By Jeffrey Freund, Haruna Katori, Jimmy Le, Rochan Aminzadeh, and Cole Whiteman, University of Washington Bothell: School of Business
Mr. Behar joined us for an interview with a cheerful and welcoming demeanor. His warm smile and rosy cheeks, with glasses that sat perfectly on the arch of his nose, immediately gave us a feeling of understanding and comfort. Though he was so calm, we later found out that he enjoys a triple-tall americano with three shots of espresso. This should be no surprise, given his involvement with a major coffee company and overall busy lifestyle.
Though the blurry background concealed his large bookshelf, the warmth of the soft light in his study held promise for what would turn into a wonderful conversation. The reflection off of his glasses’ lenses gave us a glimpse at his desk stacked with papers and other various office items. Behind his computer hung a framed and well-kept mission statement that held his 6 P’s of life and leadership: purpose, passion, persistence, patience, performance, and people. The mission statement also included some core values; these values include honesty, fairness, respect, responsibility, love, and trust in self and others. The beliefs and values on his mission statement have been his cornerstone for how he wants to lead his life and teach servant leadership to others.
When did you first realize that your mental health was getting to a point where you needed to seek professional help?
HB: It was my mid 20’s when I started, really my career started to take off, and you know I didn’t sleep much. Well, and I was struggling with things and I wanted to do a good job for people I was working with and it created a lot of pressure and it created anxiety. And so, I think that’s the time when I really knew I had a problem. That’s when I started to get help. But I’ve learned to deal with it. Now, my self-talk is how “this will go away”, “this will pass”. You know when I used to think “this is forever”. You know, if I had a down day, it would stretch into a couple of days, and I couldn’t get out of it.
Once you received help, what immediately started to help and what was a challenge?
HB: I saw lots of different counselors, some helped me better than others, and over time I found people that I really related to and with and that has helped me the most. I don’t like going to a counselor where all they did was ask questions. They would never talk and say what they were thinking, I liked interacting with my mental health counselors. Those have been the best for me because it’s been a dialogue.
How has joining the discussion on mental health and being open about your struggles changed viewpoints on the idea of mental health?
HB: I think when you open yourself up, you become authentic and vulnerable. This helps you grow. Other people appreciate this, and when somebody says “You know I appreciate your openness,” that makes me want to do it more. It reinforces the things that I believe in, and that adds value to my life.
Throughout your career in business and leadership, what are some key lessons you have learned about balancing work and life, and how have those lessons informed your approach to building successful businesses?
HB: Well, I don’t believe in balance [work-life balance] I believe in integration. Your work life is integrated with your personal life and your home life. There are times when you’re going to spend all your waking hours at work, and then there’s going to be a time when you’re going to need to spend all your waking hours at home with family. Seeking balance can make it more stressful when you start trying to focus on it because you begin to think, “Geez, I’m not doing enough” […] versus just letting it flow and doing the best you can. Try to integrate all the facets of your life together, this is part of living a fulfilling life.
How has servant leadership helped your mental health?
HB: Well, what servant leadership did for me was give me a purpose bigger than myself. When you have something that draws you towards it, you know, and you stay focused on it. It’s amazing what it can do for your mental health. When I was working and practicing servant leadership with people, I felt better about myself.
I think, in order to be mentally healthy, you have to focus on something outside of yourself. You have to be passionate about it. You have to have all your energy directed towards it. A lot of people say they get burned out or bored, but if you think that we’re all put on this earth to serve other human beings, we feel better about ourselves, and it keeps us focused on something bigger than ourselves. Just because you do that doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety or depression, I did, but it equalized me because I always came back to what I was here for.
In your book, you talked about the small voice helping you become a servant leader. What makes that voice so important?
HB: The most important voices are the ones that are inside your head that you can’t see but are talking to you. So, you have to learn to manage those, because if you don’t manage them, they’re going to manage you, and not every one of those voices is a healthy voice. […] I mean the most difficult person you’re ever going to have to lead in your life is yourself […] so I’ve learned to manage the board of directors on my shoulders because they are yapping at you all the time. […] I had to work my way out of it; I forgot that those internal voices were influencing me, and I had to work through that. That’s when I found the words, “Howard, your life’s work, is your life’s work”.
After reading what Howard Behar had to say about mental health and servant leadership, if you are interested in learning more about servant leadership, here is Mr. Behar’s book ‘It’s Not About The Coffee’. The book will highlight all the key aspects of servant leadership and how he believes it is so effective in businesses.
NAMI Seattle and this group want to highlight the importance of mental health. In this, we hope to show you that other people struggle too and you are not alone. If you are looking for support, there are people out there to help and support you. You can also reach out to NAMI Seattle’s helpline or find other crisis lines here. If you want to support NAMI Seattle’s free mental health resources, you can donate here.
This interview has been edited and condensed for content and clarity.