smoking or obesity.”
Loneliness a bigger health risk than smoking or being overweight?
If loneliness is a bigger health risk than cigarette smoking and obesity, then perhaps it is something we as leaders should pay closer attention to. Are there people in our sphere of influence that need a lifeline?
IMPACT ON LEADERSHIP
A very insightful study was published last October in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers wanted to know the impacts and categories of social contact or lack thereof, that might predict clinical depression. In studying over 11 thousand people over the age of 50, the scientists found that only face-to-face interaction forestalled depression in older adults. Phone calls made a difference to people with a history of mood disorders but not to anyone else. Email and texts had no impact at all.
The lifeline that people need, according to this study, is face-to-face interaction
In the study, the frequency of gathering with friends and family—or not—was the key. What’s more, the researchers discovered the more in-person contact the less likely that depression would occur in the future. Participants who had minimal social contacts had the highest depressive symptom rate, while those who connected with people in person at least three times a week had the lowest. It would seem that the more people gather in person, the better off they are.
What could we as leaders do to become part of the solution?
Mayoclinic.org has some very simple steps for preventing depression. The 5 most relevant to our discussion are:
Control your stress
Increase your resilience
Boost your self-esteem
Reach out to family and friends (i.e.. grab a lifeline)
Get help fast
As leaders, we can be intentional with those under our influence. Here is how I would adapt the above list for leader-follower interactions.
Become attuned to what stress looks like for those on your team
Meet regularly with your team members at least every 1-2 weeks
Prioritize these meetings
Spend most of your time listening and asking questions, rather than being in "solve mode"
Meet in person, if at all possible. If not, use video chat like FaceTime or Zoom
Give them some assurances that you believe in them
Establish a culture that encourages learning from mistakes
Do spot check-ins in times of high stress
If a teammate seems down, ask about it early
Consider frequent mini-sabbaticals as a way to rejuvenate
How often are you connecting with those you lead? How intentional are you in making connections? Who on your team seems a little down and needs to know you believe in them? Your lifeline of care and compassion might be what is needed to help your team reach peak performance.