Anja Dunphy of Leaf Mental Health: “Hire great people and trust them to do their jobs”

Hire great people and trust them to do their jobs. Checking in to see how things are going from time to time is fine, but give them space to work and trust them to do it. When you give them new challenges, they’ll rise to the occasion. As a part of my series about leaders […]

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Hire great people and trust them to do their jobs. Checking in to see how things are going from time to time is fine, but give them space to work and trust them to do it. When you give them new challenges, they’ll rise to the occasion.

As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anja Dunphy.

Anja Dunphy has been a leader in Corporate America for over 20 years, more than ten of which have been focused on healthcare. In 2019, her drive to help the community and her expertise in businesses development led her to create Leaf Mental Health. Leaf is a concierge service that uses leading technology and industry expertise to quickly find the ideal therapist for each client. Because Leaf does not cater to any specific insurance company, their sole interest is getting clients the best possible care for their unique situation. The pandemic that began in 2020 has created a surge in need for online mental healthcare services and Leaf continues to grow, supporting that demand.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland with my parents, older sister, and younger brother. We attended private schools when I was young, but my parents felt the schools lacked diversity and moved us to one of Baltimore’s well known and respected public schools. We had friends from all over the city and it soon felt normal to be surrounded by people with a wide range of ethnicities, values, and backgrounds. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the gift of that experience was one of the greatest my parents would ever give me.

I stayed in that school system through high school, during which time I traveled overseas twice as part of an exchange program and gained some context of the wider world. After graduating from St. John’s College where the students study the Great Books Program, I went on to a career of progressive responsibility in corporate America, learning about technology, change, and leadership.

Through those years, the term “mindfulness” was not part of the mainstream culture. For most people I knew, the term “mindfulness”, along with practices like meditation, conjured images of snake oil salesmen and nomads. It was not until maybe five years ago that I became aware of accomplished professionals extolling the virtues of meditation, happiness, a good night’s sleep, and a mindfulness practice. As I explored those ideas, found (as many have) that people are able to contribute at a much higher level to work as well as every other area of life if they themselves are happy. I knew lots of people trying to be happier through work with a therapist, but they struggled to find the right one because the search itself was such a time consuming a frustrating process. My mission with Leaf is to get people faster access to mental healthcare- the best, right care for them- so they can be happier faster and give more to themselves and world around them. It’s not a one size fits all approach. Going back to the lesson learned earlier in life to truly see and appreciate people’s unique needs, I set out to create a company that advocated for the individual, not an insurance company or some other packaged solution.

What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?

Growing up, we went to church every Sunday, driving an hour each way into Washington, DC to attend a service my parents felt resonated with their faith and values. The time in the car gave us time to bond as a family and talk about whatever was top of mind. We would stop at a McDonald’s for lunch on the way home if we behaved ourselves well enough at church and recall one of those meals in particular. My dad was at the counter ordering food as the three of us sat at a nearby table with our mom. An older man with a weathered appearance approached my father at the counter as he ordered lunch for us. Dad turned and spoke to the person behind the counter; moments later handing a large bag of food and drinks to the older man, looking him very directly and compassionately in the eyes and could see dad’s lips move as he said “here you go”. He put his hand on the man’s shoulder and they spoke a moment longer before the gentleman left. When dad rejoined us and we asked him about the conversation, he said sometimes people just need a little extra help and you should always help if you can. He later added to that idea, saying most people really want to help those around them, but get distracted by what’s happening in our own lives and miss the opportunity. Mindfulness and spirituality remind us we have a deep connection to the people and things around us. The example set on that seemingly random Sunday afternoon has stayed with me the rest of my life. Notably, all three of dad’s children aspire to continue his legacy of compassion.

How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?

While I no longer go to church on Sundays, a daily meditation practice and focus on mindfulness has made me measurably more patient and attentive as a leader, member of the business community, friend, parent, partner, and citizen of the world.

Interestingly, the consistent practice of quietness has improved my ability to listen (versus waiting to talk) and helped find common ground when conflicting ideas are in play. By really listening to all parties, it is possible to separate the idea they are arguing about from the people themselves, which often allows the group to find common ground and build on that. Better outcomes emerge when different ideas are truly heard, explored, and appreciated. Allowing the safe space to honestly share ideas builds trust, deepens relationships, and allows people to participate at their best. We are then more connected as a team and can so much farther.

Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?

Both personally and professionally, mindfulness has expanded the creativity and joy in my life. It played a key role in my inspiration to start Leaf, which is making a powerful positive impact on my own life as well that those we help.

In appreciating the quiet, so much “noise” fades away and we are left to see more clearly. My team knows they are trusted, appreciated, and I know they give all they can to support each other and our common goals. There is an ease and happiness in that knowing that helps us navigate stressful times with greater grace. As a result of this connection, we have better focus, are more flexible, and have improved results.

What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?

There is a great quote from Brene Brown, “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and something you have to earn, anything is possible.”

A “good life” appreciates the journey. When one goal is accomplished, another inevitably presents itself. Don’t get hung up on “that one thing” you need to make you happy. Truly appreciate who you are and what you uniquely bring to the world, understanding all you need to be happy is with you already. It’s much easier said than done, but if you can love yourself and find gratitude in the life you have, that’s a great life.

Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?

There was a moment reading Napoleon Hill’s book Think and Grow Rich that I had to stop and catch my breath. It was the moment of realizing that each of us have the power to achieve anything we truly desire if we can manage to focus our attention and expect it- not just want it but really expect it will happen. There is simultaneously an ease and excitement that comes with the realization, making the work more fun. I learned the main thing stopping most of us is often ourselves.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Everywhere I’ve worked, the people I worked for and with had meaningful lessons to teach me. One taught me to hire people who have a very different point of view than my own because diverse teams really do perform better. One taught me the harsh lessons of when and how to hold my team accountable. Another taught me that what matters most really isn’t getting the power point done by 5pm, it’s taking time to support the person next to you who is going through a painful moment. As mentioned earlier, my father was also a major voice of kindness and reason. I am forever grateful to them all.

Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?

  1. Hire great people and trust them to do their jobs. Checking in to see how things are going from time to time is fine, but give them space to work and trust them to do it. When you give them new challenges, they’ll rise to the occasion.
  2. Be grateful. If you have to deliver difficult feedback, remember what you really appreciate about the person first. It will make the conversation go better. If you can’t think of anything, postpone the conversation until you can or delegate it.
  3. Be sincere. It will build trust and trust is like air. When you have it, you don’t think about it. When you don’t, it’s all you can think about.
  4. Have fun! However and whenever you can, have fun at work and encourage your team to do the same.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are two things that come to mind. First, enhancing the education system to teach children how to deal with the inevitable anxiety that comes in life and build their confidence by helping them find ways to trust themselves (versus outside influences). Second, making short volunteering to support some public services mandatory. It would reduce cost to the public for these services and give people across society a way to be empathetic by connecting with those they otherwise might not.

How can people follow you and find out more about you?

Go to to learn about how we find people the best possible therapist, whatever their unique needs, quickly and discreetly. You can also join our more than 5,000 collective social media followers on either Instagram or Facebook. If there are specific questions, email me anytime at [email protected] I read every email myself and will find a way to help you.

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