WARNING: The following is not to lessen the concern or need of those with mental illness. We stress to those suffering to reach out and ask loved ones and professionals for help. However, society needs to understand that those with a mental illness does not mean they are individuals without abilities, to be shunned, considered a problem, and isolated but embraced. No matter what any person is enduring, everyone has elements of positive strength and quality. The following offers examples of such.
CONYERS, GA – Everyone wants to be that leader who thinks out of the box, has a driven focus, to not worry about what everyone thinks, and is resilient. Steve Jobs may have said it best, “Here’s to the crazy ones.” Even consider that two of the most successful generals in the Civil War maybe Grant and Sherman. Yet, even with their success, Sherman summed them up best: “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk.” On the contrary, General McClellan considered one of the most stable-minded, leader of the Union Army was a futile failure.
Running themes occur if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, Blink, or Outliers. These include looking at things from a different perspective; how individuals can cut through the minutiae and make quick decisions, or the common thread of those super successful is they do not think like everyone else.
First-Rate Madness: Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness examines not only Sherman and Grant but also Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Ted Turner, who were all diagnosed with mental illnesses. The information supports the thought that the best crisis leaders are mentally ill or mentally abnormal, and the worst are mentally healthy. Thus, as Jobs would agree, in times of war and crisis, it’s the misfits who win.
To understand creative thinking, one may have to reverse the divergent thinking model in the manner of Einstein, asking questions no one asked because creativity may be about identifying problems, not solving them. However, even to be a divergent thinker, one may experience mania. They are hyperactive, think quickly, talk rapidly, and need little sleep while writing, planning, proposing, and implementing. Yes, not normal.
In adversity, inspired leadership offers energy and hope when there is little or no confidence by giving belief in the future to those who have lost it. This ability occurs because creative people see farther and wider with a clear cognitive vision that connects the dots when no one else sees the dots. For example, those with bipolar tendencies are normal when they are not manic, but they still retain an awareness that influences their perception differently in a positive manner. Psychologists call this ability to think broadly: integrative complexity. This ability exemplifies Sherman.
Sherman broke all the rules of engagement. He did not plan out how to restock his army; he would live off the land. In doing so, the General understood that if they destroyed the property of the southern people, not the soldiers, it would ruin the south’s ability to wage war and decimate the will of the southern people. To demonstrate this belief and not wish to waste time, he even cut off all communication with Grant until he captured Savannah. But, again, the focus was not on the south’s armies but on everything else.
Leaders like Sherman or even Ted Turner are manic, creative originators because they answer questions nobody is asking nor having answers to those questions. After all, Turner was “cable when cable wasn’t cool.”
In addition to Sherman and Turner, Lincoln, Gandhi, and King were diagnosed with severe levels of depression. However, when one is genuinely depressed, they understand the truth of empathy, which engenders incredible leadership powers. Moreover, empathy laid the basis of the talent of these individuals, considered to be some of the most potent, influential speakers.
If individuals were not asking questions that no one could answer, they were also those pursuing goals no one had dreamed of—Roosevelt and Kennedy. Both considered dynamic presidents in our history had hyperthymic personalities, openness to experience with curious and inventive experimental souls. Hence, every man’s dream is to get a job in a depression or be on the moon in ten years. These two scored low on neuroticism and high on extroversion. But despite their charismatic mind that was open to new ideas—they also had a key ingredient: resiliency.
Resiliency is not something you are born with; it must grow out of harmful events that still result in a good outcome. Resiliency is a vaccine of sort since it allows the mind to endure a destructive event and prosper from the experience. As Nietzsche said, “what does not kill you will make you stronger.” For Lincoln, King, and Gandhi, the element was empathy arising from depression. For Roosevelt and Kennedy, the hyperthymic personality acted like an innate immunity to trauma and a harbinger of resiliency.
No matter what “mental illness or diagnosis” these individuals endured, they utilized apparent weaknesses to achieve extreme levels of greatness and inspiration. So please be considerate and don’t shun those who may appear or be perceived to have a mental illness but learn how to embrace them. This action alone will do wonders for their well-being and self-esteem and not serve as one more cog in the wheel against them.
Take time to learn more by reading Ghaemi and Gladwell and others, including but not limited to Daniel Pink, Daniel Kahneman, Adam Grant, Simon Sinek, etc. It will help you open your mindset to go further.