Leaders should address issues of mental health and diversity not from a personal point of view but a solution-focused angle, said experts at a panel titled 'New Leadership Behaviours — taking bold, brave and authentic action'.
The panel was part of the DIAL Global Summit where senior leaders from FTSE & Fortune 500 Companies talk about how they are prioritising actions over words across visible and invisible facets of diversity.
They discussed tangible strategies and steps that can be taken to make measurable progress in creating equality in workplaces.
“There is a difference between leading with emotion and passion,” said Celia Liu, CEO strategic transformation and regional CFO Asia Pacific at ISS, a workplace experience and facility management company.
She said emotion is about the self, trying to get across your own point of view, incorporating your own journey and why you think a certain issue is important. But as businesses leaders, she believes issues should be approached with passion, which means to bring a solution to the table and focus on the ultimate outcome.
She added that having discussions over coffee are good if they are working towards finding answers and not just about everyone sitting around and complaining. While the latter can feel cathartic, the feeling is usually short-lived.
She also said leaders are not experts on issues like mental health and must be willing to get outside advice on these matters. At the same time, they must accept that they may sometimes say the wrong thing but that’s ok as long as their intention is right.
The panellists also stressed the importance of creating an environment where everyone is comfortable to speak up.
Rupinder Bains, MD at Pinder Reaux & Associates and non-executive director of the Football Association, said it very easy for organisations to take on a defensive position when tackling “difficult conversations” or “uncomfortable topics” but she said labelling them as such is what puts up barriers.
“We should just call them conversations and topics,” she said.
She believes simply having an open-door policy can bring about real change — it helped one colleague who had been at her company for three years finally open up about his struggles.
“In that one hour I spent with him my mind was blown. I could see his shoulders relaxing, he was able to communicate his trigger points and what we could do to support him. It was very valuable for me as a learning."
She said it is important not to create a "cold" environment where the focus is simply meeting targets and deadlines.
She added that businesses must realise if they are not willing to dwell on subjects of mental health and diversity, they are restricting their growth.
Meanwhile, Suniti Chauhan, non-executive director at Britvic, said when dealing with these issues, there is often not one right answer. The courageous thing to do is "pick what you think is the right answer and make it successful by following up with a strategy and intentions."
She said seeking advice from all people at all levels of the company "is engaging as an exercise, never mind the insights you will learn."