The Loss of a Legendary Leader: Tony Hsieh

Over the weekend, I read an article that made me feel sad: the story of a wildly successful CEO whose mental health slipped down a similar path to many successful performers and musicians – like Elvis Presley, who I talk about in Your Oxygen Mask First.

We can never know the full details – nor should we – of these situations, but what I read in the Forbes article about the last months of legendary Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, underlines the importance of helping to prevent what happened to him – for ourselves and for those we care about.

Even though he was known for his ‘exceptional generosity, humanity and vision’, he struggled with mental health and addiction, and surrounded himself with people who allegedly didn’t have his best interests at heart. Interventions by concerned family and friends, including the singer Jewel, were unsuccessful.

“I made a list of the happiest periods in my life, and I realized that none of them involved money. I realized that building stuff and being creative and inventive made me happy. Connecting with a friend and talking through the entire night until the sun rose made me happy. Trick-or-treating in middle school with a group of my closest friends made me happy. Eating a baked potato after a swim meet made me happy. Pickles made me happy.” – Tony Hsieh

When people struggle mentally, they often reach for addictions and distractions to help disassociate from the pain. When they do it long enough, that behaviour starts to feel normal, and the ante and the doses are upped to find relief – and that creates a new source of pain.

Help and Support

The best help is available from a professional – a psychologist or counsellor – whose daily work is helping people with mental pain.  You can find one with a simple google search, ask your doctor or contact a local mental health hotline – just google “mental health hotline” and your city.

Additional resources

The ALGEE model – a five-step mental first aid action plan to guide what to do when someone you care about is struggling (source: Mental Health First Aid)

The Mental Health Continuum – helps someone assess where they are, and to understand the behaviours that signal trouble.

Image Source: BC Emergency Health Services

The Challenge

  • If you are struggling (in the orange or red zone above) – or know someone who is – seek help from a counsellor or psychologist. Ask your doctor if you don’t have one or call the Mental Health hotline in your area. Everybody needs help, at one time of another.

The Ask: Stories

At Lawrence & Co., we have a real passion to help people get past the stigma of mental health challenges – especially high-performing leaders who seem to be more susceptible to burnout – and to make sure they get the help and resources they need.

And, to help others, we sometimes sensitively (and anonymously) share stories about those who have had extreme mental health or burnout issues and found a way to come back to a stronger, more resilient life.

Like this story about a CEO we worked with, who found his way back from a deep burnout and is now loving life and setting records in his business.

Know A Story That Should Be Shared?

If you know of anyone with a story to share that can help others, please get in touch.

Tony Hsieh Image Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal