How a CEO Transformed the Stress that Nearly Broke Him

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Recently I read about a CEO confessing that stress nearly broke him.

Can you relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed with stress?

Would you like to learn how this leader turned his stress from a source of suffering to an opportunity for growth?

I recently shared this story in my keynote at a conference of leaders. I thought the CEOs would be able to relate.

But then I realized that you are also the CEO of your own life. You also influence people and make a difference to those around you. So you too are a leader and may relate to this story.

Antonio Horta-Osoriois a 53 yr old CEO of Lloyds’ Banking Group in Europe. In an interview with Louise Carpenter of the Times in October 2017, he said that his job stress nearly “broke” him, dealing with serious insomnia shortly after joining the bank in 2011.

When he started as a CEO at Lloyds, the state of the bank was a “life-or-death” situation. He felt it his personal responsibility “to lead the team to turn it around and give the taxpayers’ money back.”

He finally did it. In May 2017, the bank became fully private and the exchequer got £900m more than its original investment nine years back.

But the stress during that time had an effect on his mental health. Within seven months of starting his job, he spent nine days at the Priory clinic to prevent a nervous breakdown. His insomnia (lack of sleep) had reached a tipping point and was affecting his abilities. “It almost broke me,” he said.

It was hard for him but he saw a psychiatrist. He admitted; “I was not used to asking for a lot of advice or showing a lot of [emotions] because I’d been a CEO since the age of 29 and it is a very lonely job – people require leadership, even in moments of adversity and difficulty. 

To go from there to this humble experience and learning to ‘share’ with someone else, yes, it required some learning, I admit.”

Many of us feel like we need to be superhumans as this CEO confided; “I thought I was Superman. I felt I could do everything.”

Do you become less of a person if you are not superhuman?

Horta-Osoriois changed his opinion. He said; “Before this, I had thought the less sleep and more work, the better.

It showed me I was not Superman. I became a better person, more patient, more understanding and more considerate. It was humbling but you learn.”

He discovered that thinking can lead to behaviors that can cause more stress. He identified and challenged his thinking and changed his behavior. It helped him improve his mental health and resilience. 

He noticed that our current culture contributes to stressful behaviors. He recognized that there are rising stress levels at work. People consider quitting their jobs due to stress but feel that talking about their stress in the workplace will damage their careers.

So, he took a bold step. While most people hide their mental difficulties, he opened up. He took steps to increase mental health awareness and change corporate culture.  

In his speech at the Mental Health at Work launch, he said that mental health issues are similar to any physical health like a broken leg or infection and it should be dealt with, in a similar way.

See this 1 min clip from his speech here

Today, his bank has developed several programs to promote mental health and wellness at work. I liked the following five in particular:

  1. Opening up communication where people share stories without fear of judgment. They utilize employee assistance programs.
  2. Resilience Training for leaders and teams. They started with the Optimal Leadership Resilience Program for managers.
  3. Creating an accepting corporate culture where there is a focus on developing strength. They focus on where the energy comes from and how to manage themselves and their work.
  4. Creating parity (equal coverage) for mental health. For a long time, insurance companies discriminated against mental health. (I wrote a paper on mental health parity during my residency in 1998). Luckily in the US, we have mostly come around on paper, but not necessarily in thinking.  
  5. Mental Health Awareness week: In their series on ”Me on a good day” 2000 people shared their “Tips for staying healthy.”

In March of 2019, 40 CEOs of fortune 500 companies in the US gathered for a round table with the American Heart Association. They worked on strategies to decrease stigma and make your workplace mental health-friendly. 

There is a toolkit available for companies now to implement some strategies at their workplaces, available at http://www.askearn.org/mentalhealth/

So what can you do? You may think that you are not in a position to bring such a level of change. Think again. 

This leader had to bring the change in himself first. Then influence people around him.

One time I surveyed my friends about wellness programs at their organizations. (As I provide corporate wellness programs I am always interested in people utilizing those). 

I understand that some business owners or independent contractors may not have access to such programs. But, I was surprised to find that many employees who do have access, don’t utilize them. 

Many didn’t even know if those services were available at their work. 

Some didn’t use it even when their companies provided incentives. 


Why do we wait until we are in crisis? 

Why can’t we be proactive instead of reactive? 

Many people don’t take steps even when they get signals from their bodies in the form of insomnia or irritability or pain.  

Do we have to suffer unnecessarily just because of the stigma?

What can you do?

I suggest:

  1. Find out if your organization provides wellness programs for both mind and body. Utilize the resources for improving your resilience even if you don’t have any mental problems at this time so you don’t develop one.
  2. If you don’t have access through your work, develop your own program by reading books, taking courses and attending community programs.
  3. Then start working within your circles of influence to increase awareness. Cultures are not changed by one person but each person plays a role and creates a ripple effect that impacts people around them.

Take a small step towards your mental wellness and resilience today

Dedicated to your health and happiness

Dr. Rozina.

# 1 Bestselling Author, Psychiatrist, Transformational Speaker


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I share many tools and techniques that I have found to be helpful. They are not intended to replace treatments. Please seek treatment from licensed medical or health professionals as needed. I change all names for privacy.


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