05 Sep 2016

3 must-haves for a mentally resilient culture | Graeme Cowan | Leadership Speaker

Graeme Cowan delivers keynote presentations and workshops that help leaders build their own resilience as well as the resilience, of their tribes. The outcome is a team with happier, healthier moods, and greater, more productive performances. An expert in helping others thrive through the stresses of the modern world, his presentations are aimed at helping individuals reinforce the positive and minimise the negatives for businesses. He is a board member of R U OK?, and was instrumental in helping Gavin Larkin and a small team, create and grow this extraordinary success story.

Here the Leadership Speaker shares the 3 must-haves an organisation needs to build a mentally resilient culture.

 “As a leader, are you a sheepdog or a wolf?”

Former Navy SEAL Brendan Gleeson describes one of the key lessons he learnt in that elite group. He writes: Be the sheepdog, not the wolf. The sheepdog is the protector of the flock. The sheepdog protects others that cannot protect themselves. The wolf is a coward that prays on the weak. In the Teams, we fight to protect our brothers. It’s that simple. I will always teach my leaders to protect those around them, even if it’s with the most simple gesture or kind word.”

One of the best things you can do for your flock is to create a mentally resilient culture.

To thrive through change we must strive to continually improve our employee’s resilience, mood, and engagement. This isn’t easy in today’s workplace.

Australian research recently revealed that the leading causes of work stress and disengagement were change fatigue (39%), not using personal strengths each day (37%), unclear priorities (35%) and not enough recognition and feedback (34%).

It is also sobering to realise that depression and stress disorders currently account for 34% of lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism according to a Medibank study – and yet 86% of those afflicted would rather suffer in silence, rather than discuss their illness.

The rate of change is clearly taking a toll, and yet great leaders care for their people, and inspire them to go beyond what is expected.

Whilst many leaders acknowledge that healthy employees are productive employees, a large proportion are sceptical that integrated wellbeing programs can produce a compelling return on investment.

A PWC report commissioned by Beyond Blue, estimated that for every $1.00 invested in mental health programs, $2.30 will be returned to the bottom line. In the mining industry, that return was estimated to be as high as $15.00 for every $1.00 spent.

So, what are the 3 critical success factors for creating a resilient culture?

Link your resilience program to your vision and values

Creating a mentally healthy and resilient culture is easy to justify. Employees with a positive mood are 31% more productive, 37% more influential, and 300% more creative. Yet many programs that try to promote mental health make it seem like something “extra”.

So how do we link the program to the vision and values?

Take for example ACT Health. Their vision is “Your health – our priority.”

A leader can link a mental resilience program to this vision – as ”Your health” applies equally to their community and their employees. Their values are: care, excellence, collaboration, integrity. We care for our employees by making a mental resilience program a top priority.

Leaders must “walk the talk”

In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, 73% of employees with senior managers who show support through involvement and commitment to well-being initiatives said their organisation helps employees develop a healthy lifestyle, compared with just 11 % who work in an organisation without that leadership support.

Where their leader supported the wellbeing program, 91% were motivated to do their best (versus 30% for non-supportive leaders), and 89% would recommend their company as a good place to work (versus 17%).

If leaders don’t “walk the talk”, you’re throwing money away by investing in a resilience program.

Ensure the program addresses the individual, tribe, and organisation

Leadership behaviour and the procedures of an organisation are the most powerful predictors of how employees behave. For example, if one of our desired behaviours is for employees to reach out to a colleague they suspect is in distress and ask “Are you OK?”, we need to consider if the following questions are addressed by the program.


Does he or she enjoy helping those in distress?

Does he or she have the required knowledge to help those in distress?


Do others encourage or discourage assisting those in distress?

What impact do others have on the person’s ability to help someone in distress (providing necessary example, help, information, etc.)?


How do the formal reward and performance management systems impact mental well being?

How do work layout, policies, job design, and other systems influence mental well being?

Any resilience program must address these 3 levels to be successful and sustainable.

Improving mental resilience is on CEO’s agendas across Australia’s most successful companies. Would you like to know more?

Learn more about Graeme here.

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