Mental Fitness, the New Ride or Die Leadership?

Writer Laura Campan

Although change is a natural step for any organisation, it could keep many leaders up at night: how to adapt to the future of work while improving performance and productivity?

Let’s join BetterUp Co-founder and CEO Alexi Robichaux on the Web Summit Lisbon’s stage for some inspiration.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the War in Ukraine and the rising inflation, many of us have been struggling and need a solution to handle negative emotions. 

To help employees in doing so – and therefore increase productivity – most companies are piling on skill and leadership training, “when the first leg of the journey has nothing to do with upskilling but rather with cultivating the psychological resources like resilience, optimism and happiness”, explained Alexi Robichaux. 

But there may be something more effective than resilience. Instead of adopting a reactive approach to bouncing back from adversity, we should adopt a proactive approach by fostering our mental strength. It’s called mental fitness. 

With this new term, experts in positive psychology are trying to encourage people to design a workout to cultivate your mental muscles. “This is what coaching and therapy do in an aspirational frame – it allows you to put the oxygen mask on first so that you could show up with your relationships and your team in a way where you’re coming from a place of abundance and strength, as opposed to a place of deficit.”

But how do I know I am mentally fit? 

For Alexi, the easiest way to think about it is to know which stage you are on. You could be diagnosed with a clinical mental illness – experiencing bad emotions – or be flourishing – finding fulfillment in your life and connecting with others at a deeper level. But things get twisted when you are on none of the stages, but languishing instead – when you don’t have a clinical diagnosis but you also aren’t doing well. Looks like the doldrums of psychology, right? 

Another alarming trend Alexi insisted on is loneliness – surprisingly on the rise, even after Covid. According to a study from BetterUp, for every friend an employee reports at work, he/she is 5% less likely to quit his/her job, up to seven friends. “So you can make your team 35% less likely to quit if they have seven strong social bonds in the workplace. This holds true for flourishing as well – meaning that the more friends you have in the workplace, the more likely you are to be in that flourishing state vs languishing state. And we know from research that if you’re flourishing, you’re more likely to be a high performer in any work context.”

So, what does this illuminate? Probably the need of reinventing the entire literature of middle management. 

According to Alexi, we are still operating our principles from Prof. Peter Drucker. “He was designing work in a world that no longer exists for the vast majority of people. And if we think that the job of a manager today is to help people flourish and increase social connection, that sounds more like a coach than a supervisor. It’s no longer about task management and delegation, but about setting up an environment – remotely or in person – in which people get to know each other humanly, have psychological safety, room for crazy ideas… And I’m only there to slowly kind of foster that environment in the background.”

So, which tips would Alex give to become a better manager? 

Well, as obvious as it may sound, foster your own well-being. “If you’re languishing, it’s very hard to construct a team that is flourishing because you are cynical and don’t see the world in an optimistic way.” So, the best way to become a better manager isn’t it to put the oxygen mask on yourself first?