Edinburgh: Mental Health: Leadership and changing the culture
We celebrated Mental Health Awareness week on Wednesday 16th May by hosting an event in conjunction with Lloyds Banking Group. The topic was Leadership and Changing the Culture within the organisation. We had the pleasure of Maggie Georgopoulos as a speaker, Maggie is a Maggie is a degree qualified mechanical engineer who rose to become the Executive Chairman of a large agricultural organisation at the age of 32. Maggie has leadership experience in a wide variety of male dominated industries.
Maggie has written a book called Up the Ladder in a Skirt which I read before the event and found to be an amazing read. She talks about topics that really resonate with our members such as trying to be superwoman (convince ourselves we can do it all, we can have the career, the perfect personal life and we can be ever present at work) and also the imposter syndrome. Maggie also talks about the importance of climbing your own career ladder, sometimes we end up doing something in life because it was what our parents wanted us to do and it’s not what makes us happy. She talks about strategies to deal with all of these aspects.
Maggie gave a brilliant talk on her career, the good, the bad and the ugly, she talked of working 18 hour days just to ensure that she was on top of the job and sacrificing her physical health in the process. Maggie spoke of how she was diagnosed with bipolar at the age of 17 but didn’t reveal to anyone that she suffered from mental health issues until a few years ago, she didn’t even confide in family or friends, her best friend didn’t even know until she wrote the book 3 years ago and asked her to proof read the chapter.
Maggie got us all to list 5 people we would open up to if we had a mental health issue and needed help. This seemed like such a simple exercise to do yet everyone in the room struggled to write down 5 people, it was quite a stark realisation that we all think it would be easy to speak up until we really put ourselves in a position where we give it real thought. Maggie stressed that the importance of the exercise is to ensure you always have at least one person you know you would speak to. Maggie then encouraged us to listen to the voices in our head, those negative little voices that can chip away at us. Maggie encouraged us to write down what they are saying so that we can think about what they are saying and turn them into a positive or realise that they are not real.
Maggie stressed how we need to change the culture of the organisation bottom up, support is needed from the top but it has to be individuals within the organisation that drive the change in culture required in the organisation so that they buy into it. It is up to all of us to fix the issue. As leaders we need to look out for team members who always act in a certain way but then suddenly start acting differently, this can be an indication that there might be an issue. What can you do to help? Offer to take the person for a coffee outside of the organisation so that they have space and are in a different environment, listen and offer support but never ever say that you understand how they feel as you don’t, no-one does. Maggie also stressed the importance of not labelling people, ‘I am Maggie and I have bipolar, not I am Maggie and I am bipolar’
A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation and undertaken by YouGov, polled 4,169 adults in the UK in 2018 revealed almost three quarters (74%) of people have at some point felt so stressed that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Some of the frightening statistics that Maggie gave on stress and mental health issues are that stress costs the UK about £100 billion per year, there is £40 billion lost productivity and there could be £8 billion pounds worth of savings if we could manage stress better!
Key steps from Maggie to take care of your mental health:-
• Talk about your feelings
• Keep active – even though this can be very difficult when you are crippled with an anxiety attack
• Ask for help
• Don’t forget to take time for yourself
Feedback from the attendees was very positive and many people went on to buy a copy of Maggie’s book to hear more about her inspirational journey.
By Kerry McCormack