In the final part of this three part series, financial journalist James Ashton talks with Louise Durkan, a managing director in our financial advisory team and Rachel Cutler, trainer and executive coach from the Gro Group about how to manage distress when you're the leader of a business.

The video and a transcript of the interview can be viewed below.

Distress in leaders and how to manage it

James Ashton: Rachel, you're advising a lot of company leaders on how to run their organizations better but in this tough time I guess you're also seeing signs of distress? What are the sort of things that you spot when you think this CEO is in trouble?

Rachel Cutler: It's signs of change of behaviour effectively, so we're creatures of habit, so if we start to change the way we are with other people, with our family, with our friends, with our colleagues, then you know those are the first signs that something's not going as it should. It usually means that your boundaries have been messed with. So, we have all sorts of boundaries including financial ones, we have physical ones, we have emotional ones, we have time ones - and I think that is a really good first sign that just another hour especially during the pandemic when you're on, when you lift the laptop up basically. So, I think you’re getting a sense of, I'm giving too much here, there's not enough time to finish something I was able to finish last time, it means you're getting overwhelmed basically, and it's not long after that you'll get burnt out and you won't be any use.

James Ashton: Louise, we talk a lot about the importance of CEOs being self-aware, when they're getting into trouble personally, is it something they should spot themselves or is this a time that you rely on your partner, your colleagues at work or your mentor even?

Louise Durkan: I think it's really hard for people to be that self-aware all of the time and maybe they're very focused on what needs to happen next. The ones closest to them see it and that can be the people that we spend more time in work than we spend at home, so quite often it is your work colleagues that will see that exact change and maybe you don't come in the morning as bright as you normally do, maybe you just forget to say hello to some people - it can be really a simple change. You become more insular, your door is shut not open to your room that you're in. Maybe you don't have lunch with your colleagues anymore because actually you're busy, you're on the phone and you're dealing with emails, so we see it very quickly and we notice it straight away. If you've got the right environment it doesn't matter who you are in that organization, you can hold your hand up and say I think there's a problem and that's where we see it doesn't work when we see businesses that aren't operating at that level and don't have that culture - that it's okay, that it doesn't matter whether you're the person that works on reception or you're the person that's up in the boardroom, you need to be able to speak to one another, both on a human level but also within the business and what seems to be going on within the business as well.

Rachel Cutler: There's plenty of research about being a vulnerable leader makes you a good leader, so there's no harm in saying, put your hand up like you say.

Louise Durkan: I'd much rather hear it from somebody that sees it and says it right away, then find that it’s six months later and said to me “oh yeah, I thought there was something going wrong - I didn't really know how to approach you.” That feels I failed on a different level, not failed as what I thought my job was to be, but it's failed on a level where actually I'm not approachable anymore.

James Ashton: Rachel, if you're the boss and you're suffering from stress, distress, whatever we might call it, is it simply you just have to quit or can you step away and recover, and come back into the role?

Rachel Cutler: Well, it might involve quitting but don't create a situation where you have to walk away. So, create that time within your workspace where you take time for yourself, and you have a sense of how am I doing? Question yourself. Use your mentors before the last minute. So, I would say if you've got to quit, it means that the culture is upside down.

Louise Durkan: It's almost too late - if you're doing it because there's almost a gun to your head, it's the wrong time already, you've gone beyond where it should be happening. The warning signs; maybe you've not spotted it but maybe a colleague already has, so ideally you've had that conversation.

James Ashton: It's meant to be difficult isn't it though? I mean the CEO gets the big bucks, they're meant to have stress and it's meant to be a challenging role isn't it?

Louise Durkan: If you thrive on that level of activity, and some of us do, some of us like to have that pressure, it keeps us sharp but it doesn't have to be like that and it doesn't have to be unsustainable as well. I think there's an expectation that everybody at the top should be carrying the most weight and I don't think it's about the success or failure of one, it's the success or failure of everyone and actually the strongest leader shares the burden. There's nothing wrong with saying you need help, that you don't have all of the skills, all of the personalities that you need to drive the business forward.

James Ashton: And Rachel, finally what should CEOs learn from the pandemic - how do they become a better boss afterwards?

Rachel Cutler: Well, first of all they decide that this has been a change that isn't going to be the final change - they know that something like this will happen again. It will be tough, it will be difficult but the experience - the best leaders going forward will be those that haven't looked at the failures as much as successes. If you take someone like ASOS who's done very well this year, if they sit back and go weren't we resilient they're in trouble because no, they were lucky, so you need to be thinking ahead, you need to have a sense that the future matters and we have to be there for ourselves for businesses.

James Ashton: Rachel, Louise thank you.

Louise Durkan: Thank you.

Rachel Cutler: Thank you.