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A Little More Conversation: Sylvia Bruce

16 May 2019

blue watercolour head with speech bubbleWhere does a go-to person go to?

In my experience, leadership can be a lonely place. A business leader is the stakeholders’ go-to person for many things. They are decision makers, problem solvers; they make things happen and get things done. They’re often go-to people in their personal lives too. But, where does the go-to person go to?

In my previous position as a Director, Global Banking & Markets, HSBC, I worked in a dynamic, pressurised and exciting environment. A niche transaction based, income generating, multi-billion US Dollar, client facing business ‘at the sharp end’. I had sole leadership, performance, talent management and succession planning responsibility for its transaction management support group. I lead and proudly created a team known globally as ‘best on the street’ in our business and product.

I was the team’s, front office’s and business stakeholders’ go-to person for all daily business flow activities and broader business development, growth and related support matters too. Every day, challenges required making immediate, business and time critical decisions, and longer-term future proofing and planning ones too. That was my job. I enjoyed it. Of course, periodically there were exceptionally demanding times. I recall one in particular when I was, and felt, under extreme pressure but I wouldn’t have said I was, or felt, stressed, although I started having heart palpitations!

Even during my past mental ill-health to full recovery experience, I hadn’t experienced those. Back then, a series of ongoing traumatic personal life events and experiences culminated in a ‘perfect storm’ sotospeak. I slipped into suicidal depression. Yet, I continued working; work was my saviour, antidote, therapy, a place to temporarily escape my personal demons and where I had purpose and success. Following another failed attempt, I finally sought help. With medication and counselling I worked throughout my incredible full recovery, with a supportive line manager accommodating all appointments. Later, alongside my day job, I qualified as an integrative counsellor, then coach, to pay forward what I’d received – a life re-ignited. With new meaning, purpose and direction, my career blossomed. I was regularly headhunted, moved into investment banking and at HSBC gained global reputation as ‘one of the best in my field’.

This time though, I was shocked when although my heart was OK, I had dangerously high blood pressure. I was dismissive, and quite defensive, though when doctors suggested stress! However, on candid reflection, I realised that whilst I didn’t feel mentally stressed, my body was physically stressed from the strain of happily ‘going that extra mile’, enveloped in the business buzz……for a bit too long! A reminder too that physical illness is often invisible, unexperienced, which I should have remembered from before when my depression contributing, life-threatening illness, was stress/depression related.

Now, in my ‘new beginning’ - - I am its ‘go-to’ person. I’m very aware my passion for its growth might sometimes become pressure, even stressful, and moreover them slipping from positive to negative motivation forces. So I need to protect and take care of myself, to enable its success.

So in my experience a go-to goes to…



  • Know when they’re not their normal self. They can identify and recognise their ‘personal clues and cues’ - physical, behavioural, physiological, emotional, psychological changes. Clue(s) that something’s amiss and cue(s) to pause and/or do something. Mine, for example, include feeling ‘wired’, on edge; when a bad habit, and ‘got to’ language, creeps in.
  • Establish work/life boundaries, not necessarily balance. For some, blurred lines are OK, yet for most, including me, delineation, with elements of contextual flexibility, positively supports healthy well-being.
  • Know when to ‘switch’ off. Not just tech, but when to take a break, step away. I know this might seem counter intuitive sometimes, yet just 5-minutes makes a difference!



  • Recognise when it’s required.
  • Know, and reach out for, what they need.
  • Create, build and grow their bespoke support tool-kit, including: other go-to person/persons of trust, networks, peers and contemporaries; mentors, coaches; professional bodies; their own self-help techniques; appropriate self-talk; knowing what organisational support exists, its availability and accessibility; GPs and medical professionals; exploring alternatives.
  • Prioritize fun and enjoyment: significant others, interests, passions, hobbies, exercise, experiences that are so joyously absorbing, they gift a supportive break.



  • talk and/or seek support. They confidently go-to the support in their tool-kit appropriate for the given situation, circumstance or context. This approach helped my leadership loneliness because rather than feeling lonely, disappointed, even frustrated sometimes from having limited support streams, I now have a multitude to choose from to get what I need.

Sylvia Bruce is a social entrepreneurial business owner, performance & mental health champion and IoD Member. 

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week (13th - 19th May 2019) and beyond, the IoD will be featuring stories from our members relating to mental health as part of the #alittlemoreconversation campaign. Track the campaign via the dedicated mental health hub and the IoD's social media channels. 

Return to the IoD Mental Health hub

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