AWXII on The Huffington Post: The talent hunt inside our heads

As a headhunter and psychotherapist, I am fascinated by people. Ever since the Lighthouse first attended Advertising Week, we have echoed this fascination by aiming to identify what makes the top leaders in our industry as successful as they are. Whether we’re working for Facebook, P&G, Omnicom, Snapchat, L’Oréal or The Guardian, truly understanding the uniqueness of those we represent allows us to match the perfect talent to the right role.


With every victorious partnership created between a leader and a leading company, we are witness to a vast spectrum of emotions. Some are very clear to see; such as the immense pride of running a major brand from the top down, being the one to disrupt and transform markets or the anticipation of holding the stock needed to successfully retire at fifty. Yet these will often be accompanied by creeping terrors such as the inevitable disruption these career choices have on the family unit, the fear of not being as good as others or indeed the potential disappointment of the missed equity pay day.

It is our duty of care to understand our candidates at every level – it would be remiss, careless, callous and irresponsible of us not to understand the person as a whole.


Organizations across the world have quite rightly identified their role in helping their leaders to reach peak performance. Usually this involves tangible, physical benefits be it in the form of healthcare, exercise classes, generous childcare and perks such as laundry services, free meals and on-site doctors. A quick look at Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work survey highlights the massive strides we’ve made in this space.

While the impact of looking after our physical self is incredibly well documented, surely in 2015 we should be paying as much attention to our mental self? This need has been well documented in the sports field where studies have shown that athletes using both physical and cognitive training witness a huge rate of improvement – up to 120% – almost three times more than those focusing solely on the physical.

At Advertising Week, we’ve already borne witness to the formidable Arianna Huffington speaking on the transformative effects of meditation, mindfulness, unplugging and giving for our own personal wellbeing. Similarly, Professor Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre has drawn on the need for greater mindfulness to combat the human and financial cost of depression in the workplace – a factor with greater impact in our organisations than many major health issues such as cancer.

Further to this, a 2015 study by Harvard Business School and Stanford University recently made headlines by claiming that workplace stress is just as bad for you as second-hand smoke. Compiling 228 different pieces of work, it highlighted that high work stress increased the odds of being diagnosed with an illness by 35% and the chances of an early death by 20%.


It’s time to redress the need for balance between our physical being and mental being – an unnecessary stigma still exists in talking about our mental state. And there shouldn’t be; we all have very unique brains and circumstances affect each of us differently. For example the reporting of challenging results to stakeholders might cause great anxiety in one leader, yet be utterly exhilarating for another.

So as part of an industry that has undergone unprecedented change and continuing (r)evolution in the past decade, the Lighthouse decided to bring acclaimed neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux to Advertising Week to share his most recent work that focuses on the brain and our emotions.

Joseph’s work addresses the historic misunderstanding between fear and anxiety (the experience) and how our body responds (both in terms of behaviors and physiological changes). By acknowledging this confusion we can pave the way for a deeper comprehension of how our brain responds to danger and how we experience fear and anxiety in today’s world. Through this insight, we can start to take the actions necessary to truly master the modern mind.

Yet we are far from done when it comes to understanding the human mind. Ever since the recession, we’ve seen stress levels raised and many top roles being formed from the previous work of multiple leaders – all of which leads to a higher incidence of physical burn-out. Science has helped us to understand how we can look after our physical being to perform better, we owe it to ourselves and our organizations to recognize what can be achieved if we do the same for our mental being. After all, a healthy body and a healthy mind makes for a healthy whole.

One in a series of original pieces created for Advertising Week in New York and first published here on The Huffington Post.