Michelle E. Dickinson 0:03
It’s that proactive trust, like we talked about that before. But like, it’s that leader, if you, as a leader want your employee to feel comfortable, and proactively tell you when they might be struggling, you have to tend the garden of trust way early on, because you want them to come to you and say, let me just put the cards on the table, I’m struggling and you know, this is the deal.
Adam Baruh 0:40
Welcome to the change, where we share stories and inspiration from business leaders and people making positive work life changes. Our focus today is on leading with compassion, and the importance that empathetic leadership plays in today’s business environment. Everybody will have issues surrounding the mental health at some point in our lives. For many managing one’s anxiety and mental health is a full time job. leaders and managers that understand this, and practice compassion truly make a difference, not just in that employee’s life, but in setting a healthy precedent that other businesses can follow. For too long, the mental health conversation has been ignored and stifled. Our health industry is focused on physical well being more than mental wellbeing. And many mental health issues are treated with medication, rather than addressing the root of the issue is vitally important in this pandemic era where we’ve collectively suffered tremendous trauma that we all work together to normalize the mental health conversation. And to that effect, and in the spirit of openness, I want to share my own personal mental health struggles. During 2020, with the pandemic raging globally, I pushed myself extremely hard as the CEO of my company to do everything I could to ensure the financial health of my business and to avoid having to lay off any of my employees, I started having anxiety attacks, which I had never had before, to the point where they were being triggered quite easily. It wasn’t until I sought help and through the practice of mindfulness, that I was able to work through this. And I have not suffered any anxiety attacks, thankfully for quite some time. The key for me was that I found an outlet with my coach Kristen Taylor, where I was able to safely talk about what I was going through. It’s so important that people feel that there are people that they can talk to, and where people can feel like they are not alone in their struggles. Our guest today, Michelle, he Dickinson is a very passionate mental health advocate, a TEDx speaker, and the published author of her memoir entitled breaking into my life. She’s a change maker with mental health experience and a deep commitment to fully empowering people around their well being. Michelle, welcome to the change.
Michelle E. Dickinson 2:56
So happy to be here, Adam. Thanks for having me.
Adam Baruh 2:59
Yeah, we’re so happy that you’re here. So we’re focusing on leading with compassion today and the work you do with companies to help them implement strategies that improve employee psychological resilience. So before we get into the work you’re doing today, I think it’s important to share your backstory. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, like where you grew up what your home life was like?
Michelle E. Dickinson 3:19
Sure, sure. Yeah, mental, mental health and mental illness has been like the tapestry of my entire life from as little as I can remember, I grew up with a mother who had bipolar disorder. And so she probably started to demonstrate signs and symptoms of that illness when I was as little as four I think I remember. And so that experience shaped me because I spent my entire life like my entire childhood, young adult years caring for her, supporting her, and I got to witness what it was like to have that mania and that depression and really understand what mental illness look like. So that experience shaped me led me to give my TED talk about my mom, something I never really spoke about, like, went through my whole career didn’t really ever talk about it. And then someone found out about it. And, like, nominated me to give a TED talk. So I was like, I guess I’m talking about this. So I gave a TED talk, and then found myself really, just so moved by the reaction that talk got because people felt they will come up to me and they felt connected to because I sort of went first that, you know, just like you just shared a little bit about yourself like, there. There’s a relatedness that’s present when you are vulnerable. And that inspired me to then go and write my memoir, which was a very long and cathartic process, but something that I knew I needed to do to support people and have people realize that mental illness is not something that we should be fearing or ashamed of. Really humanize it. That was the goal of the book. And then simultaneously, I was helping to lead a mental health Employee Resource Group at my fortune 500 company. So I got to sort of see what firsthand action look like in the workplace when we were trying to eradicate stigma. Some things did work, some things did not work, I was paying attention. And it was very, it was very inspiring to me to, to think that we could create more cultures where people felt like they could be themselves and not have to pretend, yeah. But then I’m adopted. And so I never thought I would ever suffer from a mental illness myself, because I was like, Well, I’m her adopted daughter, right. But then a life event came along my divorce, and I found myself depressed. And I had always had a healthy relationship to reaching out for clinical support. So I did. And that’s when I was diagnosed with depression. And it just made me realize that like, nobody is immune to a mental illness, no matter what this was, this was a life event that happened. So all of those experiences really shaped me into who I am, and really lit a fire within me to want to do more with my story. And, you know, my passion for mental health?
Adam Baruh 6:11
Yeah, you touched on something earlier that I want to revisit, which is you said how you never spoke about it? And I’m curious, did you was that coming from like a feeling of shame, like a belief system around shame? Or? I mean, did it even not even go that far, where you didn’t really speak about it just because it was just something that nobody really spoke about?
Michelle E. Dickinson 6:34
Yeah, I mean, when I was younger, it was definitely and I write about this in my book, it was definitely a shame thing. Like, we didn’t want to talk about it. Like I didn’t want anyone to know what was really going on at home. So I concealed it quite well, because I didn’t want to be embarrassed or ridiculed made fun of but then as I got older, and I got into my career, I was sort of like, Well, that didn’t affect me, look at me, I’m actually doing okay, look, I have a good job. I didn’t, I didn’t like you know, I’m a contributing member of society. I’m okay. But I never like unpacked it, until I started doing self discovery work. And then I started to see the impact that that experience had on my life. So I think there was a lot it was a mixture of things like denial that I had made it, and very young not, you weren’t supposed to talk about it. So it’s sort of sort of why I didn’t I guess,
Adam Baruh 7:29
yeah, I could definitely relate to what you said about you know, what you feeling like, it didn’t really have an impact on your life. I mean, I could look back, um, you know, because there, there’s been some mental health in my family as well. And I think I, you know, lived my whole life thinking, you know, that, you know, stuff I went through as a child like it, it didn’t really have any bearing on me today. But, you know, I kind of feel like over the last year with a lot of the personal work, I’ve been doing that I can really see a very clear timeline, in my history of where, you know, these things have popped up where I’m like, you know, yeah, I think maybe, if I had a different upbringing, and maybe I would have recognized it a little bit more, but I want to read an excerpt from your book breaking into my life to find man. Today, I have a brand new outfit to wear. I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction of the kids in my class. Finally, I’m going to look as good as the other seventh graders. A new boy, Wesley likes me, so I can’t wait to see him today. I have to hurry. I’m meeting my friend Katie, so that we can walk to school together. I get dressed and go downstairs. Immediately I can tell that mom is in an even darker place. Her moods have been erratic lately. I didn’t really think much about it. Until now. I should have been paying more attention. I should have seen this coming. Can you go back to this time and describe what that was like as a middle schooler to see your mom’s suffer this way. And at the same time, try to have a normal childhood.
Michelle E. Dickinson 9:15
Yeah, that’s a it’s a poignant moment right there. You know, so much of my childhood I spent running to get out of the house because I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be present to the sadness to the pain that was there because I related to my house as just a painful dark place, you know, so I tried to leave as much as I could. So it wasn’t I wouldn’t have to be around it. But you know, that moment was frustrating because what followed was I couldn’t go to school. My father asked me to stay home and be with her because she was too fragile, right too fragile to be alone but not sick enough to be hospitalized. And those moments were always so hard for me because That was my role. My dad had to go to work. He had to, you know, nothing could compromise his his job. We knew this as a family. And that’s whatever we had to do, we did. But, you know, seeing my mom suffer and not being able to console her and see her pain and not being able to relieve that pain is excruciating. Yeah. Feel like you’re sitting on your hands, and there’s nothing you can do.
Adam Baruh 10:32
How much? Do you define, you know, the empathy that you practice today that you recognize within yourself? How much of that comes from? Watching your mom suffer the way that she did?
Michelle E. Dickinson 10:49
Oh, a ton a ton. I mean, I try so hard to reach people, to have them understand how hard it is to have a mental illness that it’s real. It’s not an excuse. It’s not a cop out. I mean, I feel like I spend a lot of time explaining this to some people who believe it’s a matter of toughness, it’s a matter of power through you know, don’t let it get you down. And it’s like, no, if you know what it looks like, and you know what it feels like you, you understand it, and you can have more compassion for people. I, I tell this story, how, when I was diagnosed with depression, I was hopeful that my boss would be compassionate. When I told her because I was like, I’m gonna go first. And she wasn’t. And I’ll never forget that feeling of not having compassion extended to me. So I know what that feels like. And I never want that to happen. You know, if I can do something about it. That’s why I do this work.
Adam Baruh 11:49
Absolutely. And so I’d like to read another excerpt from your book. Staying home, for most kids is a gift. It’s not that for me, I know what this means. And I know what’s coming. So I think you’re, you’re describing, you know, a time where we’re most kids, we get to stay home, whether it was a snow day, or whatever. But I think you mentioned earlier, did you say you were about four years old, when you’ve kind of started to see that your mom was suffering it because that’s a that’s a really early age to be able to have that emotional intelligence to recognize that.
Michelle E. Dickinson 12:31
Yeah, she was just very different. She was she was very her behavior wasn’t. It wasn’t calm, it was erratic. It was, you know, running around the house, it was acting silly. And then it was sleeping for days. Right? And like, why don’t you want to get up? Don’t you want to go outside? You know? So yeah, I remember that pattern. I remember her being definitely different than I knew her to be.
Adam Baruh 13:01
Yeah. You said something else to that. I think, you know, the way that I look at it, I really see this as one of the barriers to normalizing the mental health conversation, you said something about having to have toughness, or or gutting it out. And that seems to be a very well known theme regarding the mental health conversation where, oh, you know, somebody is being dramatic or whatever, just just tough it out. Like, you know, you’ll get through it or whatever. I mean, can you talk to us a little bit about your, your feelings around that?
Michelle E. Dickinson 13:34
Yeah, I mean, you know, it, it comes down to our knowledge of mental illness and our ignorance of mental illness. But that’s how I That’s how I see it, I see it very black and white, someone who thinks that it is about toughness does not have first hand experience or is in denial that they’ve ever experienced something like this. So I try to even have compassion for the people that don’t that that are ignorant, unfortunately, right? Because that’s what it comes down to. We have a society that says, don’t talk about it, just deal with it, push through, oh, you’re gonna go to the funny farm if you talk about mental illness, and you’re sick and, and it’s, it’s sad. I had a conversation with a leader about a month ago who said that who said, you know, I don’t know. I’ve never had to deal with this. I’ve always been very, very resilient and tough and I just power through and it’s like, like, it’s not about that. It’s about it’s about like if you truly had a mental health imbalance and you ignored it, like you’re setting yourself up for disaster, like the fact that you think that you can power through everything just tells me that you don’t really understand it. You know, you don’t understand what it feels like you don’t understand that it really is. You know, it’s just another Oregon and sometimes it needs a little support, you know, and it’s not about Tough.
Adam Baruh 15:00
Yeah. And I feel like that would cause somebody going through it to feel more alone like that they have, you know, that they’re on their own to work through it. And you know, the other part of it, too, I feel like there was no middle ground where, you know, now I think they’re people are starting to recognize there’s a whole bunch of different flavors of mental health issues, right. From, you know, mild depression, all the way up to schizophrenia. And I think, you know, the, what people maybe had thought about mental health issues, you know, before people started actually talking about it was, you were either Okay, or you are One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Michelle E. Dickinson 15:39
Right, right. Right. Right. And I, I try really hard to have people understand that mental health is a continuum. And we should move away from it being mentally well or mentally ill, because at any given time in our lifetime, like you explained, very vulnerably, in your introduction, you know, the pressure of life shows up a pandemic shows up and pushes us like, so we’re not, you know, in this perfect zone of mental health, 100% healthy, but honestly, I want people to believe that we glide across this continuum, at any given time, we’re feeling good, or we’re not feeling so good. And when we’re not feeling so good, what can we do to help ourselves, and when those things don’t work, have no fear, or shame or embarrassment about reaching out and getting support? Because we’re just human beings, and the brain is just the brain. It’s just an organ, you know?
Adam Baruh 16:34
Yeah. I mean, if you cut your arm, or you broke a leg or something, you’re gonna go to the doctor, you’re not gonna, you’re not going to just tough it through, right. So we treat, you know, I think we’re gonna get into this in a little bit. But it’s, I just find it interesting that we treat physical well being a little bit different than mental well being when at the end of the day, it’s well being. Yes. Okay, so I’m moving on a little bit, you know, later on, then you entered a career working in mental health for Fortune 500 companies. So tell us about your professional background, and how it led to the work you’re doing today.
Michelle E. Dickinson 17:09
So correction, I actually spent 19 years in the pharmaceutical industry in medical education and Regulatory Affairs, okay, so I was not in the mental health space, I was just, I was in a corporate role, you know, working at various companies. And so it was the the real thing, the real change for me was when I got present to how important my message was, when I gave the TED Talk, that’s when everything started to change for me. Because I was opening up I was talking about it, I was helping to change the culture in my company through the work I was doing in the employee resource group. And then I just became a very outspoken advocate. So I was talking about mental health, and then I was diagnosed with it. And so all of those experiences led me to the point where I was like, Okay, I am ignited to do something about what’s going on in the workplace. And the fact that so many people suffer in silence, and, you know, don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and end things they end their lives is just not is not something I want to sit by and watch. So that’s when I decided to leave the industry altogether, and go out and create my company, trifecta, mental health.
Adam Baruh 18:25
That’s great. And in describing your work, you’ve used the term psychological resilience. So what is psychological resilience? And why should employers spend time focusing on it?
Michelle E. Dickinson 18:37
So in the workplace, it’s more about psychological safety, it’s about being able to be 100% yourself feeling like you can, you can have a trusting rapport with your leader, have the ability to, to share when you’re when you might not be doing well, without fear of, oh, you’re going to be perceived as less capable than your colleague. psychological safety is so important. And that sense of compassion in the workplace is so important. So you know, leaders, and it’s not that hard to do. It’s like, it’s like, we are employees before we are an employee number. And it’s just, it’s all about the, the way we lead the the trust that we are building with one another, the, the compassion in which we lead, yeah, things do need to get done. Absolutely. But you’re not going to get 100% out of your employees if they are struggling with something and they’re trying to conceal it because now now they have an added layer of, you know, trying to protect, what they’re concealing and they’re even more distracted. So why not just build a better relationship and more trust?
Adam Baruh 19:49
Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s I don’t know if it’s maybe a very American thing, but, you know, I think there’s been this historical focus on productivity, right and You know, what, what can we get out of employees? And that’s the mindset, you know, I hope to be impacting, you know, with this podcast, um, you know, changing that paradigm changing the thought process. So it’s less about, you know, productivity, what can we squeeze out of the employee? I mean, you know, we spend our adult lives, the majority of them focused on our career. And, you know, we, we bring stuff to the table, like our parts of our personality. So, you know, I, you know, through this conversation and other conversations, I hope to be able to identify ways that we can we can make an impact where managers are focusing less on, you know, employee productivity and more on, you know, how could we honor the employee? How could we let them be who they are, and bring to the table the the strengths that they bring to the table?
Michelle E. Dickinson 20:58
No, absolutely. And I also think that, you know, someone at your level, who like is responsible for an organization has such a pivotal role just in just in being human and sharing your own story, you create a tone within the organization, that it’s okay to be a human being, you know, that’s huge. I actually interviewed a gentleman who was the CEO of a company, he closed, he literally caused a ripple effect just talking about his crippling anxiety, because everybody felt like oh, my goodness, like, if that guy at the top has experienced that, I should have no shame in the fact that I’m dealing with the same thing. So
Adam Baruh 21:37
absolutely, absolutely. Such a, you know, I feel personally myself, I have a responsibility, I have a responsibility to to model how we do it at my company. And and then through this podcast, I hope other, you know, leaders are listening and can see that yeah, you know, you don’t have to be a certain type of CEO, you know, you can bring aspects of your personal life into your leadership, and model that for your employees. And I’ve seen that at my company. I mean, since since I’ve, you know, last year changed a lot of how I’ve been leading, I really see how my team has been responding. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to see it.
Adam Baruh 24:03
We were discussing leadership, and how important it is for managers and leaders to model vulnerability so that it can open the door to trust and openness. When managers don’t practice compassion, and expect people to always bring bubbliness and high energy into their work, it can exacerbate the struggle that someone may be experiencing. Alright, so you spoke before about your divorce and the depression that you suffered at that time. And this, you know, you told me this in a previous conversation that when you were going through this time in your life and experiencing clinical depression, you’re still working and you described your boss from earlier but in particular, you earlier told me about a performance review that you had around this time. And I think what if I’m remembering correctly, I think what you told me was how your boss gave you a somewhat critical review because you were not the bubbly, happy, Michelle, that you normally were. So I, you know, personally, I think this highlights the specific problem that happens when managers do not show compassion or empathy in their leadership, you told me this is the moment you realize you wanted to help change how people are, are treated in the workplace. You know, and it gets me, it gets me thinking, you know, I spend a lot of time, you know, asking myself, like, how can I be a more empathetic leader, I feel like it’s gonna be a, an forever work in progress. Like, it’s not like, you know, we’re going to do these things. And then I’m done. Now, I’m an empathetic leader, right? It’s just, it’s an ongoing, what more can I do? What more can I do? Right. And I actually, when we, when we earlier had the conversation about this, it got me thinking, you know, this might be one of those good examples to highlight, like, a very practical way that managers can lead with empathy, which performance reviews are very interesting. I mean, number one, you’re measuring people, like uniformly, right. And it’s usually, you know, how’s the employee doing in terms of their productivity and their responsibilities in terms of their job description? And so it got, I’d spent a lot of time thinking about this afterwards and talking with the, you know, my partners about, you know, how could we Yeah, from a management perspective, like, yeah, we want to measure that employees are, you know, able to do their basic job function, but at the same time, provide a way, number one, for them, for employees to tell us, you know, how are we doing? I’ve been thinking about maybe changing, like, not doing performance reviews, in the traditional sense of them, but maybe something like a progress report where, you know, we spend time with the employee working through their goals. And And really, that’s what the performance review, or the progress report should measure is, how, how well are we doing as leaders to help you achieve your own professional and perhaps personal goals? You know, what, what are your thoughts around that?
Michelle E. Dickinson 27:14
Yeah, I think I know, for myself, so that whole experience for me was like, very jarring, because I had always been one of the employees who exceeded expectations. So to be receiving a negative review based on my bubbliness was so incredibly frustrating. It was It angered me and upset me at the same time, I sort of froze and didn’t say anything, but that actually, and so this ties into your question that actually now looking back shines a light on her lack of even self awareness and her own relationship to mental health. I’m Crystal Clear, I mean, because somebody who is in touch with who they are unaware of their own mental health and aware of their own relationship to mental health would never lead that way. So that just shows that that was a gift, actually, when I look back and say, wow, like, because how many other leaders are managing for performance in situations where employees are struggling with an emotional challenge, which only then exacerbates that experience for them and for the leader. So I think leaders need to become to be better leaders and create a better environment, they need to become more self aware, they need to be aware of their biases. These are two things that I touch on in my leader program, specifically, because how do you expect someone to lead in a different way? If they bring to their table their own experiences or interactions with, you know, mental health situations, or maybe none at all, and they’re leaning on what the media is feeding them about a mental illness? We have to check everybody there and say, let’s look at the basics. You know, what’s your relationship with mental health? What’s your experience with it? Because that’s the seat from which you will lead whether or not it’s verbal, it’s subconscious, then you know, it’s a tone. It’s a it’s a way of being. So I think that’s really important. I remember when I first started my company, Adam, I was talking to a girlfriend of mine, she’s very dear friend. She’s like, I just don’t understand what you do. What is it that you do, Michelle? I don’t like well, it’s like this, like, I want to, I want there to be more compassion in the workplace. And I want employees to have a healthy relationship to mental health and I want them to also know what they can do to preserve their well being. And she goes well, that’s great. But like, what if my my star employee gets sick with a mental illness like the widget still have to get made? Sure. And I go, okay, but your star employee suffering with something and probably need support. She’s like, But I don’t understand, like the widget still have to get made. So what am I supposed to do? Just allow that I’m like, okay. So finally, we went back and forth, back and forth. And I finally said to her, I go, Susan, do you believe that mental health is real, or a cop out? And she goes, I don’t know. And I go, Oh, my goodness, like, how many other leaders have this perception. So when they encounter an employee who’s struggling, they’re thinking in the back of their mind, by default, this is a cop out. Like, so the it’s just it’s, it’s awakening to realize that so many people, especially people in the seat of leadership responsible for other people can have these biases and these these belief systems, and that’s from the seat that they lead.
Adam Baruh 30:51
Yeah. And you’re, you’re touching at the heart of it. And, you know, we spoke about this a little bit earlier. But again, going back to, so this metaphor that you were just describing, you know, the widgets have to be made. So what if that employee had a physical ailment, or got COVID? And they have to be away for the same period of time? Like, why is it okay, that, you know, we are so willing to accept that. But when it comes to a mental health issue, it’s, it’s, again, that same mentality, just, why can’t this person tough it out? You know, why? Why is it now becoming my problem that I have to now manage this employee around their mental health issues when, you know, we don’t treat physical issues the same way?
Michelle E. Dickinson 31:37
Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s the million dollar question. Why, why do we treat it that way? You know, it’s not fair, it’s not right. And even worse, is the scar that people like a lot of people don’t want to disclose, because they’re so afraid that they’re not going to be eligible for promotion, they’re not going to be viewed as an equal to their peer. It’s like, the biggest myth out there, like employees who can successfully manage and navigate their mental illness are just as effective in their jobs. But but, you know, on the surface a leader might think otherwise not give them and not like, give him a shot, you know, so
Adam Baruh 32:15
it touches, it’s it’s, you know, just touches so many different aspects. Um, and, and, yeah, I really hope that, you know, through these conversations, you know, more and more people can recognize that, you know, we have to change the way that we’re addressing it. And, you know, for us, you know, my my management team, is, you know, that that is what I look to in terms of executing on our vision of leading with empathy. So one of the things that I look for most, when I’m interviewing somebody for a management position is emotional intelligence, it’s kind of a hard thing to measure. But I think if you can just have a normal conversation with somebody where you, you get into some topics that may be a little outside of the norm in terms of an interview, but it’s really trying to understand, you know, where, where’s this person at, and their emotional intelligence because that, that’s so needed desperately with management in order to execute, you know, leading with compassion, leading with empathy. You know, another way I look at my role as a manager, and I’m not alone in thinking this way, but, you know, my role is really to get the best out of my team to enable them to get out of their way. And so I feel it’s my duty to, you know, I address all aspects of how I can elevate somebodies. And I, you know, I don’t want to use the word productivity, because I think it focuses more on what they’re doing. But an employee’s overall, I guess, experience and their own recognition of the value they bring into a company, everybody’s different. Everybody’s gonna bring in their own personal history. And I think that’s the way it should be.
Michelle E. Dickinson 34:00
Yeah, there’s a lot of unique benefits. It’s, it’s very interesting. I used to work with a woman who was autistic, brilliant woman, like brilliant, like, the analytical sense that she had. It’s like, I think if if leaders could showcase the amazing attributes of their employees, it’s a win win, right? Like she was, she was always so fulfilled when she was tapped into for her unique contribution. You know, it’s so basic, but like, you really have to get to know someone to really, you know, have them show up in a way that supports you know, what they want to do and also what you need to have done and celebrate them for who they are.
Adam Baruh 34:46
Oh, yeah. All right. So I’ve worked with people that have been on the spectrum and I I truly think that that can be their superpower, much like you know, people that experience different issues and just, they approach their work. their life in a different way. Like, it’s a good thing that we bring this history, this personal history into the work that we do. Because, you know, if we can find where our, you know, out of a place of suffering, like we created a way of thinking that really is your, you know, your own individual superpower. I mean, imagine if you just change that perspective where, rather than something being a weakness, it actually becomes your strength. And I’ve shared this in, in an earlier episode of this podcast where, you know, for so many years, I, I’ve always been a very sensitive person since I was a kid. And I had really thought for so long, there was such a deep belief system around that I thought that was a weakness, I thought I had to be tough, I thought I had to, you know, be assertive, at times may be even aggressive to get my point across. But I really look now with that as being a strength, because out of that comes this, you know, for me at least the ability to feel what others may be feeling. And so I it’s helped me lead better. Some, you know, and kind of more on this topic of leading with empathy. So I was having a conversation recently with my business coach Kristen Taylor. And we spent some time exploring the blind spots that leading with empathy can introduce things like boundary setting, or how when you show up as a leader with empathy, it can be challenging to work through conflict resolution. So what do you think some other blind spots might be? And we do you have any ideas on how a leader could mitigate them?
Michelle E. Dickinson 36:47
Like you don’t know what you don’t know. I mean, I think, you know, I’m just gonna revert back to what I said before, I think leaders need to be the the most self aware on your team. I mean, because if you’re self aware, then you have a different perspective on how to interact with people, right? Your triggers are there, you’re aware of your triggers, you can lead in a different way. You can model better behavior. But you have to be self aware. I mean, I think that that’s one of the biggest things is people say, Oh, I have all of this rich experience behind me and all of these degrees, but have you looked in the mirror, and done the work and try to figure out, you know, why you are the way you are. Because it’s gonna absolutely make you more relatable to people, you’re going to connect in a more genuine way, it’s not going to be all facade, you’re going to be authentic, because you’re connected to who you are. So I think it all is rooted in that self awareness. But it’s not for everyone. A lot of people are just like, Oh, I’m good. You know, but honestly, I would challenge every every owner, like yourself to really say, I want my team to be as self aware as they can be. Because we all bring our stuff to the table. And when we’re self aware, it’s going to impact how effective we can lead. Yeah,
Adam Baruh 38:14
I’m gonna say something, it may be ignorant, but I want to put it out there. And I’m, you know, I’m curious how many business schools teach self awareness, and empathy? Anybody who has an answer, please send me a message. You know, Adam dapu at ai q media llc.com. That’s, I’m just, you know, I just thought about that. And I think it is something that should be taught. Yeah, much like you’re teaching economics in business school, like, why why not teach the importance of leading with empathy and that self awareness? Yeah. On mental health.gov They have a Myths and Facts page. And I was particularly interested in this myth. People with mental health needs, even those who are managing their mental illness cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job. So how do you respond to that?
Michelle E. Dickinson 39:11
Such a man, right? It’s such a myth. It’s, it’s so but you know, if you ask if you pulled a bunch of leaders, they probably not see that that is a myth. You know, I mean, therein lies part of the problem. Yeah, it’s, it’s just so unfortunate. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have either major depression or just depression, and they’re managing it and they’re contributing members of society and they’re functioning just just like anyone else and performing, you know, at the best of their ability, which is pretty, which is pretty good. So, you know, it’s so such a limiting belief system.
Adam Baruh 39:48
It really is. And you’ve decided an article to me stating that for every $1 spent towards treatment for common mental illnesses. There is a return of $4 and improve health and productivity. So can you explain this math for us? And, you know, tell us what you think contributes to this return?
Michelle E. Dickinson 40:07
Well, you want it. So when you think about productivity in the workplace, and you think about employees, you know, so mental health is one of those things that, you know, our insurance, I don’t want to go into the the deficits in the insurance system. But if mental illness is addressed proactively, if people are aware of how they’re doing, and they have no challenge with reaching out for support, they can get the care earlier in the process, and not have to hit the moment of crisis that could force them into hospitalization, etc. So it’s about the proactive care, and keeping employees engaged and in the workplace, performing versus going out on disability, and then those disability costs, you know, pile in and then you know, and then the return to work, then you have, you know, the probability of relapse, I mean, a lot of times, I mean, there’s so many complexities around mental illness that, you know, that’s why I’m a huge advocate for the proactive conversation about it, right? What is, what is it and, and how do we preserve it, rather than wait until we hit crisis, and then oh, well, we have to get a doctor, oh, well, that’s too hard, okay, then you’re in severe crisis, and then you got to go to the ER. So it doesn’t work. So it’s really all about, let’s turn up the volume about mental health proactively. So people, first of all have a better relationship to their brain. And no, no shame or embarrassment or fear around getting clinical support earlier in the process, and keep them working and healthy, and keep them engaged in their life and then engaged in their job. So that’s, that’s where that comes from, is you know, we want to keep people healthy. So invest in, in doing a little more upfront, I say this to my clients all the time, I, I’m so proud of them for putting more support around mental health for their people. Now, more than ever, because of this pandemic, a lot of employers feel like benefits, and an employee systems line is sufficient. But I’ll tell you what, it’s not especially now we have so many people suffering, that you need to turn the volume up and do things in your culture so that they actually pick up the phone and call EAP. Because you can offer it all day long. But if they’re not comfortable, they’re never going to call and they’re never going to get the support, and they’re going to suffer in silence, and then they’re going to go out on disability. So there’s the opportunity.
Adam Baruh 42:40
Yeah, you just gave me the perfect segue to my next question, which has been the traditional role of EAP. And I think, you know, probably I can answer how you’re gonna answer, right, which is that proactivity and I think that’s really the key, you touched on something very important, um, because it seems you know, that management has just wanted to avoid or not get involved, right, it’s not their responsibility, they’re not maybe an expert on being able to deal with some of these mental health struggles. So, you know, a lot of just, you know, we have an EAP program, call EAP. Right. But the importance of that product to that proactiveness. And being able to maybe, through having the emotional intelligence recognize, you know, maybe there’s something I can do as a leader to get ahead of this and address it before we just, you know, just talk to EAP. It’s not, you know, it’s not within my realm to discuss your mental health issues with you, right?
Michelle E. Dickinson 43:36
Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. So this is, this is a key factor in my leader training, because there’s so much trepidation that leaders have about having these conversations, the reality is the leader can do so much. And so can all of us as people with loved ones who we suspect are suffering, listening is the biggest gift you can give someone who might be struggling, you don’t have to feel like you need to fix it. And you don’t have to feel like you got to be a clinician and diagnose it and send them on a on a path to recovery. That’s not your job, your job is to listen, to hear what they have to say, and to remind them of what resources are available to them. In that moment. They just need to be heard, and they need to be gotten. And we can do that just by our generosity and listening to them. And then it’s to the point where, you know, I teach leaders all the time, just listen to them and say how can we support you? Simple as that. How can we support you, you as an officer of the company? How can we support you? And then just listen again, like almost like, shut up for 40 seconds and let them talk like you don’t have to come in there and go well, back when I my cousin Susie was diagnosed with anxiety she did this this and this and saw this doctor and took this drug. Here you go. No, that’s not what you do. And I think a lot of us come from a good place. place I want to do as much as we can. But that’s where we get in trouble. So listening is the first thing and bridging them to the care that your organization provides. Is, is the second thing I would tell leaders to do.
Adam Baruh 45:12
Yeah, and this goes back to what you said, at the beginning of this conversation, which is, you know, one of the one of the roles of leadership is to create that, that safe space. And that’s really all we have to do sometimes. Yeah, you’ve created a five step program for cultivating a culture of compassion in the workplace. So will you describe your program for us?
Michelle E. Dickinson 45:34
Sure. So that’s actually something that I have on my website, they’re, they’re really just five tips. The first one is establishing at the top of the organization that you are going to be a stigma free environment, a stigma free organization, and that, you know, there’s going to be policies that back that up, right, so it’s not just gonna be we’re gonna say it, but we’re gonna back it up with policies. And then as I shared with you is you courageously mentioned in the beginning of this podcast, have a leader go first. That’s the that’s one of the biggest things I recommend to people have a leader go first be vulnerable, tell their story, and start turning up the volume of around well being and mental health in the workplace as if it’s a normal conversation. Because you give people permission to talk about themselves when you talk about you, right now even you know, even around a lunch table or whatever, like, can you believe that our leader said that like, oh, well, you know, I suffered from that, it’s just going to change a lot of things is going to change how open people are about talking about it. So that’s another thing you can do. And then I’m a big advocate for employee resource groups, for mental health, because whether you’re suffering or or you’re caring for someone at home, the probability is the majority of your employees have been touched by mental health, so why not give them a community to come together and support one another, and, and like, you know, not feel so alone or embarrassed. So I’m a big fan of employee resource groups, and then even platforms for storytelling, having them Adam needs to have everyone on his podcast to tell their story. Because honestly, there’s, there’s so much healing in telling your story and, and showing up and, and seeing the human side of each other, can really build a lot of cohesion and connection within the company.
Adam Baruh 47:31
Yeah, and in regards to that storytelling, I and this is a plug for the moth, I have just become an absolute addict of the moth and the storytelling that is done on that podcast is done so well. And people open themselves up. And, you know, this is why I love doing what I’m doing now is, you know, being a part of that opening up being a part of that conversation, because it’s, I think it’s so important to model that. And, you know, good segue for my next question, or point, you know, Prince Harry, and Megan Markel, are working with Oprah Winfrey to produce a newer Docu series on Apple TV plus called the me you can’t see. And, you know, I think it’s, I think it’s pretty compelling and powerful. In the first episode, Prince Harry is interviewed, and he describes his own experience with mental health issues, referring to mental health issues as the invisible injury. We’ve spoken on that topic before in this conversation, but, you know, it’s almost like, again, you know, because we cannot physically see the suffering people may be feeling inside that we shouldn’t talk about it, or it’s not real. You know, I, I think that’s the thing too, there’s sometimes there’s this belief that just because you can’t see it, and somebody is describing pain, they’re going through that it’s almost like, it’s not happening, or it’s not real, this person’s being dramatic. Yeah. Um, what can businesses or business leaders do to normalize the mental health conversation in the workplace? And I’m, I’m emphasizing that word normalize. And I think it’s a lot of what we talked about here, but just, you know, creating that dialogue with employees among themselves to know that, hey, you know, it’s okay. It’s okay to talk about this. I don’t have to hide who I am and try to be something I’m not.
Michelle E. Dickinson 49:29
Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, it’s, it’s that proactive trust, like we talked about that before. But like, it’s that leader, if you want, as a leader, want your employee to feel comfortable, and proactively tell you when they might be struggling. You have to tend the garden of trust way early on, because you want them to come to you and say, let me just put the cards on the table. I’m struggling and you know, this is the deal. So, but that’s not going to happen, you know, people think that you can change it culture on a dime, you can’t do that you actually need to have your leaders be building that trust and doing, doing the work to create that rapport so that when life shows up for them, they they feel comfortable asking for what they need, and you can support them.
Adam Baruh 50:17
Yeah. So I want to ask one last question. If you could change anything about your background or how you were raised? Would you
Michelle E. Dickinson 50:28
know, in the moment I went through it, yes. But now, honestly, it’s a gift that shaped me. Yeah, there’s a powerful documentary called The Secret Life of the manic depressive. There’s a famous actor in there who and Carrie Fisher was in that, and Carrie Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder. And they asked Carrie Fisher the same thing and they said, you know, if you could wave a wand and have the bipolar be gone, would you? And she said no, because it makes me who I am. And so I would say the same thing. It made it made me who I am. It lit the fire within me to be the change I want to see in the world through my work. And, and I just believe that life is happening for us, not to us.
Adam Baruh 51:17
Well, Michelle, it’s been such an honor to speak with you today. Thank you so much for sharing your personal journey and about the work that you’re doing today to help us normalize mental health issues.
Michelle E. Dickinson 51:26
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me. Adam.