Navigating any small business brings its share of challenges, from financial hurdles to competitive pressures and even just the infinite daily grind. Amidst all of this, it’s easy to overlook subtle yet critical factors – like mental health. Essential for both leaders and their teams, mental well-being is pivotal to your company’s overall success. This is not an uncommon topic, but we’re adding a spin to it here in this article.
We’re going to explore the connection between mental health and mental performance and take a look at how different leadership styles can either support or hinder the well-being and productivity of individuals. Let’s dive in.
Mental health vs mental performance: what’s the difference?
Before we dive into the intricate relationship between leadership and mental health, let’s get on the same page regarding these two concepts.
Mental health: This refers to a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s about one’s ability to handle stress, connect with others, and make sound decisions. It’s not just the absence of mental health disorders; it’s also about feeling good, being resilient, and finding satisfaction in life.
Mental performance: Mental performance refers to an individual’s cognitive abilities. Think of it as the brainpower behind critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and creativity. It’s the engine that drives effective task execution and goal achievement.
Mental health and mental performance: a power couple
These two feed off each other. It’s a delicate and symbiotic relationship.
Mental health shapes mental performance
- Good mental health turbocharges cognitive abilities and sparks creativity.
- Those with strong mental well-being can face challenges head-on, with the best shot at maintaining top-notch performance.
- Psychological well-being sets the stage for a positive work atmosphere, where collaboration and innovation thrive.
Mental performance impacts mental health
- Excessive stress, an overwhelming workload, and burnout can hit the brakes on mental performance.
- Low performance can trigger feelings of inadequacy, stress, and even depression.
- A workplace that encourages growth and skills development can uplift both mental health and performance.
Is your leadership style boosting or busting mental health and performance?
Leaders in small businesses wield significant influence over the mental health and performance of their team members. Different leadership styles can either nurture or hamper employees’ well-being. Let’s unpack a few leadership styles and consider their connection with mental health and performance.
Transformational leaders are the inspirers-in-chief. They ignite a sense of purpose and passion in their teams. This leadership style breeds positive mental health by promoting engagement, self-confidence, and well-being among employees.
Leaders who prioritise building solid relationships with their team members create a supportive and emotionally healthy workplace. Trust and open communication, nurtured by this style, can boost mental health.
Task-focused leaders are all about hitting those goals and targets. While this approach can drive high performance, it should be balanced with a concern for employees’ mental well-being to prevent extreme stress and burnout.
Destructive leaders are characterised by abusive behaviours and a lack of empathy. They tend to cause high stress, anxiety, and even mental health issues among their subordinates.
Leader-Member Exchange (LMX)
Leader-member exchange (LMX) is a prominent leadership concept that has been refined over the past 40 years. Unlike many other academic leadership models, LMX is distinct in its emphasis on the specific bond that can develop between a leader and their team member. Strong leader-follower relationships are the recipe for positive mental health outcomes where trust and support from leaders can nurture employee well-being and job satisfaction.
Without bombarding you with academic jargon, it’s worth noting that research does tell a compelling story. Transformational leadership, relations-oriented leadership, and task-oriented leadership are like sunshine on mental health, they give it a boost. Destructive leadership, on the other hand, is the storm cloud that ultimately will rain on your parade.
What’s your leadership style?
Picture this scenario
A local family-owned cafe has experienced a sudden surge in customers after receiving glowing reviews in a prominent travel blog. While this is a positive development, the staff are feeling overwhelmed by the increased workload. There’s also a need to hire new staff, upgrade infrastructure, and manage supply chains more efficiently.
From your perspective as a business owner, which of these would best describe your likely approach here:
The transformational leader
Approach: The leader communicates an inspiring vision of the cafe’s future, leveraging the newfound popularity. They rally the team by emphasising the potential growth and opportunities that lie ahead. They’re proactive in seeking feedback and ideas on improving operations and may even consider innovating the menu or cafe experience.
Mental health and performance outcomes: This style can increase motivation and morale because employees feel they’re part of something bigger. It can also reduce anxiety because of the leader’s proactive approach. However, if the leader pushes too hard for transformation without providing adequate support, this can cause increased stress.
The relations-oriented leader
Approach: The leader prioritises the well-being of the staff, ensuring they don’t burn out. They may implement shifts that accommodate the rush while ensuring breaks for the staff. They would also create a supportive environment, ensuring newcomers feel welcomed.
Mental health and performance outcomes: This style directly promotes positive mental health by valuing and addressing staff needs. Job satisfaction typically goes up, and the risk of burnout goes down. It ensures a consistent performance level by not pushing staff beyond their limits.
The task-oriented leader
Approach: The leader focuses on tasks that need immediate attention: efficient order-taking, quicker kitchen processes, managing inventory, etc. They would onboard new staff quickly and ensure they’re trained promptly.
Mental health and performance outcomes: A clear structure and defined roles can reduce confusion and anxiety in the short term. However, if the leader becomes too focused on tasks and neglects the emotional needs of the staff, it could lead to burnout and reduced job satisfaction in the long run.
The destructive leader
Approach: The leader might react impulsively to the increased demand, perhaps hiring staff haphazardly, blaming existing staff for any hitches, or making rash decisions about suppliers and infrastructure. Destructive leaders sometimes use intimidation tactics, threats, or belittling comments to maintain control and instil fear.
Mental health and performance outcomes: This approach can be detrimental to mental health, leading to high levels of stress and anxiety, as well as decreased job satisfaction. Performance may also suffer due to low morale, high staff turnover, and a lack of cohesion in the team.
The LMX leader
Approach: The leader relies heavily on trusted, longer-serving staff to handle the increased demand and may delegate significant responsibilities to them. New hires might be treated as ‘outsiders’ until they prove themselves.
Mental health and performance outcomes: While ‘in-group’ members might feel valued and motivated, they could also feel overwhelmed with the additional responsibilities. ‘Out-group’ members might feel marginalised, leading to feelings of exclusion and reduced job satisfaction. This can create a divide, potentially affecting team cohesion and overall performance.
In a small business environment, especially one like a cafe where teamwork is the heartbeat, leaders need to balance task completion with the emotional well-being of their staff. A blend of relational and task-oriented leadership, complemented by the visionary aspect of transformational leadership, could be the winning combination that ensures both operational efficiency and positive mental health outcomes.
Are you leading alone?
Having delved into leadership styles and looked at a contextual situation, it’s safe to say that leadership not only has a direct influence on mental health – it’s also the bridge connecting mental health with job performance. But is it all up to you as The Boss?
It’s a lot to take on when you’re already wearing many hats as a small business owner. But, when you can recognise the pivotal role that leadership styles can have in shaping the mental well-being and performance in the workplace, this is the first step to creating an environment where you can develop others to share your load.
Leadership training will equip your managers with the skills needed to promote positive mental health in their teams. A workplace that values mental health and well-being leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention. Encourage open communication, provide access to mental health resources, and champion work-life balance.
10 actionable takeaways
- Self-evaluation: Periodically evaluate your leadership style. Being self-aware is the first step to improvement.
- Prioritise mental health: Create a culture that values open conversations about mental well-being. Consider regular check-ins or mental health days.
- Ongoing training: Invest in leadership training for yourself and your managers. This shouldn’t be a one-time event but an ongoing commitment.
- Feedback loop: Establish an open-door policy where team members can share their feelings and feedback about the workplace environment and leadership styles.
- Diverse leadership: Encourage a blend of leadership styles. While it’s essential to have a primary style, being versatile can help cater to different situations and individuals.
- Resources and support: Provide access to mental health resources or counsellors for your team. This can be in the form of workshops, online resources, or provided as a benefit by your company’s medical scheme, like CompCare Medical Scheme’s psychosocial benefit.
- Avoid burnout: Be vigilant about signs of burnout in your team. Ensure workloads are manageable and that there’s a healthy work-life balance.
- Celebrate successes: Recognise and reward good performance and innovation. This not only boosts morale but also promotes a positive mental atmosphere.
- Nurture growth: Make it possible for your team to upskill, take on new challenges, and grow. This boosts both their mental performance and overall well-being and benefits your business. It’s a recipe for mutual benefit.
- Fail forward: Use mistakes as learning opportunities and stepping stones, not roadblocks. Adopt a growth mindset and enjoy the results of a work environment that isn’t driven by fear.
What’s the bottom line?
Getting a grip on enabling a good mix of leadership styles, both for yourself and your management team’s growth trajectory, will no doubt contribute to building a company culture of support and an environment where everyone thrives.
In high-performance teams, it’s the mind that matters most.