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Thought Leadership Thursday

Serving our State with Excellence

Kelly Mitchell, Treasurer, State of Indiana

Thought Leadership Thursday Article

Serving our State with Excellence
July 22, 2021
Kelly Mitchell
State Treasurer
Indiana

Dear Colleagues,

I am so proud of my staff, and I am sure you all feel the same about your teams! We have worked hard together and have accomplished many wonderful things. The pandemic tossed our normal way of doing business and communicating out the window, as it did in all states. Leading in a time of such upheaval taught me that the human element in our work matters the most - that leading means more than finding efficient solutions and delivering good government. We found ourselves asking "how are you doing, really?" far more often, and finding ways to offer support and help during the time we were so isolated. And we succeeded, because we have come out of this 16-month journey closer and stronger than ever.

During my first five years as State Treasurer, it was simple to check in on my staff. I could just stop by their desk and talk to them. The pandemic took that away. There was no training that could prepare us for what we experienced. None of our contingency plans or continuity of operation procedures anticipated 16 months of working from home. We built a remote operation on the fly, continuing to serve our state with excellence. But we kept in mind and heart the human factor. We were all people trying desperately to make sense of a terrible situation. The fear factor for ourselves and our families and friends loomed large, and every staff member was adjusting, acclimating and working to keep their loved ones safe.

My chief of staff and his wife welcomed a baby in late 2020. Such a wonderful event, but also a difficult time to be in isolation from family and friends. My communications director was hired during the pandemic, and the first time we ever saw each other in the office was more than three months after he was hired. Some employees lost family members, some suffered from COVID-19 themselves.

We all experienced emotions with enhanced intensity. When the pandemic began, when that first positive case was reported in Indiana, I remember the fear. When we began responding, figuring out a way to keep our office running, holding to our high fiduciary standards, there was a resilience, almost a defiance. And when the first vaccine was approved, and shots started going into arms, and I hugged my mother for the first time in well over a year, and ate an in-person, socially distanced lunch with my staff for the first time in who-knows-how-long, and the checkered flag flew over the Indianapolis 500 as thousands of fans cheered...the sheer joy and relief of it all was indescribable.

Obviously, we were all concerned about physical health and safety during the pandemic, but mental health was a part of the conversation, too.

As a leader, you have to be aware of your own mental health in order to lead effectively. Like most of you, I had to come to grips with the tremendous stress the pandemic put on me and my family, as a mother and daughter and wife and sister, and realize that every member of my staff was experiencing similar things.

We live in an era where access to mental health resources is steadily growing, but the stigma around the subject remains. We don’t talk or think about mental health the same way we do physical health, and we should. When we offer clinics and care to our staff, we should include access to therapy, mental health screenings, and counseling. Indiana recently increased the number of free therapy sessions available annually through its Employee Assistance Program from 3 to 8, and offers 24/7 counseling services for grief, depression, anxiety, relationship concerns, financial stress, and other topics. Many states have similar programs in place, but many employees are unaware that they exist. As leaders, we must promote these tools to our teams.

Safeguarding the cognitive and emotional health of our employees isn’t about just working through frightening moments or understanding mental illness. It’s about a continuous level of security and encouragement that we must strive to provide for every single individual. Being an effective officeholder means concerning ourselves with these very real issues. Our employees look to us to create high standards for team wellness.

I swore an oath of office and I have a tremendous responsibility to the state and the people that I serve. Part of that service is ensuring the staff I have in place are equipped to succeed, and that happens best if they are physically, mentally, and emotionally supported.

Sincerely,

Kelly Mitchell
President, NAST
Indiana Treasurer of State

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