Leaders set the tone for their organizations. They are an example for others to follow, and this comes with a lot of responsibility. From reaching corporate goals to fostering individual employee relationships, leaders have a lot on their plate.
This intense outward focus can make it easy to ignore inward needs. As I’ve witnessed, the physical and emotional health of leaders often goes uncared for and leads to a struggle to prioritize their own well-being. This undermines their mental and physical stability as they attempt to help others thrive.
But that shouldn’t be the case. Leaders must learn to care for themselves, too — not just for their own good, but for their companies’.
It’s a struggle that Angel Mehta understands well. Mehta drove himself to extremes as CEO of the executive recruitment firm Sterling-Hoffman. The firm assisted VC-backed startups in hiring top tier leadership talent, and it executed on a high level.
But as Sterling-Hoffman grew, Mehta’s health got worse and in 2018 he retired to Italy. He was set to become yet another cautionary tale of leadership falling under the weight of its own lack of support. But Mehta bounced back. “It was the first time I’ve had in years to just breathe and take an objective look at my physical and mental health,” he explained to me, “And what I saw wasn’t pretty.”
I asked Mehta more about his journey back from the brink of personal collapse because I think all leaders can learn something from his experience.
One Leader’s Personal Story
In 2020, an obsession with protecting a former employee from domestic violence drove Mehta to work so aggressively that his health began to fail. “Everyone tried interventions — my lawyers, friends, old colleagues. It was a compulsion. I realized something had to change.”
Mehta estimates he spent nearly 800 hours over the next 2 years addressing his inner life, including the healing of childhood trauma. “I realized something obvious: all obsession, whether it’s with making money or saving the world, comes from unresolved emotional pain,” he says.
His journey back to wellness showed him the importance of caring for his emotional as well as physical health. “ I realized that this was an epidemic; the vast majority of entrepreneurs and CEOs are probably struggling the same way I was, with no idea that it was even possible to recover.”
Even in retirement and a phase of personal rehabilitation, Mehta’s inner leader pushed him to help others around him thrive by showing them how to improve their health as well. “When I work with someone, I want them to understand that I have no incentive to be spending time with them except to help them heal. There is no amount of money they can pay me that makes it worth my time. I’m here because I want to be, and that’s it,” says Mehta.
Well-Being for Leaders Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
While researching ways to speed up his own healing, Mehta was surprised to learn that emotional trauma can be resolved through the physical body. He cites The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk as required reading for anyone who is frustrated with their own physical or psychological health.
Mehta feels that many executives get into a “doom loop” of working with therapists for years. They try to understand why they behave the way they do. But this doesn’t actually lead to permanent change, suggests Mehta.
“Therapists can be helpful, but if I had a choice between spending 50 hours talking to a therapist and 50 hours doing hardcore breath work, I would choose breath work every time because it allows the body to unlock its own special mechanism for clearing emotional pain,” he says.
Healing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive — but it is possible to be strategic and efficient. That’s what Mehta helps his fellow corporate peers achieve, and the results go beyond their personal lives.
The Benefits of Healthy Leaders for Business
When leaders are emotionally and physically healthy, it has a trickle-down effect on their entire workplace. Rutgers University of Human Resources department emphasizes this by saying, “you must recognize that your emotional wellness is directly linked to the well-being of your team members.”
Team members will subconsciously emulate the emotional and physical habits of their leaders. When those are healthy, the impact is obvious, and an entire workplace will improve as a result.
When workers are physically and emotionally healthy, it leads to other benefits, too. For instance, organizations that emphasize well-being tend to be more productive.
They struggle with less absenteeism, as well, and their employees are more engaged. Along with the obvious personal benefits that this affords, on a corporate level, all of these advantages lead to higher ROI.
The Benefits of Well-Being in the Workplace Must Start at the Top
The world has been waking up to the need for emotional and physical health on an individual level as a key to collective corporate success.
However, leaders in executive health and wellness are shedding light on the fact that wellness doesn’t come from corporate programs and initiatives. It is a benefit that must originate in leaders themselves.
If you’re a leader reading this, you must be able to take the first step by being willing to analyze where you are and what needs are going unaddressed. Coaches and certain therapies can help discover this in greater detail, helping inform your response and guide your solutions.
It’s only when leaders are willing to jumpstart the inner healing of themselves and those around them that businesses can expect to benefit from the competitive advantages that come from a comprehensively healthy workforce.