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What is the definition of a mindful leader? A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion, in the service of others.

I developed this definition about 15 years ago when I began teaching. The definition is both inspirational and instructive. Inspirational because it will take a lifetime to hone your innate abilities to embody leadership presence. And instructive because it identifies the four fundamentals of excellence ( focus, clarity, creativity and compassion) that are developed and strengthened through the practices of mindful leadership training. During my 30 years in leadership roles, these four attributes were shown again and again to be the bedrock of great leaders. And, they are also the most likely to be weakened or lost in the realities of overwhelmed professionals in today’s workplace. Let’s begin with a closer look at the role of clarity.

You know how it is. You go to a meeting and you have a clear idea of what you want to happen there. So, you are likely to see what you want to see, and hear what you want to hear, even if it is not actually what is being shown or said. We all do this, especially when we are stressed or hurried. And we have all had the experience of seeing another person attend the same meeting that you attended and come away with a completely different interpretation of what was said in the room. Our conditioning and our biases are strong components of our lives and they act as powerful filters. If we want to be strong influencers, and inspiring leaders, we need to begin to learn about those filters. How clearly am I seeing and hearing what is all around me? Can I begin to be intentional about questioning the thoughts and conclusions and judgments that I am carrying around with me?

Our conditioning and our biases are strong components of our lives and they act as powerful filters.

One way to do so is to begin to understand that your thoughts are not “you.” They are simply thoughts. One of my mentors referred to thoughts as “nothing more than secretions of the mind.” I love that expression! The ability to see your thoughts with that kind of spaciousness and lightness allows you to begin to realize that there are times when your thoughts are fallible, biased, exaggerated, etc. And this realization opens the door to new possibilities, innovations and connections. We really can’t have breakthrough leadership without this. We all need to see things clearly and to do that, we often need to challenge the thoughts that arise in our own mind. If you want to experiment with this for yourself, try the following:

See for yourself: Is there a situation that appears to be at an impasse in your life or in your work? Try making a list of the “facts” of the situation and see if you can challenge the veracity of each fact. Is it true? Try asking yourself some questions

Are there places where I have taken a small truth and written a “full length feature film” about it filled with some truths and some unknowns that I am treating as truths?

Am I bringing an unhelpful history into this situation?

Do I need to let go of some ‘conclusions’ and look at it with fresh eyes?

It can be helpful to do this experiment with a trusted friend or colleague. What did you discover?

In my own life, I have found many instances where I was making assumptions and writing stories about things and people. When I stop and look at them with fresh eyes, I often see places to try something differently, or make room to hear something with more openness, often with surprising and positive outcomes. At times, I also was able to see the places where I was giving too much weight to thoughts that were nothing more than the internal critic creating worry and anxiety and self-doubt. Remember, you need not dismiss the thoughts that you notice arising. You are simply learning to notice them with some spaciousness so you are able to have the kind of clarity that supports conscious choices and transformational leadership.

This was part one of a four part series. Links to the other blogs can be found below.

Part 1: See Past Your Filters

Part 2: Are You a Compassionate Leader?

Part 3: Training Your Mind’s Ability to be Creative

Part 4: The Incredible Myth of Multitasking