Ten years ago, “The Institute for the Future” made a statement that the biggest challenge for leaders in the next decade will be to stay healthy. Many frowned, but today the reality is that we are facing a challenge to keep leaders in businesses from derailing. The facts have stacked up and are screaming at us to pay attention to the current mental health of our leaders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has conducted recent studies to figure out how to deal with the current mental health pandemic because quite frankly it could have a catastrophic impact on the global workforce and economy, especially leaders who deal with high levels of stress.

Since 2016 we have seen the rise of “diseases of despair” as coined by Princeton academics. In the United States (US) the life expectancy has declined for three straight years due to the rise in suicide, drug and alcohol-related illnesses. People have lost meaning and hope in the US. People have lost their ability to cope with high levels of stress and anxiety and as some would have acknowledged, that the American dream has become the American nightmare. Placing the individual at the centre of life and personal fulfilment leads to Narcissism and eventually high levels of competition and selfishness.  Not only in the US, but across the world, levels of anxiety has risen consistently. Commentary on the latest anxiety statistics are concerning, and the reality is that 17-year-old kids in high school have the same level of anxiety than people admitted to mental institutions during the 1960s.

In South Africa, one-third of our workforce suffer from severe anxiety and depression. That also means that one-third of leaders struggle with mental health. The impact of this one third on the other two-thirds of your leaders and workforce could be severe. They (the healthy) will usually pick up the additional work, not performed by the one-third suffering from mental illness. Over the long term, this will lead to burnout and the mental deterioration of the two-thirds of your workforce doing additional work to help your business succeed. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be managed proactively.


Firstly, you need to assist your people with learning how they can regain, develop and maintain their mental strength. Mental Strength is in short supply because we have lost our ability to develop and maintain our mental strength. Mental Strength is not a cure for Mental Health, but it assists significantly in the recovery, and also the prevention of mental illness. Mental illness needs proper treatment by medical professionals that includes medication and therapy, but mental strength contributes to the management of anxiety and other stress-related illnesses. Most businesses have wellness programmes in place, but they are mostly reactive and only deal with mental illness. Leaders need to assist their people through training and development interventions to regain, develop and maintain mental strength. This proactive step will contribute greatly towards the sustainability of your business and a massive competitive advantage. The WHO published a report that shows that every $1 spent on mental strength development has a $4 return in terms of productivity.

Secondly, you need to provide leaders with mental strength coaching. Leaders need more personal attention when it comes to mental strength. A coach will pinpoint vulnerabilities and assist the leader with practical tools to address these vulnerabilities. A coach will stimulate the right kind of thinking for the leader.

Thirdly, provide therapy for those in need. One-third of your people could need one on one assistance from a psychologist.

Your businesses success will be defined by the health of your people. This starts with their mental strength. From there will flow healthier habits in all dimensions of their lives. This is the reality now and will need your urgent attention for your business to thrive in the future. The impact of mental strength on your productivity and profitability cannot be overemphasised.

Author and Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director @ TTLI (LinkedIn Bio

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