Confederate general Albert S. Johnston once said that morale is “faith in the man at the top”. As much as Richard Dorney, founder and director of Strongmind Resiliency Training, may align with that viewpoint, he considers faith in the leader to be just one of four aspects of morale as a whole that can be applied at a national level.
As the director of a specialist provider of training in mental health awareness, resilience and trauma management, backed by an earlier career in the Armed Forces, Dorney is no stranger to the importance of morale, especially during a time of crisis. Indeed, we have all learned the value of adopting a positive mindset over 2020, as we have been forced to get to grips with and adjust to the many challenges posed by the emergence of Covid-19. We recently welcomed Dorney onto the Leaders Council podcast to share some of his views on morale, in which he also took the opportunity to lift the lid on some of the ways Strongmind Resiliency Training itself has been forced to adjust its own operations in the face of this unprecedented challenge.
Sitting down with the Leaders Council’s Scott Challinor and reflecting on morale, Dorney explained: “One of the most important things in business is maintaining morale. When there is low morale, what comes with that is higher rates of low mental health and sickness absence from work. Maintaining morale maintains productivity and there are four aspects to morale.”
Elaborating on these four key points, Dorney added: “All of them require a degree of faith: firstly, having faith in a common purpose. This entails understanding that the organisation is one and the same in function and striving to move together. Secondly, is faith in the leadership. One must have trust and feel empowered and be able to trust that their leaders have their best interests at heart.
“Third is faith in each other. We must support each other and provide peer support. The final thing is then adequately resourcing people and giving them the information, they need. If we do not resource people properly, they will become burnt out and that will then result in low morale. All of these facets, I believe, can be applied at a national level.
“Aside from these facets, I also believe it is important that today’s leaders encourage their teams to learn as they go along. To provide an example, you can give someone a task, tell them what it is that you want to achieve, give them the parametres within which to do that but not give them a solution. That will prompt them to get on with things and learn for themselves and if they make mistakes, they will improve for having made them.”
When quizzed about how Strongmind has been affected by the ongoing situation with Covid-19 and asked to provide his views on the repercussions of the pandemic for mental health and wellbeing as a whole, Dorney candidly admitted that the events of recent months had resulted in his business being left with far more work to do than usual.
Dorney said: “Of course Covid has had a significant impact but not how you would think compared to other businesses. We deliver specialist training and management of trauma resilience and mental health and we’re seeing that it’s needed in increased measures and leaders need to understand how to manage this abnormal crisis.
“So, we have been refocusing our training to deliver it virtually because there has been such demand and we have not been able to deliver it face-to-face. We have found ourselves dealing with leaders in emergency services and social care where things have been turned on their head by the last few months and staff and managers have had to look at different ways of managing their outcomes and working with these people is the area we have had to focus on the most.
“The need to scale up virtual training provision has been big for us in the way we have adapted and we have refocused the way we do things, our content, and I think we have largely been successful in that. The feedback from our clients is that training and help is needed to help manage in these areas and that leaders at all levels need to know how to manage people through this crisis we all face because there are many people out there crying out for leadership.”
Many of the people Dorney has found himself working with are those in NHS and care organisation that have found themselves very much at the sharp end of things in recent months and one of the key issues he has highlighted in fuelling stress and anxiety is a lack of leadership through clear and consistent guidance.
“The word ‘trauma’ is banded around a lot and there are people in the public sector at the cold face of this particularly that we have worked with such as nurses, care staff, NHS staff and managers and the uncertainty in some of these areas and the void of information about how to manage this illness has left people in desperate need of leadership.
“People need to be told what to do and there has not always been that guidance. When the guidance has been there, it has been changing on an almost daily basis. That causes frustration and confusion. Furthermore, frontline staff have often found themselves struggling not just from the harrowing experiences of treating sufferers but also on the social isolation side of things: many have had to live in at work and cannot return home to see their loves ones due to the fear of transmitting the virus.”
With all of the trauma that is regularly experienced by those on the frontline of the fight against Covid, Dorney and his team have had to be there to provide the resiliency training and support that they have needed to be able to carry on.
Dorney pointed out: “People have lost colleagues and loved ones, and this has been so traumatic for people. For managers even in the health service it is a very different experience and although they have dealt with stress and loss to a large extent, never before have they had to cope with losing their own colleagues at such a scale. This is where our support becomes important to help people overcome the impact this will have mentally.”
Offering some of his own personal hints and tips at how to maintain a strong and healthy mind, Dorney stressed that peer support is a crucial element to helping overcome mental issues and that has been laid bare by the social isolation that has come about as a result of the pandemic.
He said: “I do read a lot and consult various resources, but turning to some of our more traditional methods of maintaining social contact, keeping fit and turning to my peers for support is vital to maintain wellbeing. Having our peers there for us and sharing our feelings is so important and we talk to businesses a lot about the importance of peer support in these times to help build resilience.
“There is so much importance in having a listening ear to share concerns with, be that someone on your level or someone more senior to you and leaders would do well to be aware of that.”