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Is Depression the Mark of a Strong Leader?

Charles Sizemore
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Harry Dent had some interesting thoughts on depression.  You would think that depressed people would be failures in life, but in fact the exact opposite is true.  Many of the most successful people in history faced chronic depression.  It was their emotional struggle that made them into the leaders that history remembers.  Here’s an excerpt of Harry’s piece from Economy and Markets.

My father worked in politics with many great leaders [Note: Harry S. Dent, Sr. was a prominent power in the Republican party for decades and worked closely with Richard Nixon, Strom Thurmond and Barry Goldwater--CLS]. I also had the opportunity to speak, and work with many great communicators and entrepreneurs. It’s appropriate for most people to admire accomplished leaders… but on the inside, they also get envious. They wish they could be like them.

Remember the old adage — be careful what you wish for…

Being an entrepreneur or a great leader can take you down a very lonely path.

You don’t have many peers with which to socialize and often, don’t have any. You’re typically swimming against the current like a salmon moving upstream. The leader role takes a great level of commitment and you end up not having many opportunities to be with family and friends like most of us do…

I recently watched an incredibly interesting documentary on the Roosevelt family as they showcased the true-life challenges they faced. As a child, Teddy was a sickly child and almost died from an asthma attack. It’s hard to believe because of his robust nature as an avid outdoorsman and hunter… as well as a bold leader.

FDR not only had polio but he also suffered from depression and frequently isolated himself because of his workaholic nature. Yet he led our nation through a depression and a World War. After his death, his wife Eleanor went on to great achievements yet behind the scenes, she too suffered from depression.

Just days before watching this documentary, I heard about Robin Williams’ suicide and then Joan Rivers’ accidental death. Two talented celebrities — Williams was a great comedian and actor and Rivers was one of the top female comedians in history.

Both battled depression their entire lives and despite of it… were incredibly successful. Williams was also plagued with drug and alcohol addiction and Rivers was an intensely busy workaholic, even at 81.

Then I recalled a special I watched on Abraham Lincoln. No one had to tell me he was depressed. He’s perhaps the most depressing looking leader I’ve ever seen in history. He was treated for melancholia and was even placed on suicide watch during his presidency…

Look at Winston Churchill… another leader who was depressed and a heavy drinker. He’s said to have called his depression his “black dog” that followed him around. Churchill even avoided ledges and train platforms. He’s reputed to have said that you never know when a whim will overtake your sense of self-preservation. Yet his contributions to the political history of Great Britain are huge.

Depression is perhaps the most intolerable of emotional afflictions and if you can conquer that, you can probably conquer pretty much anything. But it can certainly prove to be a strong motivator that will get you off your ass to do something.

I was talking to one of the best speakers in his field of sales training and he told me that he had learned that he was inclined to depression. He found that working and being constantly engaged was the best and healthiest antidote for it.

Success Through Hardship

I realized through all of this that the underlying common thread in all of these leaders and successful individuals is the presence of depression… and it all fit together…

So here’s my first insight… if there weren’t a small percentage of depressed and otherwise so-called “afflicted” people in society; we wouldn’t have the innovation and leadership that has driven our remarkable progress, especially over the last few hundred years.

We should appreciate such people for the internal battles they have to fight, not just the external ones they tend to win. But you may want to think twice about envying them and wanting to trade places.

I don’t like calling things like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc… “diseases” or “afflictions”. I think that we should learn to look at and work with people simply in terms of their strengths and weaknesses.

As Peter Drucker said: “Great people have great weaknesses.” But they obviously have great strengths as well. Everyone should learn to focus on their strengths and to minimize, or offset, the weaknesses where possible. If you’re depressed and want to address it, it’s better to be a workaholic than an alcoholic.

To read the full article, see Depression and the Economy of a Country.

Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the chief investment officer of the investment firm Sizemore Capital Management. Click here to receive his FREE weekly e-letter covering top market insights, trends, and the best stocks and ETFs to profit from today’s best global value plays. 

This article first appeared on Sizemore Insights as Is Depression the Mark of a Strong Leader?

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