TJ interviews: John Amaechi about Good Day at Work
Wellbeing specialists Robertson Cooper launched their Good Day At Work Conversation event for 2017 last week, and after a much talked about speaking appearance we interview organisational psychologist and ex-NBA star John Amaechi.
Photo credit: Robin Boot
Tell us what you can do to take personal responsibility for your own wellbeing.
Not everything that impacts our wellbeing is directly under our control - many people still have bosses who value presenteeism, staying at work after hours, skipping lunch and generally existing in a frantic state just to ‘prove’ that you’re a serious worker. However, it is worth doing an audit of what exactly IS under our control from time to time.
This allows us to see what parts of our life we can adapt and change to improve our wellbeing. How we use our commute and those first moments when home is a good example, as is what time we chose to go to bed and whether we take screens into our bedroom at night.
The list goes on and on, and includes how we chose to use our weekends - many think sleeping in endlessly is recuperative, but for most, we could actually improve our wellbeing by going for a walk with friends, exercising in a way that makes sense for our personalities or reading a book for pleasure.
We can always find ways to improve our wellbeing, even if our work life is not optimised and the leaders where we work have not yet ‘tuned in’ to the necessity of embracing wellbeing in order to improve performance and achieve sustainable success.
What are the most common problems that business leaders come to you with that stunt personal growth amongst staff and inhibit high performance?
The most common problems that stunt personal growth are mostly about people - managers who don’t manage and leaders who just...aren’t. This is not to say that office infrastructure, marketplace disruption et al. don’t play a part, but people are really where the buck usually stops.
While it might be understandable that the intricacies of some wellbeing strategies have remained privileged, it is less comfortable to me that best practice in mental health is not a shared template.
This manifests in a few different ways, in managers (often middle managers, but it can be more senior managers too) who are one of four things:
- Capable, but apathetic about their role as leaders and mentors for more junior talent
- Capable, but too overwhelmed with duties to care about their role as leaders and mentors for more junior talent
- Well-intentioned, but too under-skilled to effectively deliver their role as leaders and mentors for more junior talent
- Actively oppositional to developing and mentoring junior talent because they see them as a threat to their comfortable (often deeply average in terms of productivity and output) status quo.
What can we do to progress the conversation around mental health and workplace wellness?
Wellbeing and mental health has had really spotty and inconsistent progress in workplaces. While it might be understandable that the intricacies of some wellbeing strategies have remained privileged, it is less comfortable to me - especially as a psychologist and a director of an NHS Hospital Trust - that best practice in mental health is not a shared template.
The stakes, not just for organisations, but for society as a whole, are just too high to take a piecemeal and protectionist approach. There are aspects of stigma that need to be addressed in workplaces, but more than that organisations must do an audit of their policy and practice to see where it might have contributory, if not causal relationships with some of the mental health challenges their people face.
Only by realising that these old ways of working that ignore bullying by senior people, as well as emotional illiteracy, bias, presenteeism and force colleagues into one or two personality types, can we really make mental health a congruent priority, rather than an anecdotal talking point.
I’m a big Star Wars fan. How do I become an ‘everyday Jedi’, to borrow a term from some of your recent work?
I'm a huge Star Wars fan too - and a certified geek. So, what is an Everyday Jedi? An Everyday Jedi is a leader who has clearly engaged in deep, personal introspection and has gained valuable insights from the process, with mindset development including mental and behavioural tools to employ in service to their chosen organisation.
They are not free from flaws, rather they are keenly aware of any weaknesses they must overcome and personal challenges still to address, but are now committed not to letting those flaws and challenges sabotage their goals or the people who work with them. Everyday Jedi hold in their minds an ambitious and inclusive picture of their organisation's future.
One so dynamic and vivid as to feel like a lived-memory, one they share enthusiastically to all in their sphere of influence. For Everyday Jedi, this future vision is always accompanied by a commitment to the often mundane, pragmatic and necessary steps required to make the overarching vision a reality.
They don’t get lost in the 'big picture' to the detriment of those they lead. Everyday Jedi understand that no matter how powerful they are, they will need a coalition, perhaps many teams of people to achieve their ambitious goals.
As such they are mindful and vigilant everyday, in every interaction, with every person; knowing that any one of those interactions may contribute to a greater success and drive performance and productivity at work.
Being an Everyday Jedi is about personal responsibility: challenging oneself at least as much as one challenges others, to self-assess objectively, strive diligently and interact vigilantly to achieve individually while facilitating others around you to thrive maximally.
While the name may be gleaned from science fiction, make no mistake: the leadership principles are steeped in reality. A leader who embraces these tenets is an exponentially impactful asset for any organisation. I work every day to be this person - flawed, but ever striving!
About the interviewee
John Amaechi OBE is the founder of Amaechi Performance Systems and was one of the special guests speaker alongside Sir Cary Cooper and Alastair Campbell, talking about mental health and workplace wellbeing at the recent event Good Day at Work Conversation.
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