|Amanda and her dog, Layla.|
The eastern practices of calming and quieting the mind and seeking self-awareness are infusing the western business world.
Mindful leadership teaches people to be self-aware, quiet the brain, live in the present moment and make decisions calmly and thoughtfully. The importance of being mindful in my leadership became very real to me the day I realized that in everything I do, every day, I am leading and influencing others.
Be the change
Each day I choose how to be in the world and with others. I think Gandhi said it best: “Be the change you want to see.” If we all are deliberate and thoughtful about our actions, behaviours, thoughts and communications, and align them with the world we want to live in, then something powerful and almost magical happens: we create that world.
I was at a conference a few years ago where a man shared a story about “being the change.” He was new to Vancouver and had recently purchased a home on a street that had a significant litter problem. Once a week he cleaned the street. He said at first it took a while to do the cleanup, but over time his neighbours started helping and the process went faster. He also observed his neighbours calling others on their littering behaviour. A new street culture was created and reinforced.
Mindful leadership at work
What does all this have to do with the workplace? The principle of mindful leadership, of understanding ourselves and being responsible for our influence and impact, is something that is with each one of us, every moment, every day at work, home or wherever we are.
I use mindful leadership at work by being thoughtful about my actions and conversations to either support workplace culture or not. I can change the status quo by simply behaving in a way that doesn’t align. Through this, I inspire and give others “permission” to do the same.
A few years ago I had a colleague who felt caught in the middle between the old and the new. Our organization was going through significant change, and he was struggling with his coworkers’ conversations, which undermined the new vision. He kept quiet during these conversations as he didn’t want to harm these relationships. But his act of keeping quiet, by not politely excusing himself or respectfully sharing excitement for the new vision, was an act of supporting the old. By keeping quiet, we may be inadvertently supporting behaviours we see in the workplace, such as bullying and gossip.
Another way that I use mindful leadership at work is to lead a group project. I do research, consult with others, and review the organization’s strategic directions to create an end vision. Then I assemble the team with as much diversity as possible, drawing on people whose skills complement and offset my own. I then approach the work by “keeping the end in mind” (thanks Stephen Covey) allowing creativity and flexibility into the process. I set goals of achievement but do not control the path to reaching them. This takes tremendous patience at times because with diversity comes some conflict or head-butting.
I believe, however, that diversity and respectful conflict are invaluable as the finished project is always more comprehensive and thoughtful. Throughout the process I do not get caught up in over-thinking the details, or as eastern thought would say, I keep my mind quiet and calm and have faith that by keeping the end in mind and facilitating the process it will be successful.
Not about right and wrong
Mindfulness asks a lot of us. It asks us to understand ourselves, our strengths, weaknesses and biases. It asks us to do due diligence, to do the research, to plan and be cautious about working in a reactive ad hoc style. It asks us to be thoughtful of others and to assume good will. To be patient with others and understand that they have different ways of approaching, filtering and responding to the world. It asks us to understand and respect that not everyone is in the same place in life – we are all continuously balancing a number of personal and professional stressors, pressures and sometimes illnesses.
In the world of mindfulness there is no time off. With practice, however, it becomes a complete way of being and an internalized belief system that influences every action and thought. It is not laden with right and wrong, good or bad, or perfection – it is not an exhausting quest for perfection or for being right, as it is based on being true to yourself and thoughtful and respectful of others.
How I practise mindfulness
- I learn about myself – my skills, values, beliefs, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants
- I learn about how others may differ from me and have different skills, values, beliefs, emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants
- I remind myself that there is no such thing as good, bad, right, wrong or perfect
- I define myself through my values and beliefs and not through what I think others think of me or think I should be doing
- I work towards transforming my judgment into understanding
- I assume everyone acts from a place of good will
- I observe behaviour, actions and conversations, mine and others, and their impact so I can learn to refine my own behaviour, actions and conversations to create the world I want to live in
- I speak with others openly and from a place of authenticity
- I manage my time effectively to enable myself to be fully present, thoughtful and clear-headed
- I don’t take things personally
- I practise, practise, practise
- I make lots of mistakes but am patient and forgiving of myself
I learn about myself through many tools
- Leadership and time management courses and readings
- Self-assessment tools
- Receiving and give coaching, mentoring and feedback
- Observing myself day to day, pushing my boundaries and trying new things
- Quiet reflection and meditation