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Verne Harnish: The Power Of Revitalizing Rituals

Life-work balance and city living lifestyle concept of business man relaxing, take it easy in office or hotel room resting with thoughtful mind thinking of life quality looking forward to cityscape
A primer on embracing guilty pleasures and relaxing habits to benefit your organization’s collective mental health.

The late Barrie Sanford Greiff, M.D., a psychiatrist of 50-plus years and longtime faculty member of Harvard Business School, pioneered a course entitled The Executive Family. It looked at the topic through the lens of the self, family and work life. When Dr. Greiff lectured for it, he would draw three circles—work, family and self—and ask listeners which received the most attention.  

Children Before Spouse?

Work was always the No. 1 answer. If there was gas left in the tank, family, specifically children, came next, at the expense of spouses. That generally left nothing for self. Over time, the “self” began to resent both family and work—which could lead to a train wreck. 

For many leaders, and their teams, that train wreck has happened. Ninety percent of Americans now believe we are in a mental health crisis, according to a CNN/Kaiser Family Foundation Poll. Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David has suggested that the shell shock of the pandemic has given us all PTSD. I thought I was doing fine, individually, until she asked me a series of questions—and I discovered I had it bad.  

As CEOs, we’re in a position to make a difference in our collective mental health. Growing operations in a healthy, sustainable way allows us to raise morale. That creates a ripple effect that goes beyond the walls of our companies. Here is how.

Regular Rituals

Our emotional state as leaders can influence everyone else around us, so prioritizing our own mental health is essential. My company, Scaling Up, offers a free One-Page Personal Plan, focused on family, friends, finance, fitness and faith. Completing it annually helps you build regular rituals, personally and professionally, that support you in these key areas of life and make sure they get priority. 

Guilty Pleasures

Professor David recommends gifting ourselves 10 minutes, three times a day (ideally  at roughly the same time) to selfishly do something for ourselves. For me, it’s playing a few games of solitaire with cards I carry in my backpack/briefcase. Full disclosure: I use a physical deck so I can cheat. I like to see all the cards cleared—leading to a sense of victory. 

 Find what works for you and encourage your team to do the same. You’ll be surprised at how much it lifts everyone’s mood. 

Good News

Start your weekly huddle, the most important five minutes of the 168-hour week, by asking people to talk about one thing that’s going right. It’s a great way to build connections and create psychological safety. 


Remember the scene in Top Gun: Maverick where the pilots play pickup ball on the beach? That chance to bond was the key to their mission’s success. Part of the Scaling Up platform entails celebrating when teams achieve a goal, whether it’s by giving out prizes or ordering in lunch. It’s not just about having fun. Celebrating gives you an informal way to check in with your team. 

Throw Yourself a Lifeline 

When you add a new person, your team becomes a brand-new one. Have your leadership team do the Lifeline Exercise, which involves reviewing your past and writing down the events that have had the greatest impact on shaping you, your values, your goals and your state of mind. Reviewing one another’s lifelines will help everyone get acquainted, and reacquainted, quickly on a deeper level. 

Ultimately, mental health is about connection. When leaders make a concerted effort to foster and strengthen those bonds, it’s better for everyone’s state of mind, supporting a balanced life during the workday and when everyone shuts down their laptops in the evening. 


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