Acknowledging our own need to change is the biggest lesson
by Helen Hamilton-Shaw, LawNet's Member Engagement & Strategy Director
Not so long ago, the metrics for appraising law firm leaders tended to focus on power and money: their performance measured by profitability and their ability to grow new markets. For personal qualities to count, it was likely to be those that demonstrated strength and their ability to take tough decisions – such as axeing staff when the need arose.
In a short of space of time we have seen a quantum shift and progressive firms are likely to rank a proactive approach to wellbeing and resilience high on the list of KPI’s for their managing partner or CEO, together with authenticity, trust and honesty.
But while wellbeing is recognised by most firms as critical for high performance, it is less common to find those who take a structured, science-based approach and recognise the vital role played by leaders in setting the standard.
For the pursuit of wellbeing is not achieved with a corporate fruit bowl or a bring-your-dog-to-work day – although those have a place – it’s about raising awareness of how brains actually work at a deeper level and using that knowledge to help people tackle issues to be their best selves.
The negative impact of the pandemic on mental health has been in the headlines since the first lockdown, and official statistics for the first quarter of 2021 show that the incidence of depression in the population has doubled since the pandemic first struck.
We have also seen how remote working can create isolation and affect our ability to connect with others, having a direct impact on team cohesion and people’s sense of belonging and inclusion.
In this situation, positive human relationships and good social support are more important than ever. And while leaders are not themselves responsible for making people well, they can create a better, more supportive environment.
How a leader manages their own psychological wellbeing will directly impact how they lead and how they support the wellbeing of others. By improving their cognitive and emotional strength, they can adapt and thrive, both professionally and personally, and share their personal development to support their team effectively.
The role played by neuroscience in this, and the extent to which we can learn how to manage and change our own psychology, is an area that has interested me for some time. As a result, we create opportunities for our network members to learn from world-renowned thought leaders in the field, at our conferences and development events, and I have been on a journey of self-discovery myself. Most recently, taking part in a programme with Dr Brian Marien, a previous speaker at a LawNet conference and an expert in the application of neuroscience in the workplace, and the insights have been fascinating.
Designed to build a core set of psychological skills, the programme addressed four areas of capability in the human brain: awareness, focus, mindset and connection.
It has helped me to recognise that where you are on the wellbeing continuum can directly impact your capacity to connect with others, because it influences your ability to be empathetic and to hear other voices. It was eye-opening to realise how, as a leader, your mood state and emotions can cascade across groups and have a powerful impact on how others think, feel and behave.
For me, one of the biggest take-aways was the importance of connection, and how the development of self-regulation and active listening skills can enhance wellbeing and performance in both oneself and others.
This resonates particularly when considering the challenge of finding new ways to build connections in what is currently a socially distanced and largely virtual working environment.
Too often it’s been said that people don’t change but delving into neuroscience turns this on its head. Neuroplasticity - one’s ability to adapt and think in different ways - is linked to mindset. Neurons that fire together, wire together, so whatever you use your brain for, you will get better at it.
So, for now, I’m working on reading my emotional barometer and making sure my positivity switch is engaged, and my attention under control.
This article first appeared in Solicitors Journal.