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An Intro to Mindful Leadership

tips for mindful leadership

Each year when USA Today or Newsweek posts an article about “The 10 Most Stressful Jobs Today,” ‘Account Executive’ or ‘Creative Director’ at an advertising agency is sure to appear at the top of the list. As with many jobs in creative fields, the demands are high and the days are long in these positions. Egos run wild in ad agencies, and sometimes it seems the worst behaved people are the ones getting promoted.

While the popular TV series ‘Mad Men’ is cast and set in the ‘50’s, there is still much truth in the script – agencies do often create a culture where there is a general disregard for co-workers. Backstabbing and excessive self-promotion are often the primary road to career advancement.

However, ad agencies are paid to have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in society, and most employees fit the hipster/trendsetter stereotype perfectly – so it’s no surprise that with a shift in consciousness happening in the mainstream, there is also (finally) a shift occurring within the ad agencies themselves. We were intrigued to see this article from DW +H’s Director of Strategy, and view it as another encouraging sign that the business world is undergoing a transformation.

9 Mindful Leadership Tips

By Frank Striefler

I can’t claim to be a master at practicing Mindful Leadership – I’m an early student who is impressed by the initial results in my business and personal life. It’s an amazing gift to become more self-aware, and I’d like to share this awareness with anybody who is interested. I’ve made it public that my New Year’s resolution is to practice more Mindful Leadership in 2013, and I hope you’ll feel inspired to join me and perhaps inspire your co-workers as well.

I first encountered the idea of Mindful Leadership at a workshop at Esalen Institute lead by Ronald Alexander. It was a life-changing weekend, and it made me commit to making it an annual tradition to attend a workshop for personal growth. I would highly recommend dropping everything and attending a similar retreat (Glad.is can recommend some great ones) to help you dive in.

For the Christmas/New Years holiday break, I picked up the book “Mindful Leadership” by Maria Gonzalez and it really drove home many of the points I learned in my retreat weekend. Maria outlines 9 practices for being a Mindful Leader, which I’ll share with you. And I believe anyone in any job or position can benefit from exploring these 9 skills. After all, we are all leaders – regardless of our seniority, age or social status.

1. BE PRESENT

Being present is the biggest present you can give and the starting point of being a mindful leader. Pair intention with attention. Be in the moment regardless of circumstance vs. wasting energy and time regretting the past or fretting the future.

Most people are unable to give complete attention to what’s happening right now. Inattention can mean you miss hearing what was said or seeing if someone is uncommitted. Being in the present moment allows you to truly hear what someone says rather than what you wish they had said or what you fear they have said.

Slow down. Wait in order to hear, hear in order to listen, listen in order to speak.

Look and see with open eyes. Scan and study the verbal and non-verbal conversation. Observe how others are taking in what you’re saying and see if you have buy-in or doubters. Listen with the “third ear” to the words, intonation and conviction. Watch for the body language of the speaker and audience. By combining both sound and sight, you will not only pick up the content of what is being communicated but you will be able to pick up what is not said, too.

2. BE AWARE

Being aware starts with being self-aware and receptive. Is about being aware of your arising thoughts and feelings and not being blindsided or hijacked by your emotions or negative patterns. Don’t suppress what you are experiencing. Don’t interfere, just notice. Awareness enables you to maintain sound judgment and make better decisions.

It also means that you’re aware of how you affect others. Constantly observe how your words, actions, demeanor and energy impact those around you. Be receptive and listen for possibilities without judgment. It means you’re aware of the constant feedback loop in the world and the interconnectedness of all things. Leaders who are aware are coachable. They don’t let their ego get in the way of their personal growth. They acknowledge that they don’t know everything.

3. BE CALM

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to have a conversation with someone who is relaxed? While people appear to have a greater tendency toward calmness, the good news is that calmness and relaxation are completely learnable. A leader that remains calm under any circumstance is invaluable. When you are less impulsive you’re more likely to respond appropriately vs. being reactive. It allows you to keep control of any situation, which assures others that a difficult task is manageable. This allows employees to face challenges from the perspective of problem solving rather than causing them to panic.

4. BE FOCUSED

When you’re focused, you concentrate on what you know is a priority. It’s about keeping distractions in the background while focusing on the task at hand. It means you can be in a meeting from beginning to end without your mind wandering. To give your undivided attention, give attention to only one task at a time. Studies show that people spend up to 50% of their time not thinking about the task at hand. Adding the fact that the average worker gets interrupted every 11 minutes and considering that it takes him/her about 25 minutes to get back to the original task, shows how important being able to focus is for our productivity.

Multitasking is the greatest barrier to our ability to focus and the most overrated skill in our culture — It’s a bad excuse for our inability to concentrate. It’s so ingrained in our culture that we admire multitasking when we ought to be demonizing it for killing efficiency & effectiveness.

5. BE CLEAR

Being clear comes back to understanding what drives you and what’s important in the grand scheme of things. Know why you do what you do. Lead from your core and use your internal compass for guidance, inspiration, and comfort. As a leader, be clear about your company’s vision and mission, your own life purpose, commitment, motives, choices and intentions, your thoughts and emotions and your expectations for yourself and others. Clarity will allow you to incorporate a longer-term perspective while maintaining a macro view to make better decisions.

Speaking mindfully means you say only what is necessary – no more, no less. You say what you mean and you mean what you say. In fact, making clarity a priority signals to everyone in your organization that this is your expected standard. This will prompt others to be more rigorous and disciplined in communicating as well.

Whenever you experience lack of clarity, check whether any of your hindrances are at play. Hindrances are mental states that block success. The most applicable hindrances to Mindful Leadership are; attachment (unrelenting drive to succeed/acquire/compete/control and to the inability to let go), aversion (fear of loosing what you have), ignorance/confusion/delusion (not seeing reality for what it is, not realizing what you don’t know), envy/jealousy (deep insecurity leading to want what others want) and pride (inferior pride “you’re better than me” & superior pride “I’m better than you”).

6. BE EQUANIMOUS

With equanimity – which means being of an even, composed frame of mind – you become aware of what can and what cannot be changed. Equanimity is the ability to accept “what is” non-judgmentally, without resistance resulting in a steady temper, better decisions and seeing opportunities previously unseen. It’s about having true inner peace and not wasting time fighting with yourself about things that can’t be changed, but rather to use the renewed energy to impact the things you can change.  But equanimity does not mean you’re promoting an indifferent attitude. If something can and needs to be changed, by all means change it.

To practice this skill, the perfectionist in us must accept that not everything needs to be ideal in order to be content. This does not mean that you will not express your disappointment or anger; it just means that you will do so more with a composed demeanor addressing the issue rather then getting personal.

7. BE POSITIVE

Intention and a can-do attitude are very powerful forces in solving problems and seizing opportunities. Imagine positive outcomes. Set your mind on what you want, and it will manifest. Think about what you would like to have happen. Before a meeting, spend a few minutes thinking about what your objectives are for the meeting. Train yourself to expect the best by imagining the best. Don’t let perfectionism turn into a source of self-criticism. Perfectionism kills creativity.

If you catch yourself in negative self-talk, take the time to notice it and don’t tolerate any mental abuse in your head. Don’t tolerate pessimism in others either. Be a positive force for yourself and your colleagues. You’ve probably noticed that when you’re grumpy, things don’t go your way. Be grateful – it increases the chance that something good happens to you.

8. BE COMPASSIONATE

Don’t fear being too soft or sensitive. Compassion takes courage. True compassion is about caring without attachment to the outcome. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Be a star coach – not a star player. Don’t make it an “all about me” game but a team play where every member of the team counts. Learn about and value every team member’s uniqueness and strengths. Nurture and develop your own skills and talents first, then nurture others. Enroll people as co-conspirators with a clear sense of contribution and significance. People want to feel seen, heard and understood by the leader.

Develop your compassion with deliberate acts of kindness. Create gentler and kinder relationships. Do your best and let the results take care of themselves. I call it “people over projects”. Value flow more than perfection – which in return results in more creativity and organizational efficiency over time.

9. BE IMPECCABLE

Mindful leaders are impeccable in their words and deeds – which should not be confused with being perfect. You can’t be perfect all the time, but you can try your best every time. Try to leave a situation better than you found it. Be the same way at work as you are at home, whether someone is watching or not. Be results oriented. Foster a climate of accountability, responsibility, creativity, and change. Demonstrate integrity and accept responsibility for your own actions. Operate with a wise mind: no blame, no attack, no judgment, and no control. Admit if you fell short of your own expectations. It will build trust with your team as it shows humanity and vulnerability.

Final thought: we are here to serve. Leadership comes with great privilege and great responsibility. As leaders, we are responsible for creating an environment full of positive energy. We must nurture every person we have the privilege to influence. Mindfulness training makes us realize that we are spiritual beings in a human existence and that we are hear to service in the world for the benefit of all beings. Mindful leadership can be your key to organizational health. It unifies people and harmonizes your culture. There is no doubt that every meeting would be better off with more mindfulness in the room.

Are you inspired to hit the office with a new mindset now?  We are!  What resonated with you most? Please share!

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3 Responses to “An Intro to Mindful Leadership”

  1. Sandy Hounsell January 25, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Very insightful….

    When we accept our feelings and thoughts, whatever they are, over a particular situation, we take the first step in breaking the hold that those feelings have over our life. When we no longer deny how we feel, we begin to honour who we are, even when our thoughts are not necessarily loving thoughts at that time. As we practice acceptance, our thoughts will, and do become both loving and compassionate. By not accepting what is we actually deny our self the possibility of healing.

  2. Veronica Valdivia January 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    Frank!

    Very proud of you. I am thankful that you shared!!

  3. Shirley January 27, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Yes! As a spiritual counselor the first step I teach everyone is to connect “mindfully” to the world around them. In this way, we live life more present, which is the first step to inner awareness. When we live in the present moment, this enables us to look within, experience ourselves on multiple levels; expand our consciousness, inner guidance, peace and joy. Far more worthwhile then simply getting more tasks completed.
    By Shirley Ryan

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