The Mindful Leader: Gai Le Roy

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IAB Australia CEO Gai Le Roy opens up about overworking and learning to live at the pace of a toddler in the first of a new series in association with UnLtd.

Time in the industry

It’s been 30 years scarily. My first gig was as a media monitor at what is now called Isentia listening & watching news & current affairs. Perfect first job for a media fanatic.

What does being mentally healthy mean to you?

It means feeling grounded, strong enough to deal with most of what life throws at you and generally positive about life. That puts you in a good position to enjoy the good stuff and cope with the other stuff.

Has there been a time when you realised your mental health has impacted your work or home life?

After having my second child, I was living in Byron and commuting to Sydney a couple of days a week for work. Sounds idyllic right? But I had a son who really didn’t like sleep nor being away from me for very long and although I was in Sydney regularly my time was very tight and slowly, I felt like was less connected with my work community. So instead of slowing things down I worked extra hard to spend more time with my first child, started bringing down my son to Sydney on work trips, baking like crazy on weekends to be organised for the week and because I was feeling like my brain wasn’t being stretched started a Masters.

How did this manifest itself?

So, the control freak side of me just thought that I could push through everything on minimal sleep and not show too much weakness to those around me. I must have been a bloody nightmare and my work started getting sloppier, I didn’t have time to see my friends who would normally provide me with a release valve, and I was pretty tough on those around me. I was teary, cranky and stubbornly wouldn’t take advice or seek help.

How did you overcome that? Who helped you and how (partner/colleague/family)?

Actually, my kids were the secret, they unwittingly forced me to slow down just by being toddlers. At a certain point I realised it was pointless in getting frustrated if my daughter wanted to change outfits before going to pre-school a number of times or if walking to the park took three times as long as it should due to distractions or tantrums. I slowly started letting go of some things that really didn’t matter – getting takeaway more, not beating myself up if I didn’t get to industry events and having naps.

What do you do now to practice better mental health?

Walking, jumping in the ocean, reading non-work stuff and making sure I keep in contact with my mates. For me I have found the older I get the more secure and tolerant I become – but I know this isn’t the case for everyone.

What are the three things companies should do to create a mentally healthy workplace?

  1. Spend more time explaining to staff what the purpose is of the tasks they are undertaking. Purpose is a huge factor in mental health.
  2. Allow enough space and time for staff to get to know each other – it doesn’t have to be all rah-rah team bonding, but a strong sense of community is absolutely beneficial to not only the individuals but their work output as well.
  3. Start from a point of trust, whether that be with your superiors, team or co-workers. That doesn’t necessarily mean blind faith in everyone, but respect will go a long way to creating a healthy environment.

What are you doing at your own company?

Internally in a small team of 5 (soon to be 6) we try to make sure we all take an interest in each other’s lives without being nosey! We provide flexible working arrangements and I am not at all precious if someone needs to leave early or work from home.

The IAB also plays an important role in the broader digital ad community with a couple of hundred people involved in our councils and approximately a couple of thousand people in our broader community. We are just about to launch a mentoring programme for upcoming talent in our industry to encourage diversity and help people develop resilience and strong emotional understanding.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

When possible remind yourself why you got into this industry. Day-to-day pressure, deadlines, and seemingly endless changing goal posts can be frustrating, so sometimes you just need to remind yourself what it is you love about this industry. Find colleagues you connect with, either inside or outside your organisation (get involved with your favourite trade body!), because as you go through your career, they will be your safety net, inspiration and trusted network. I would be lost without the connections I made in the early days of ninemsn – they are my crew still and I wouldn’t go a week without one of them getting in contact, helping me in some way or just sending me a funny message.

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