Stress Management

Why Leaders Lean on Friends and Family

Why Leaders Lean on Friends and Family
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Clearly, a company’s prosperity hinges on the strength of its leader. Yet while stress and responsibility come with the role, that leader does not necessarily have to face these things alone: A network of friends and family can be a safety net and, on the surface, a means for the leader to balance his or her life.

Related: How Successful People Manage Stress

At a deeper level, those friends and family members can be a huge asset in another regard: Their influence can affect how a leader develops in that role, and on the legacy he or she chooses to leave behind.

Mental health

To quote the words of Aristotle, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness.” As immaculate as some people in power may seem, their lives are often fraught with a great deal of anxiety.

In his research on mental health conditions among entrepreneurs, Michael A. Freeman found that 72 percent of the entrepreneurs he studied reported mental health concerns, a figure much greater than that of the control group he looked at. Indeed, it may come as no surprise that entrepreneurs are susceptible to mental health issues, considering the arduous journey involved in growing a company.

A close circle of friends and family can ease this journey. These are the people after all who provide a safe place in which to be vulnerable and process issues instead of bottling them up.

And opening up is critical: In an episode with BBC Radio, Lord Dennis Stevenson, former chairman of HBOS plc, shared his struggle with clinical depression and the importance of being forthcoming about mental health. Because it’s daunting to admit that you’re flailing. And it takes courage to address those issues. But with the patience of, and support from, loved ones, a more resilient leader is born.

Work-life balance

It is common to believe leaders must work non-stop to keep their companies thriving, but they are hardly immune to burnout and stagnation. A recent study at Stanford by John Pencavel showed that hourly productivity drops off when someone's work week exceeds 50 hours.

Dedicating time to family and friends is a way to relax and renew before jumping back into chaos. It can be as simple as a weekly dinner out or a spontaneous excursion. Ensuring a meaningful relationship with loved ones goes hand in hand with hard work in attaining overall success.

A recent high-profile example may be useful here: During a candid townhall Q&A session, the billionaire founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, remarked, “If you count the time I’m in the office, it’s probably no more than 50 to 60 hours a week. But if you count all the time I’m focused on our mission, that’s basically my whole life.”

For Zuckerberg, the time he spends outside of the office is far from wasted. He has decided to take two months of paternity leave to care for his newborn daughter. By investing in his family, Zuckerberg places his decisions in perspective and leads with his mission in mind.

Related: How Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Richard Branson Cope With Stress (Infographic)

Character development

No one is born fully equipped with the ability to command an army, let alone a company. Leadership “character,” derived from the Greek word charattein, meaning "to engrave," develops over the course of a lifetime. Early life lessons, courtesy of family and role models, define personal values and standards later on in life.

Building a company involves encountering hardship and failure along the way. These “crucible” events shape the person you become and affect what direction you choose to take your company in. Friends and family? They're along for the ride. They cheer in times of celebration, and console in times of turmoil. Above all, they provide a source of honest feedback to keep your decision-making aligned with your values.

The family's and friends' perspectives count, too. There is virtue in helping others accomplish their goals, especially those closest to you. In a series on leadership character, Col. Eric Kail, the late course director of military leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, emphasized the importance of empathy, patience and self-reflection.

Taking into account the diverse opinions of people in your own networks, then, both personal and professional networks, gives you a multi-faceted view of the facts. Taking these views into account, you can then plan for the success of the group, whether that be be your company or friends or family, over the individual.


When defining your identity, an important task is to consider the legacy you will leave behind. And, here again, family and friends may be of assistance: In 1998, Sir Richard Branson joined his mother, Eve Branson, in traversing the world in a hot-air balloon. During a visit to Morocco, the two explored the Atlas Mountains, where they discovered a kasbah which Mrs. Branson fell in love with. She convinced her son to buy it.

But his purchase came with one condition: Mrs. Branson was to provide support for the villages surrounding the kasbah. She agreed to her son’s terms, and, in response, created the Eve Branson Foundation.

Since then, she has been committed to teaching local women skills that enable financial independence. Over the years, her work has helped many local Berber families thrive. And, in the years since, Mrs. Branson and her son have almost surely looked to each other for support in their respective ventures to ensure their initiatives are prosperous and inspire generations to come. That's what leaning on friends and family is all about.

Related: Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Make Reducing Workplace Stress a Priority