Toward the end of last year, rap artist and business mogul Jay-Z participated in an open and honest interview with The New York Times in which he identified one of the secrets to his business success: therapy. Jay-Z, who is worth more than $800 million, is far from the only business leader who has talked about the value of regular therapy. Despite this, therapy and other forms of mental health support are still associated with a lot of stigma. In reality, this stigma is largely unfounded. A recent study found that about 25 percent of adults in the United States have seen a therapist. The benefits of counseling can range from greater empathy to improved self-awareness, which have been linked to success in the business world.
Breaking Down the Benefits of Therapy for Business Leaders
A growing trend in business leadership focuses on the importance of emotional intelligence. Therapy can boost emotional intelligence significantly by improving one’s ability to empathize and help leaders to identify and work through their own negative feelings. Leaders can only be effective when they understand the particular biases that they have from their own past experiences. Acknowledging these biases can help individuals to move past them, which is the exact function of therapy. Often, people hold themselves back with negative thought patterns that they can break once they take the time to step outside themselves and analyze their behavior from a third-party perspective. Getting rid of this past baggage frees leaders to engage more closely with their employees and build trust with their colleagues.
Many companies today have mentorship programs that pair junior leaders with senior leaders to help them parse out their specific strengths and areas for growth. Leaders can think of therapy as a similar process that is designed to improve their mind-set and business skills. Working with a therapist can increase self-awareness so that we become more aware of the specific character assets and defects that define our behavior in and out of the workplace. Therapy is a safe and confidential environment for tackling self-awareness and becoming more critical of our own thought patterns.
Outside of these benefits, simply opening up to a therapist can help you learn how to receive and react effectively to feedback. Leaders often have difficulty in accepting critical feedback, and therapy can help them to break down the fear that underlies this problem. Many leaders have various fears tied to their position that they do not feel comfortable talking about openly. Therapy is a great place to explore these fears, whether they pertain to something abstract like failure or something more concrete like public speaking, before they start to hinder a career.
The Business Leader’s Role in Eliminating Stigma
While the business world is rapidly changing, negative stigma is still attached to the idea of therapy. Some companies have gotten around this stigma by using the terms “mentoring” or “coaching.” However, the idea behind these practices is slightly different. Leadership coaching focuses on helping people to become more successful in executive roles by teaching them conflict management, interpersonal communication, and other management skills. While coaching can help leaders with self-confidence and assertiveness, there are additional benefits to therapy, which often digs deeper to identify issues like transference and countertransference. In addition, therapists often employ strategies that coaches may not, such as motivational interviewing.
Business leaders can play a role in normalizing therapy by speaking more openly about participating in it and the benefits that it can provide. When business leaders set this sort of example for their employees, they create a safer place at work to discuss deep-seated issues, which in turn can drive communication and collaboration. Importantly, neither therapy nor coaching are a one-size-fits-all solution, and some people may do better with one than the other. However, by talking about these services openly, leaders can eliminate the belief that one is more shameful or less professional than the other.
Taking the Time to Find the Right Fit
Just as no one single therapy or mentoring solution will work for every leader, one mental health professional does not have the answer for everyone. People can benefit most when they take the time to identify someone whom they respect and with whom they can develop a long-term relationship. Leaders should spend some time thinking about what they want out of a counseling relationship before they start looking for the right therapist. Asking for recommendations can also help to identify the best potential therapist.
Following are some basic key questions that you should ask when looking for a potential therapist. The first question deals with training and degrees. The second, which is equally as important, pertains to experience. Has the therapist worked with business leaders in the past? These individuals will have the greatest insight as to what pressures this particular demographic faces. The third question to ask is also critical: Does the therapist walk the walk? In other words, does this individual also see a mental health professional or coach? People who answer “yes” have a clear understanding of what a therapeutic relationship can do for people. Moreover, they have a clearer concept of their own personal issues and how they could conflict with their work, which is the precise goal that business leaders should have when seeing a therapist.