27: Ken Clark: Mental Health for Effective Business Leaders

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On this episode of The Manage Your Message Podcast host Jim Karrh speaks with therapist and entrepreneur Ken Clark, owner of Chenal Family Therapy with 15 locations across Arkansas. We had a great conversation including ways to go beyond “work-life balance” and transfer skills from our work lives to outside-of-work lives and vice versa.

Ken has more than 30 years of experience building dynamic businesses in investment management, mental health, and nonprofit leadership in both California and Arkansas. As a subject-matter expert he is the author of seven books. As an entrepreneur, his ventures include rankings as one of America’s fastest-growing companies by Inc. magazine, an Arkansas Business of the Year, and the Mentoring Excellence Award from The Investment News.

Jim and Ken first talked about market perceptions of therapy itself. Ken came from California (where therapy is common and even cool) to Arkansas; one of his challenges/opportunities was to de-stigmatize therapy. As Ken said, “This is nothing more than a consulting relationship.” The opportunity has been realized through great word-of-mouth, which has led to the rapid growth of the business.

The conversation next went to the common compartmentalization of our “work self” from the other parts of our lives. In Ken’s clinical experience, many of the skills that work in one part of our life are readily transferable to others. As he might say to a client, “You’re phenomenal at sales…getting your kids to clean their rooms can just be a sales job.” By reframing those skills, he is able to open even more doors with his patients and have even deeper conversations.

Because therapists are trained in the strategic uses of questions and silence…are there things that business professionals can learn and apply as well? Ken recommends that we “stay in the question” as long as possible, rather than jumping into a solution too quickly. Our impulsiveness and insecurity can get in the way. As Ken put it, “The best leaders are experts at not being the expert.”

What about communication differences in the workforce? Ken employs many Millennials, who tend to be “workhorses” and many of whom make six-figure incomes. By making a conscious decision to stay away from preconceptions, we can be good listeners rather than biased predictors.

When it comes to limiting the impact of our biases as business leaders, the key is involving other people. Ken works to surround himself with good people, and give colleagues express permission to take him to task (“not just permitted, but actually rewarded”).

Ken also discussed strategies for delegation when it comes to scaling a professional-service business. Most delegation relates to tasks, where the leader hands off lower-value work. That’s fine to a point, but there is little exponential growth or opportunity for other people to build upon the vision. Ken’s strategy of “philosophy delegation” involves giving up not just task execution, but also parts of how certain tasks are best defined. He sees this as one of the biggest leadership gifts he can offer.

On a closing note, Jim asked Ken about good starting points. Ken noted that “One of the worst human conditions is being alone.” We need to be able to reflect on other people’s journeys. The biggest step is to remove isolation, and thus be in vulnerable conversations with others who share similarities. That leads to an ability to see yourself in other people, and to expand your emotional vocabulary.


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