From Neglect to Nurture: Emotional Wellbeing and Leadership (webinar summary)

Research shows that strong emotional wellness has positive impacts on productivity, longevity, and quality of life, according to Tony Sam George, Dean for Social Sciences and Associate Director of Research at CHRIST (Deemed to be University) in Bangalore, India. Dr. Tony, a 2017-2018 United Board Fellow, drew on his research interests in the professional and personal development of leaders in academia in his presentation, “From Neglect to Nurture: Emotional Wellbeing and Leadership,” held August 25 as part of the United Board’s webinar series on “Leading Through Crisis.”

Dr. Tony examined why academic leaders, who know much about emotional wellness and encourage students to practice it, rarely look after their own emotional wellness. Leaders often feel the need to mask their vulnerabilities so that they can project their strengths. While they recognize they cannot please everyone, this conflicts with the human desire to win the approval of others. This leads them to experience a variety of negative emotional responses, such as frustration and self-doubt, which in turn results in a deterioration in one’s emotional health. Dr. Tony refers to this as a “thinking virus,” a phenomenon that causes an increase in brain activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the region of the brain that regulates emotions and decision making. This uptick in activity increases the brain’s calorie consumption which results in one feeling depleted.

Dr. Tony said that modern leadership sets high standards of authenticity, self-awareness, and empathy, which require a large pool of positive emotions. Yet many academic leaders are feeling overwhelmed during the pandemic and the switch from in-person to online class. The frustrations of preparing a new format of learning, combined with the complaints of students and parents, are triggers for many of the “thinking viruses” affecting educators. These can be prevented if they set realistic standards for themselves and remember that the truths of leadership – for instance, leadership can be lonely or require unpopular decisions – cannot always be reconciled with their personal beliefs.

Dr. Tony asked webinar participants to reflect on their own leadership experiences and find the reasons they neglect their own emotional wellness. Over half of the participants indicated that they are either too invested in others’ lives or under pressure to be there for their team – reasons for them to follow Dr. Tony’s advice to be kind to themselves.

To view the webinar recording, click here.