On May 6, I jumped out of a plane at 15,000 feet as part of the Black Dog Institute’s CEO Skydive. Stepping out of the aircraft was an absolute thrill and a challenge – but far from the most daunting leap I’ve taken in my professional life.
Almost a year ago, I spoke publicly for the first time about what it’s like to be a business leader who struggles with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the severe depression and anxiety that comes with it. The response to that article was incredible – a good thing, but also a sign that honest discussions of mental health in Australia’s business, tech and entrepreneurship landscape are still rare.
That urgently needs to change. Australia loses $12 billion in reduced productivity and workplace absences due to mental health issues ever year. Mental health cost our economy more than heart disease, cancer and respiratory problems combined. Even the most shrewd CEO can’t ignore those figures.
But far more important is the human impact. As founders and C-suite leaders, we should actually care about the mental wellbeing of staff and providing a safe, comfortable working environment.
I know first-hand how a mental disorder can be both a struggle and a superpower. Almost 1 in 20 Australians have ADHD, and many are only discover this in adulthood, like I did. Before my diagnosis, I scraped through an engineering degree, turning to partying and drugs to block out the noise in my head, suffered paralysing depression, and built a successful IT startup before burning out, crashing out and ending my marriage.
For me, the diagnosis illuminated how my brain works and what it needs. It meant that when I founded Kablamo in 2017 I could make a crucial decision to bring on a co-CEO, Angus Dorney. Angus oversees the operational aspects of Kablamo, and I can focus on my strengths: technical vision, product development and sales. It’s a great relationship; we communicate constantly and have clear divisions of responsibility.
Harnessing my strengths and providing the right cover for areas I struggle with has been central to Kablamo’s success. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to share that journey honestly with our staff and invest in the systems, support and resources that will equally keep them happy and able to work. There is no organisational gains or personal advancement that can come from overseeing a burnt out workforce.
Participating in awareness initiatives, like the CEO Skydive, is one way leaders can show up. It opens up transparent conversations about mental wellbeing at work and raises money to fund important medical research into mental illness.
But action doesn’t end there. Kablamo has now officially partnered with the Black Dog Institute, giving all our employees access to the Institute’s evidenced-based support and services. In exchange, we’re helping their team develop digital platforms and cloud-based software to facilitate a mentally healthier world.
My journey to understanding my own brain and what it need to thrive at work has been transformative. It’s what we all deserve. If jumping out of a plane means I can make that a possibility for even one more person, it’s worth doing.
Adapted from Al’s article published via LinkedIn 4th May 2022 (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/im-doing-ceo-skydive-why-all-ceos-should-take-plunge-waddell/?trackingId=feVkx6l3Rs2gnsYWer6kjQ%3D%3D)