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Self-Limiting Beliefs and Toxic Positivity are Killing Your Ability to Build Elite Teams
Episode 10418th October 2023 • Engaging Leadership • CT Leong, Dr. Jim Kanichirayil
00:00:00 00:20:57

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Summary: Andrea Herron, Head of People at WebMD, discusses the importance of addressing mental health in the workplace and overcoming self-limiting beliefs. She shares insights from her book, "There's an Elephant in Your Office," which focuses on supporting employees with mental health disorders and creating a more inclusive work environment. Andrea emphasizes the need for leaders to acknowledge and validate employees' emotions, avoid toxic positivity, and challenge invisible rules that restrict personal and professional growth. By fostering a culture that values mental well-being, organizations can build and sustain elite teams.

Key Takeaways:

Toxic positivity can be detrimental to employee well-being and productivity. Acknowledging and validating negative emotions is essential for creating an inclusive work environment.

Invisible rules are subconscious assumptions that restrict personal and professional growth. Challenging these rules can lead to greater authenticity and success.

Leaders should use tools like the feelings wheel to help employees identify and express their emotions effectively.

Mental health is just as important as physical health in the workplace. Gen Z's expectations around mental health are driving a shift in how organizations support their employees.

Self-limiting beliefs can hinder personal and professional growth. Leaders should encourage employees to challenge these beliefs and pursue their goals.


00:02:00 The inspiration behind Andrea's book, "There's an Elephant in Your Office."

00:04:00 The link between mental health and building and sustaining elite teams.

00:06:00 The impact of toxic positivity and invisible rules on self-limiting beliefs.

00:08:00 The importance of acknowledging and validating employees' emotions.

00:14:00 Understanding how people show up at work

00:16:00 Overcoming limiting beliefs

00:18:00 Applying the advice at work

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CheeTung (CT) Leong: [:

She's the head of people at WebMD. She's also a leadership consultant and coach published author of there's an elephant in your office and host of the award winning podcast. The HR Scoop. It's a real pleasure to have you on the show today, Andrea.

Andrea Herron: Yeah, thanks for having me. Thrilled to be here.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: So tell us more, about your role at WebMD as the head of people.

Andrea Herron: Oh, gosh. So many things, right? Said every HR person ever. I lead a team of business partners, our HR, centralized operation function and oversee our global HR business partners as well.

re fighting fires every day. [:

Andrea Herron: The first edition was published in 2019 because my sister called me one day frantically because she was about to get fired. I'm her sister in HR, so that's your move, right? And she's saying my anxiety and depression medication and I can't meet my work needs and I don't know what to do.

And I was like, what are you talking about? What anxiety? What depression? So I didn't even know my own sister had these mental health challenges. I also had no idea what anyone else at my workplace was dealing with and the gap of information and resources. I couldn't find anything to help her.

R business perspective as to [:

And this was pre pandemic. So we released a second edition in 2022, taking into account, remote work and everything that had happened with mental health up till that point in those few years.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: That book and the topic was very much ahead of its time. And obviously that topic blew up during the pandemic how was the reception like when you first launched the book?

Andrea Herron: The reason no one ever sees the elephant in the office is because of that stigma associated with mental illness. And one in five U. S. adults suffers from a mental health disorder in a given year. One in five is a pretty big number. Most of those people are employed.

ger had this. This is really [:

By the time the second edition came out, it had really flipped. And leaders were craving information because we could no longer ignore it. And the stigma was going down out of pure necessity because we just couldn't act like mental health wasn't important anymore after that kind of collective trauma, we all been through with the pandemic.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: I think sometimes under the surface that leaders, HR managers, C suite, even till today we don't really see mental health in the same bucket of performance.

Do you see a link between everything that you've written about in the book and how to build and sustain elite teams?

think of mental illness. So [:

And so when you give people those small tweaks or accommodations or flexibility that they need, they want to do a good job. And if the stress, the fear, the anxiety of pretending like it's not real or pretending like they're quote normal, they're wasting all of that energy that they could be using to contribute to the team.

On the flip side. Five out of five of us have mental well being and it is just as important as our physical well being To take care of yourself and be productive, be creative, be able to contribute, and to give that extra effort. You have to be in a good place, and you can't do that if you're ignoring your physical health or your mental health.

hat's a nice analogy. Today, [:

Andrea Herron: I think, it's been a really interesting shift because up until like pre pandemic, I would say employers did spend money on gym memberships or encouraging different walking challenges or, various physical health things and zero on mental health. But one huge change that will forever impact the workplace is Gen Z and younger, they bring a lot to the table.

to take care of it. And that [:

CheeTung (CT) Leong: Yeah, that's actually really true. and consistent with my experience as well. I remember when I was first starting out, like I don't think I took a day of paid time off for the first two years. I think the first time I did one was because I had proposed to my wife and I felt so nervous about it.

It's such a stressful time. Whereas today you find people very comfortable, they've joined your company for less than three months and I need a mental health day and actually it's perfectly fine.


There's almost this pressure to be positive all the time because you don't wanna have this externality to everyone around you with doubt or concern or worry that may accidentally spread. And leaders sometimes jump on it and then no, stop being negative.

How do you think about these issues and walking that tightrope?

ve seen it pop up in various [:

So I'll start with toxic positivity. That term has gained a little traction, but basically what it is when every message has to be positive. So think positive vibes only. Every day is a good day. Don't be so negative. It could be worse. If you've said these things, don't panic, right?

These are not inherently bad. A lot of us say these things with very good intentions and they can be encouraging and helpful. So I don't want anyone to Think, Oh, no, I've completely messed it up because I said these things, but when you are a leader, especially, or just going about your work day, if these are the only types of messages allowed, if no one's allowed to have a bad day, no one's allowed to just be like, Oh, this is the worst.

It can really become toxic. [:

And it shouldn't be like that at work either.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: So tell me a little bit more about that. If I'm a leader and I do value the mental health and the expression of that at work how do I deal with someone who's may not be that obviously having a one off bad day, they've been known to be a little bit of griping once in a while and they come forward one day with this is the absolute worst.

So as a leader what's a good way to deal with that presentation of what at surface looks like negativity?

Wow, that sounds really hard.[:

Sometimes we just want someone to acknowledge with us. That was awful. You can say, you know what, let's just come back to it tomorrow and start fresh and how much of a relief that would be to that person versus having to pretend like it's not the worst in fear that they're gonna lose their job or get in trouble for simply acknowledging a bad day.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: That's a really useful tip. Just acknowledging that it's hard for that person and almost labeling what they're going through and calling it out. That can really help.

ly is simply language. Okay, [:

So what the feelings wheel is you start in the middle with the basic feeling like I'm mad. Are you really mad? You go out of layer. Are you mad or are you jealous? Maybe you're jealous because somebody has something you want. Then you can decide, do I actually want that thing? And if I do want that title, that promotion, that project, how do I... get it. How do I start working towards it? Or, you know what? I don't actually want that. Okay, now I can move on and not be jealous anymore. So having language to describe that core feeling can actually help teams get along better and move on faster from conflict or just ups and downs. It's also really good to use if you have kids because they have even, fewer words than we need to describe those big [00:12:00] feelings.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: Yeah, I love that. Especially with kids and to a certain extent, all of us are kids, just slightly more grown up

Andrea Herron: Aren't we? Aren't we though?

CheeTung (CT) Leong: yeah, absolutely. I think that the feelings wheel, the way you described it, works really well if the person is able to identify that they are going through something. One of the struggles as a leader , and especially in HR, is a person may not know that they're going through something and they're presenting just bad behavior, almost like a kid. They're just, as you said, like grumpy or, they're just driving at something with the people around them that, that's causing a lot of grief and a lot of stress for everyone else.

come to me and say, hey, CT.[:

Andrea Herron: I think that goes back to having some kind of baseline understanding of how people tend to show up at work. So if you're a leader or in any kind of position where you might notice this, even with a peer, you know the usual vibe.

So you can tell if it's off. If you have a relationship with someone, you can more casually be like, Hey, you seem off today. Is everything okay? And then that person can say whatever they want. Then if They're like, ugh, I'm just having a day. Fine. They don't have to tell you anything as long as they're performing and not being outright, rude or bullying or, something that we wouldn't accept.

Just let them have the day, right? If it becomes an ongoing problem, then maybe you want to have a deeper conversation about it.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: Got it so really just being human and being present. And I want to touch on invisible rules as well. Tell me a little bit more about what that is.

have even experienced myself [:

These are not written rules. They're not a policy. They're just subconscious rules that you follow. So I'll give you a personal example. In my current role, I have tattoos down my arm, and I had told myself subconsciously that because tattoos weren't allowed to be visible in the last job, that I should never show them in this job.

That was not written in a handbook. That was not a policy. I just made that assumption, and for years, even when it was 100 degrees outside, I would not wear a short sleeve or a tank top. And then one day, I just thought, It is 100 degrees outside. I want to wear a short sleeve. Why am I not? And then I really thought, Is that real?

I couldn't find it [:

Do we give due dates or not? What we expect. And what we experience a lot of times, we're restricting ourselves based on things that aren't anchored in reality.

CheeTung (CT) Leong: I imagine because there are other limiting beliefs that come about I need to be a college graduate to become a VP or whatever it may be, and that really holds us back in our careers. How do you identify these though? Because they're so pernicious. They're subconscious for a reason. It may not be that easy for us to surface these and to address them logically.

curious to uncover your own. [:

So you are shaming yourself to do or not do something. And so that right there should be your flag to reassess. Is that true? Should I really do that because it is an actual expectation or it was overtly said to me or is that something I'm just carrying around. If it's the latter and you're like actually no one said that you can think whose voice is saying I should do it. It could be an old boss from an old job. It could be a parental figure that you're still holding on to from childhood or whenever. And so that word like I really should do that is worth investigating and then anytime you just feel that hesitation like I really want [00:17:00] to but I won't.

Or I want to reach out. I don't know. I don't think I'm supposed to. Says who? So anytime you hesitate normally anytime there's a gap in information and communication, humans will fill it in. We cannot stand a vacuum. You are constantly filling in these gaps and it's almost never positive.

So when you find yourself hesitating or shoulding yourself that's when you want to stop and be like, is this real or am I making this up?

CheeTung (CT) Leong: This has been so great, Andrea. If we would package all of this together. The toxic positivity, the invisible rules that we have: what advice would you give to someone who's taking all of these materials in the show notes and hoping to apply them at work tomorrow?

u might want to check in and [:

And then you can also use that feelings wheel to further identify where you might get stuck. If you are in toxic positivity, those harder emotions are really difficult for you to identify in yourself. And so the feelings wheel can help you at least figure out where you are and for the invisible rules, just start to notice where you're hesitating and keeping yourself from making progress or from reaching out or from doing something you think would be fun or good.

And if you instead are holding yourself back with those self limiting beliefs and the shoulds which could be okay, That is your red flag just to check in and see is this real or is this made up?

CheeTung (CT) Leong: That's awesome. If anyone wanted to find you just to carry on this conversation, what's the best way for them to

my website, which is sides - [:

CheeTung (CT) Leong: Thanks so much for hanging with us today, Andrea. For those of you who are listening, I hope you've enjoyed the show. Make sure you drop us a review and come over to engagerocket. co slash HR impact to find the show notes. Amazing conversations with leaders and other best practices for building an elite team. My name has been CT and thanks so much for listening.