Leading together with Babita Spinelli

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on public mental health. Among the many negative consequences are sickness and bereavement, increased uncertainty, decreased human connection, and lost opportunities for work and education. However, it has also led to significant discoveries. We are becoming more aware as a society that mental health is critical, and that people who are suffering frequently lack the resources they require.

While some CEOs have dabbled in psychotherapy for years, the added stress of running their organizations and workforces during the coronavirus pandemic sparked a surge in interest from C-suite executives seeking more mental health support, according to sources.

This, combined with the staff's newfound expectation of senior leaders to be able to demonstrate empathy and be comfortable revealing their own vulnerabilities, as well as other fundamental changes to former traditional leadership philosophies brought about by the pandemic's working conditions, has caused anxiety among many executives over the last two years.

Every day, CEOs and senior executives face a slew of difficult situations, from welcoming sales teams back to the office after COVID-19 to meeting with investors and suppliers. This stress can be overwhelming for some CEOs, affecting job performance, productivity, and family life. When stress becomes unbearable, top executives can benefit from psychotherapy to identify their stressors and overcome negative thought patterns.

As CEO, you are the company's leader. At times, this can be a lonely path. Juggling all of your responsibilities while also serving as a positive role model for your team is difficult. However, keep in mind that you are not alone on your path to leadership. There are many resources available to help CEOs and business owners succeed in their roles. If you haven't already, now is the time to consider therapy or executive coaching.

Executives can benefit from personal counseling or coaching. You may be able to confront issues that have been a source of difficulty in both your personal and professional lives. Simultaneously, such services can have a substantial positive impact on your business. Indeed, therapy for a CEO can benefit the entire team.

We spoke with Babita Spinelli, CEO of Babita Spinelli Group and Opening the Doors Psychotherapy, to learn more about the benefits of therapy for leaders. She has spent her career helping others, first as a lawyer and now as a psychotherapist, executive coach, mental health consultant, and relationship expert.

Aspioneer (A): Babita, we appreciate your presence here today. Let's get started. Why, in your opinion, is therapy important for individuals?

Babita (B): Thank you very much for inviting me. Therapy is a big word when you think about it. However, when I hear the word therapy, the first thing that comes to mind is empathy.

Because I've been there, I understand. I understand how difficult it is to ask for help, so I sympathize with people who begin therapy. However, we must recognise that therapy exists to help us move forward and get unstuck in life.

Therapy teaches you about yourself, your problems' underlying causes, your thought process, emotions, and behavior. It is a process that teaches you how to respond to your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, as well as effective coping techniques and reaction management.

Mental health is essential for living a healthy and comfortable life. The most important dimensions to monitor in terms of wellness are emotional, social, and psychological. These three factors have an impact on how we think, feel, and react.

Babita Spinelli

A: That is an excellent description. But why should executives seek therapy? What makes them suitable candidates for coaching? After all, they're high achievers.

B: Leaders have long exercised emotional control at work. Leaders project optimism and confidence when team members are discouraged. Alternatively, despite their skepticism about the company's strategic direction, they must work to rally the troops. Because of workplace changes, leaders today must demonstrate more empathy than ever before.

More than that, today's leaders are expected to care for their employees' mental and physical health and burnout, to demonstrate boundless sensitivity and compassion, and to offer opportunities for flexibility and remote work — all while managing the bottom line, doing more with less, and overcoming challenges with hiring and retaining talent. They must appear genuine, but if they are too open about their issues, others may lose trust in their leadership.

If proper support is not provided, this additional emotional burden comes at a high cost. When left unmanaged, it puts leaders at risk of burnout and health problems. As a result, organizations run the risk of lower productivity and performance, as well as high turnover of leadership talent.

Leaders may put on a game face to deal with emotional demands, masking their true emotions. Suppressing and faking emotions, on the other hand, comes at a high cost to both the leader and the organization. The effort expended depletes self-control, increasing the likelihood that leaders will lash out at work, such as by belittling or insulting a coworker. This stress can also have an impact on leaders' health, increasing their susceptibility to physical aches, burnout, insomnia, and binge drinking when they return home.

Rarely do leadership development programmes prepare leaders to deal with the emotional demands of their positions. As a result, most leaders are likely unaware of the ineffectiveness and negative consequences of emotion suppression and performative compassion. Recognition is the first step towards improved performance and health.

In recent years, we've all been through a lot. Every leader will tell you that navigating a global pandemic while also supporting employees who have experienced injustice and heartbreaking acts of violence has been nothing short of arduous. What they most likely do not tell you is that it has also been extremely difficult for them personally.

Leaders need people they can lean on, talk to, and seek advice from. I see therapy as an opportunity to go even deeper, to reframe a person's thinking around specific scenarios, and, eventually, to solve more complex problems.

Years ago, a therapist assisted me in working through a difficult period in my relationship with a senior leader. She asked me to figure out what motivated my coworker, what they were afraid of, and how my actions were contributing to an ineffective cycle for both of us. Was it enjoyable to listen to? Nope. But did it help me see how my own actions were causing unhappiness in both of our lives? Absolutely.

Therapy allows executives to take a step back and look at themselves objectively, giving them the self-awareness they need to learn and grow from their mistakes.

A: Do employees and teams benefit from the fact that their leaders are seeking therapy?

B: Absolutely. When employees express their pain or resentment at work, it can be difficult for leaders to deal with. Workplace frustration can often feel personal and provoke defensive responses. Leaders are expected to be compassionate even when team members vent about non-work issues, which can exhaust them. Furthermore, leaders can "catch" the distress of their team members and carry it with them throughout the day, increasing the likelihood of mistreating others.

Don't we all want our employees to be able to express themselves freely at work? It may be tempting for leaders to put on a brave face while suppressing their own emotions. To be honest, it is unjust and sends the wrong message to their employees. Instead, we must create space for connection, debate, and healing. The first step is to be vulnerable and accept that it's okay not to be okay.

The good news is that leaders can avoid compassion fatigue by developing new emotional skills, such as reframing emotions as data to be processed. Leaders gain valuable information about how to lead effectively and protect themselves from the collateral damage of listening to emotional comments by purposefully assuming the role of information seeker.

In a hybrid world where people feel isolated and alone, it is more important than ever to ask how others are doing and to be kind to one another. Employees will find it easier to seek help if leaders set a good example and are open about it.

"Leadership is about using yourself as a tool to achieve objectives. It is learnable, but only if you are committed to serious self-development and self-care."

A: What about your personal life, Babita? How do you apply what you've learned in your own life?

B: It is critical for me to take proactive and productive care of myself in order to be present for others while also maintaining my energy, resilience, and motivation, as well as prioritizing my personal relationships. I check in to ensure that I'm finding balance in all aspects of my life - physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and intellectually - and that I'm keeping my life container in mind. I need to practice this because it is part of the work I do with my clients.

For me, self-care is synonymous with overall health. Setting boundaries, how I treat myself, practicing gratitude, getting enough sleep, doing things that make me happy, and making time to play, laugh, and have fun are all important aspects of my life.

My self-care practices include being mindful of my emotions - our emotional intelligence is essential for recognising levels of depletion, anxiety, overwhelm, and so on.

As a barometer, we need to take a temperature check and stay in touch with our feelings. We can try to stay one step ahead of it if we consistently practice self-care.

A: Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to all leaders, what would it be?

B: My advice to other business leaders is to avoid comparing themselves to others. That's not to say we don't have people who inspire and motivate us to achieve our goals, but comparing ourselves isn't one of them. Recognize that whatever you have to offer is unique because you and your presence are unique.

I was told to invest in myself, and I tell the leaders I work with to do the same. Investing in yourself boosts your confidence, keeps you growing, provides clarity, and allows you to reflect and learn from others who have lessons and advice to share. Don't be afraid to invest resources and gain support.

I also believe that self-awareness and emotional intelligence are critical for effective leadership. This is the foundation for building trust and empathy, as well as leading with compassion. We will be able to lead from a place of understanding if we strengthen those muscles because we will no longer be trapped by our own subjective experience.

To summarize, you are a flawed, imperfect, and, yes, human leader. Normalizing therapy and seeking help, on the other hand, demonstrates strength, resiliency, and a willingness to go to any length to become the best leader you can be. Leadership is about using yourself as a tool to achieve objectives. It is learnable, but only if you are committed to serious self-development and self-care.

A: Thank you so much, Babita.

Babita Spinelli, LP JD is an internationally renowned award-winning psychotherapist, executive coach and mental health consultant. In her private practice and public engagements, she empowers people and organizations to examine and redefine relationships as a tool for personal and professional growth and to optimize their lives. She is often called “ The Therapist CEOs have on speed dial.”

As a former lawyer and Wall Street executive, Babita brings a unique perspective to managing mental health issues and relationships in the workplace, developing business strategy relating to human dynamics, and resolving high-conflict issues. Her corporate background and experience are key to partnering with executives and leaders who recognize the benefit of therapy and it’s positive impact on not only leading their organizations but also making healthy long-lasting positive changes in their personal lives. Babita Spinelli is a sought-after speaker and mental health expert in media across the globe and has been featured in over a hundred media outlets such as Forbes, Bloomberg, ABC, NBC, CNN, Men’s Health, Oprah Magazine, Business Insider, Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Wondermind and Mind Body Green. Babita Spinelli is the recipient of the 2022 Prestige Award for Psychotherapist of the Year, the 2019 New York Psychotherapist Award and was named one of New York’s top ten Life Coaches and inspirational women to look out for in 2022. Babita Spinelli is also a SXSW Speaker and delivered keynotes on mental health and wellness across the globe.