Many of today’s entrepreneurs project a lifestyle of pure success and happiness. But, looks can be deceiving. Depression among the high achieving is real and a growing problem and entrepreneurial leaders are no exception. Recent high-profile suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, designer Kate Spade and others reminds us no amount of success can shield us from our own inner darkness. Because Entrepreneurs live under constant pressure to perform, a drive to succeed, to deliver for stakeholders and more, we should be quick to identify the signs and to act. Despite leading our home grown start up to multimillion-dollar, multi-company success, I have endured my own struggles with depression and seen powerful results from engaging I want to share with you. What should you do if you suspect—or even know—you are battling depression?
Hear Others Out
First, listen to those around you—especially your close circle like your spouse, colleagues, family, and those you trust. The absence of an inner circle can be detrimental. We often see sadness, discouragement, and especially displays like crying from men as signs of incompetence and instability. The result is many people cover the real emotional state with outbursts of anger when the person can’t hold back the emotional swell. But those suffering from depression usually experience bouts of deep sadness, or despair or any combination of negative emotions. One day my wife came to me, “Steve I can’t take your outbursts of anger anymore. Every weekend you get angry and down and it lasts all weekend. You need to get help.” These are not words a person wants to hear—I sure didn’t. And I can tell you, I did not respond the first time. But ultimately, we must listen to the people who know us best.
Seek Your Inner Self
If you can find some inner honesty, you also need to pay attention to yourself. Many of us are not taught how to listen to our emotions and what they are telling us. This is a critical skill for leaders whether suffering depression or not. Begin to pay attention to your moods. How often are you angry? When you’re alone do you ever find yourself feeling sad despite success or failure? Do you need to keep moving so you’re not alone with yourself? Do you see patterns of addiction in your life? Listen to your own word choice and tone when you’re depleted and have less reserve to draw on. I wouldn’t have said I was depressed. But I knew something was wrong. I knew I got mad at other drivers for no reason. I knew I was using swear words and harsh statements at a rate out of sync with my values. I certainly wasn’t happy or lighthearted. Happiness isn’t wishful thinking or putting blinders on. It’s the ability to live in a posture of gratitude, acknowledging the many positive things in your life.
Seek Professional Help
Once I decided to listen to my wife and tuned to my own unhappiness, like many people, I didn’t know where to start. A great first step is to talk to your doctor. They can help you sort through your symptoms and offer next steps. If you are a person of faith talk to your pastor, priest, rabbi or other religious leader. The first thing you need is someone to listen and be alongside you.
However, remember physicians and spiritual leaders generally receive very little, if any, psychological training. Deep, long standing depression warrants seeking the help of a qualified professional therapist. Whether you think you’re “that bad” or not, if you see signs seek out a local therapist, a support group, or therapy retreat center. As a former pastor, I was nervous about who to turn to. Then I heard a well-known author share about his experience at a therapy retreat center. I figured he is a smart guy and it helped him, so maybe it would help me. I went—terrified and not knowing what to expect—and it is one of the single most life changing things I’ve done. They even helped me connect with a therapist in my area when I came home.
Talk to Your Inner Circle
Along the way, be sure you share your process with your inner circle. We all need the support, encouragement and accountability of friends who know us in our healing journey. The power of depression, addiction, and mental illness often lies in our silent struggles. I don’t share, so you don’t share. Because our struggles remain hidden, they continue to thrive. In truth, we all have something we struggle with. The more we normalize our struggles with our inner circle the less power they will have over us.
Return on the Investment
These steps are simple, but often extremely difficult to take. However, the return on this investment in yourself produces exponential yields. I don’t know your circumstances, but I can share some examples I’ve seen in my life and those I’ve known along the way.
You can become a more engaged leader with your team and customers as your emotions become a dashboard rather than the driver of your leadership. Emotions, even negative emotions, are not a bad thing. The key is understanding the specific role they play in giving you signals about your experience, so they inform you rather than control you.
You can strengthen your company. It’s not unusual for a depressed leader (especially a successful one) to keep a tight grip on the reins to “keep at least one thing under control in my life.” But we all know that type of leadership and control are illusions hindering the real growth potential of our companies. When you face your depression, you are much more likely to allow the company to become less dependent on your personal strengths and weaknesses by surrounding yourself with other highly capable people.
You can certainly become a better parent. Consider the model you give your children facing their own tough personal issues. You will show them an example of healthy relationships, healthy conflict and a sense of purpose without having to prove something. What better gift can we give to our children?
You might just save your marriage or relationship with your significant other. Rather than living at odds, your partner can become your biggest ally. Who knows, they may engage in a similar process and you will grow together as happened in my case.
Successful leaders recognize the signs of depression and take the necessary steps to find a solution. I was terrified when I took initial steps to put up a fight and see my doctor. This was a blessing in disguise as I connected with someone that had his own bouts with depression. We worked to share our experiences attack the root cause of my depression. Thankfully, this resulted in me leading a more fulfilled and happy life.
Dr. Stephen Leonard
After serving as a pastor for decade, Dr. Stephen Leonard decided it was time to live what he preached, leaving his job at the church and becoming an entrepreneur. Together with his wife Lisa, Stephen has built a multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand inspired by the story of their family and their faith. They provide men’s and women’s jewelry and accessories full of meaning, hope and purpose. With a decade as a pastor and a decade as a successful entrepreneur under his belt, he knows what it takes to lead through rapid growth, market shifts, business acquisition, team building and more. Through his platform, Stephen shares insights about raising a son with special needs, finding new intimacy after a marriage crisis, and his journey discovering his purpose, all while leading a complex and growing organization. Now, Stephen desires to inspire others to live the life they were created to live by understanding their own unique make up. His mission is to inspire you to live the life you are created to live! Follow him on blog, or social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).