CEO wellbeing

Chief executives have come under a huge amount of pressure during the pandemic. CT’s recent leadership wellbeing programme helped them assess the impact on their mental health and shape their response – and that of their organisations – going forward


Image: Istock

Tracey McEachran

Senior Associate Consultant, Campbell Tickell

Who is taking care of the chief executives? That was the question that sprang into my head as we began 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a collective trauma. As we sped at 100 miles an hour into the eye of the storm, each chief executive has steered their organisation into uncharted territory that came with a mountain of stress, a need to be more accessible than ever and little or no time to focus on their own wellbeing.

I wondered how many leaders had processed the trauma the pandemic brought, before moving into the next unknown. In the words of trauma expert Dr Gabor Maté: “Trauma is not the external events that happen to us, but rather how we internally respond to those events.”

Wellbeing programme

Although most of us haven’t been on a flight for a while, we are all familiar with the concept of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help others. My colleagues at Campbell Tickell and I agreed to create a wellbeing programme specifically for chief executives to help them do exactly that.

Each participant had their own reason for signing up to the programme (see quotes). Some talked about wanting to process the stress of the first months, the potential high mortality rates and their sense of personal responsibility for each of their tenants and colleagues. For others it was the sheer workload that the pandemic created and how that had impacted on their wellbeing. But there was an overwhelming sense of wanting to share and learn from each other in a non-competitive environment.

“I have experienced death through my work with the homeless, but not potentially to the scale the pandemic brought – and each phase has brought new challenges that bring a different set of stresses.”

Roger Clark, West London Mission

“I had just embarked on a new CEO role in the middle of a lockdown and was having to launch a big change programme online. I had only met people on a screen and I had to rethink how to get my message across. I felt like a bit of a fish out of water and I felt the programme could help me get things into perspective and give me the confidence I needed.”

Matt Cooney, The Community Housing Group

“When I saw the programme focused on wellbeing and leadership I wanted to sign up for it. [Former CIH president] Aileen Evans has done a lot to champion the topic of CEO wellbeing – without doubt it is her work that has given me the permission to focus on my own wellbeing.”

Heather Thomas, Sapphire Independent Housing

“I like being taken out of my comfort zone and the programme did that, bringing me new ways of thinking as well as reminding me of some useful things that had slipped out of my consciousness.”

Steve Scown, Dimensions

Authentic leadership

I designed the programme to cover different aspects of authentic leadership, including conscious leadership and vulnerability-based leadership. All of these are rooted in the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the leader. In the group we were able to see we are all talented and all vulnerable, in a way it is hard to discern when flying solo. It is the ability to hold and manage those two things that creates a successful, balanced and well chief executive.

It has been so rewarding to run the programme, bringing together diversity of thought with participants that have been fully present and supportive of each others’ learning and wellbeing. And while it was the pandemic that was the spark, we can see the benefit of providing a safe space for leaders to come together to focus and reflect on their own wellbeing whatever is happening in the wider operating environment.

“I have had 1-2-1 coaching, but coming together with like-minded people that are that are facing the same problems in a safe space – it was just so powerful.”

Heather Thomas, Sapphire Independent Housing

“First and foremost from personal point of view Tracey’s guidance and support was invaluable. But then the group dynamics, just the generosity of others within that group, it was just exemplary.”

Roger Clark, West London Mission

“One of the things that I took from the programme is that I don’t always need to know the answer, despite the pressure on me to do this, and what I need to focus on is finding ways to help my colleagues to find the answer.”

Matt Cooney, The Community Housing Group

Tracey McEachran will be running a second CEO Wellbeing For Leaders workshop starting this September for a small group of six CEOs/senior executives. Early-bird rates are available until 31 August. Email with any queries.


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