5 ways Nike CEO John Donahoe makes mental health a priority

At 28, Nike CEO John Donahoe received some life-changing advice. It didn’t come by way of learning some new skill but taking care yourself.

While sitting at a training program during his days at Bain & Company, Donahoe said a speaker who studied world-class athletes said that all the top athletes he looked at shared one shared quality: Self-care.

Via Yahoo! Finance:

He said for every hour they’re on the playing field, they train for 20 hours. They work out, they sleep well, they eat right. They look inward to learn their own strengths and weaknesses. And importantly, they are not afraid to ask for help — in fact, they view asking for help as a sign of strength.

“Michael Jordan has a bench coach, a personal trainer, a chef, and a mental coach. He wants to get help so he can get better,” the speaker told us. “But you businesspeople don’t take care of yourselves. You think not getting sleep is a badge of honor! And you want to be world-class? You think asking for help is a sign of weakness, not strength. I don’t get it!”

Running any company will require much of your time. Now imagine running the top apparel line in the world. As Donahoe looks back on his career, he said he took the advice the speaker had to heart.

“Like so many others, I was sacrificing my mental health at the altar of my work, simply because I thought that was the only way,” Donahoe said.

Here’s how Donahoe takes care of himself.

Get your sleep in

Getting the right amount of sleep is a mixed-bag when looking at other successful CEOs. Warren Buffett would fit the mold of what the speaker is saying; Buffett has said he sleeps around eight hours a night. On the other hand, Tesla’s Elon Musk is a workaholic. In an interview with the New York Times in 2018, Musk said he worked 120-hour weeks to meet the demand of Tesla.

“Today, I still try to eat right and get plenty of sleep. And I strive to be an advocate for those around me to take care of themselves, to always try to show up rested, present, and whole,” Donahoe wrote.

Mental health at the top

Consider Donahoe an advocate for mental health.

As businesses begin to grapple with unprecedented levels of burnout and stress due to the pandemic, mental health awareness is well on the rise at the office. Donahoe was taking care of himself long before.

“I meditate. I exercise every morning (OK, most mornings),” Donahoe said. “I do gratitude practice to try to stay positive by keeping myself grounded in what I’m most appreciative of. And I’ve embraced a lot of help.”

There are a number of ways how meditating can help both your mental health and work performance. Research has shown it can help improve focus and increase awareness in patience. It can also help mitigate anxiety.

Practicing gratitude is a scientifically-backed method that can have a positive effect on your general well-being. Some have said it can help how we view and manage stressors in the workplace, while for Donahoe it helps him stay positive even when the going gets tough.

Say yes to help

Going to therapy can provide a big boost just for amount anyone. For job professionals, research has said that cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can help unemployed workers find jobs more quickly, while helping those already holding jobs perform at higher levels.

The “stigma” behind therapy is only in your head: Places like EY (Ernst & Young) and American Express have put mental health at the forefront of their operation.

So does Donahoe.

“I’ve had the same therapist for the last 30 years,” he said. “I have spiritual advisors and business mentors, who I call often for guidance. I can’t imagine being able to perform today without getting help.”

At Nike, the sneaker company takes a number of steps to ensure employees can get helped in moments of need. Donahoe said that Nike offers diverse counselors, free wellness memberships, support for families, and a Crisis Text Line to provide everyone in the US with 24/7 support.

“There’s no question: Asking for help is one of the most powerful expressions of strength,” he said. “We know mental health is as important as physical health to realize our full potential, in sport and in life, and a community of support is a vital part of that.”

Dance – or go for a walk

Drawing on experiences athletes have shared from their daily training routines, yoga was a popular method used to unlock the body. But would you consider it a sport?

Donahoe does.

Whether it’s a walk, dancing, meditation, or some other form of self-care, Donahoe said Nike believes in “expanding the definition of sport.”

“I continue to be inspired by the many ways people make sport a daily habit, even in the most challenging of times. I strongly believe that sport can no longer be defined by only traditional activities,” he said.

“It’s about movement, dance, yoga and — yes — mental health. Sport has become more democratic, extending into fitness and wellness for people everywhere like never before. It’s something we all share: the ability to think of our mind as another muscle to power toward our goals.”