4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: Training Your Mind’s Ability To Be Creative

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Today, we will explore the ever-elusive Creativity.

As human beings, we have an innate capacity to be creative, to put things together in new and novel ways. And yet, this capacity is often weakened or hard to reach because the mind is over-taxed with internal and external distractions.

You have probably had a situation when you couldn’t see the answer to a problem that required a new approach. You thought about it, did some research, and chatted with colleagues and friends but no answers came. The problem was still unresolved and weighing on your mind as you went to sleep. In the morning, as you were in the shower getting ready for a new day, the idea popped into your head. AHA! There is the perfect answer and it is so simple. And you wonder, “Why didn’t I come up with it earlier?”

Sound familiar? What happened? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t the magic of shower water. In those early minutes in the morning, before your mind becomes overloaded, there is some space. And in that space, your brain has the chance to access its innate ability to be creative.

A constant stream of thinking gets in the way of the creativity and wisdom that lies deep within you. The good news is that you can train your mind to be in a more spacious relationship to those thoughts rather than letting them overwhelm your brain.

See for yourself:

  1. Identify a situation or an issue that could benefit from greater creativity. See if you can formulate an open-ended question that, if answered, might lead to an innovative solution or approach.
  2. Then, set aside some time with no distractions (e.g. turn off your phone and close your laptop), and allow your mind to focus on the question you developed. Pay attention to the stream of thought and let go of thoughts that are distracting or judgmental or critical. This letting go practice is analogous to noticing the thoughts arising and saying ‘not now’ to help them dissolve. See if you begin to notice some spaciousness in your mind.
  3. Repeat your question silently and notice if some possible answers begin to arise. Try not to edit what arises, just let any and all possibilities be known. Is there a creative solution that feels right? If not, try this practice again later in the day or tomorrow. Be patient and consistent.

In some recent work I was doing with a leadership team, we were trying to break through a dry period where the team was not coming up with good answers to a strategic question. The low hanging fruit had been taken and they needed some new ideas. The team had been working in small groups and were reporting out what they had uncovered using a mindful leadership approach when the senior officer stood up and announced that ‘I get what you are saying, we couldn’t find the answer because we weren’t asking the right question.’ Sometimes, creativity isn’t only needed for the breakthrough solution, sometimes you need spaciousness in your mind so you can be sure you have the right question!

Practicing in this way begins to strengthen your ability to access your own creativity and your capacity for innovation. You can try this practice while sitting in a quiet place, or perhaps while taking a walk around your building or in some nearby open spaces. Remember to be patient, your mind may take a little time to get used to this newfound openness.

We have explored clarity, creativity and compassion. The final installment is next week’s post on focus. Can our brain multitask? Or, is multitasking a myth that is having some seriously detrimental effects? See you then!

4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: Are You A Compassionate Leader?

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This is Part 2 of the 4 Fundamentals to Transform Your Leadership series. Part 1-First, See Past Your Filters explored the importance of cultivating Clarity. This blog will explore the role of compassion.
Compassion may not be the first leadership characteristic that comes to mind when you think of everyday leadership performance, but when you think of examples of leadership excellence, it may very well be the one that rises to the top. Why is that? What does compassion have to do with great leadership?
Let’s take a step back and define “compassion.” Compassion arises when there is a deep understanding of the challenges being faced by others, and with that deep understanding comes a pull toward an act of kindness.

Embodying compassion in your development of mindful leadership often results in an ability for you to break out of the ordinary and lead in a way that is a win for the organization, a win for employees and a win for the “big picture.” Compassionate leadership is a form of inspirational leadership, and it can show up in many ways. It might arise as an innovative approach that finds a way to meet business objectives and simultaneously address a need in the community. It might arise in the form of a willingness to take a courageous stand to develop new work environments that support the needs of employees while still “getting the job done.” It might arise as an innovative idea that sparks business success and arises from a new and deeper understanding of a cultural or racial difference. There really is no limit on the number of places and times that you can bring compassion to a situation.
But, if you are having some doubts about where you might bring compassion into your leadership, you may want to start with an experiment in self-compassion. Self-compassion is often the most difficult kind of compassion for leaders to embody, but it is the best place to start learning about compassionate leadership.

Let’s begin by removing some of the misunderstandings about compassion. First, compassion is not a ‘soft skill’. In fact, compassion very often requires great courage and strength. Second, self-compassion is not “selfish.” For the best leaders, this misunderstanding emanates from a desire to take care of others. And that is a laudable way of being. We do want leaders who are not self-centered and egotistical. Self-care and self-compassion are not selfish acts, nor are they barriers to leadership excellence. They are the foundations of great leaders. In the process of dropping in on ourselves to observe what challenges are here, and how they might be alleviated, we learn a great deal about humanity in general. And when we have the courage to experiment with offering ourselves an act of kindness, we experience for ourselves the powerful, transformative impact of compassion.

See for yourself: Take a few minutes to sit quietly and check in with your body. Allow yourself to be open and curious about what you are noticing. What sensations are here to be noticed? Tightness in your jaw, headache, overall tiredness, flutters in your stomach, queasiness…what do you feel? Then ask yourself, “What else do I know about this feeling?” There is no need to begin a lengthy investigation, just see what arises as you sit quietly with this question.

Be patient and allow yourself a few minutes to see what arises. Try not to edit what arises, just stay open to it. Now, what is the act of kindness you are pulled toward to be self-compassionate? Some common answers include: “I need to say ‘no’ sometimes,” “I need to go to bed earlier,” “I would like to make food choices that nourish my body,” “I need to learn to pay less attention to the critical voice in my head,” and “I need to make time to connect more with people I care about and disconnect from my phone.”

Whatever arises for you, plan to take one small step toward making a change. There is no need to try to make drastic changes. What is one small step you want to take, one small change? What do you notice? Try again or modify your step and then try again. As with all the mindful leadership fundamentals we are exploring (focus, clarity, creativity and compassion), you will want to be patient with yourself. Self-compassion is new for many of us and it will take some time to make these changes a regular part of your life. But, aren’t you worth it?

Next time we will explore the role of Creativity and the ways that you can cultivate your ability to be more innovative. See you then!Let’s begin by removing some of the misunderstandings about compassion. First, compassion is not a ‘soft skill’. In fact, compassion very often requires great courage and strength. Second, self-compassion is not “selfish.” For the best leaders, this misunderstanding emanates from a desire to take care of others. And that is a laudable way of being. We do want leaders who are not self-centered and egotistical. Self-care and self-compassion are not selfish acts, nor are they barriers to leadership excellence. They are the foundations of great leaders. In the process of dropping in on ourselves to observe what challenges are here, and how they might be alleviated, we learn a great deal about humanity in general. And when we have the courage to experiment with offering ourselves an act of kindness, we experience for ourselves the powerful, transformative impact of compassion.
See for yourself: Take a few minutes to sit quietly and check in with your body. Allow yourself to be open and curious about what you are noticing. What sensations are here to be noticed? Tightness in your jaw, headache, overall tiredness, flutters in your stomach, queasiness…what do you feel? Then ask yourself, “What else do I know about this feeling?” There is no need to begin a lengthy investigation, just see what arises as you sit quietly with this question.
Be patient and allow yourself a few minutes to see what arises. Try not to edit what arises, just stay open to it. Now, what is the act of kindness you are pulled toward to be self-compassionate? Some common answers include: “I need to say ‘no’ sometimes,” “I need to go to bed earlier,” “I would like to make food choices that nourish my body,” “I need to learn to pay less attention to the critical voice in my head,” and “I need to make time to connect more with people I care about and disconnect from my phone.”
Whatever arises for you, plan to take one small step toward making a change. There is no need to try to make drastic changes. What is one small step you want to take, one small change? What do you notice? Try again or modify your step and then try again. As with all the mindful leadership fundamentals we are exploring (focus, clarity, creativity and compassion), you will want to be patient with yourself. Self-compassion is new for many of us and it will take some time to make these changes a regular part of your life. But, aren’t you worth it?
Next time we will explore the role of Creativity and the ways that you can cultivate your ability to be more innovative. See you then!

4 Mindfulness Fundamentals To Transform Your Leadership: First, See Past Your Filters

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As promised in my last blog, the “Top 2 Reasons Mindfulness Training Will Make You a Better Leader,” this blog will provide the definition of a mindful leader and begin a four-part series to examine the four fundamentals of leadership excellence that are at the core of great leadership. I will also offer you a “see for yourself” section in each posting so you can begin to strengthen that attribute of breakthrough, transformational leadership.

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.

Next time, we will look at the role of compassion in transformational leadership. And, no, compassion is not a “soft skill,” it is most often an act of tremendous courage. See you next time!

Top 2 Reasons Mindfulness Training Will Make You A Better Leader

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It has been nearly 15 years since I began to explore the intersection between leadership excellence and contemplative practices — first in my own life as a Vice President at a Fortune 200 company, and then with incredible leaders from around the world as I began to teach with the Institute.

These leaders came from different cultures, different professions and different life experiences. They were influencers in small and large organizations, teams, military, healthcare, academia and community groups. They often came from very different backgrounds. Yet, among the best leaders, there were strong common threads — they had bright minds, warm hearts and were drawn to leadership roles because they wanted to make a difference.

They were also often overbooked, overwhelmed, exhausted and spent much of their life on ‘autopilot’ just to get through the day. Can mindful leadership training cure all the problems of leading in the 21st century? Of course not, but there are many ways it helps leaders meet the challenges.

Here are my top two:

“Why can’t I stay focused?” You know the feeling. You want to pay attention to the speaker in the room, but your mind keeps drifting, sometimes for many minutes at a time. When you lose focus, you miss important information so you are not able to contribute your best thinking, and you may even look foolish when you ask a question answered 5 minutes ago while your mind was somewhere else. At other times, this loss of focus shows up when you are reviewing a document. For example, you need to get through a research report, but you get distracted, not by someone else but by your own thoughts pulling you away from the report. And each time you must refocus, you need to take a few steps back and reread, losing productivity.

When you are distracted and unfocused, your day goes by in a blur. Your body is in the room, but your mind is rarely fully attentive to anything you are doing. As you begin to train your mind, you notice more quickly when it becomes distracted and you learn to redirect your attention. Imagine how much more thoughtful your contributions might be if you brought your full attention to a meeting or a conversation or a project. Imagine how much more efficient and effective a meeting might be if everyone was paying attention. Training your mind to be more focused is critically important and it doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes training. My earlier post gives you a simple introductory training you can start today : Are You Living On Autopilot? Mindful Leadership Training Brings You Back To The Present

“Something is missing…the win-win-win” The project is over, the expectations were met and you are moving on to the next assignment. You take a moment to think about the finished project. Everyone says you did a good job, but you feel as though something is missing…it wasn’t your best work. If you had a little more ‘space,’ you could have brought more of your expertise, creativity or compassion to the project. But when your day is triple-booked, where can you find some ‘space’?

Cultivating this spaciousness in your day is another part of mindful leadership training. As you train and step out of ‘autopilot’ mode, you begin to see the things that are creating clutter. Sometimes those things are in your environment (e.g. culture of too many meetings, redundant assignments) and sometimes those things are within you (e.g. tendency to over-analyze, the inner critic). As you learn to lessen the clutter, you are opening up the space needed to be more reflective, and you are more likely to find the ‘win-win-win’ solutions that are ‘good for the organization, good for the employees, and good for the society/community.’ In the process, you also find what is ‘missing.’

In the next few blogs, I will be inviting you to look at each of the 4 Fundamentals of Leadership Excellence (Focus, Clarity, Creativity and Compassion) that are at the core of the Definition of a Mindful Leader, and I will be providing you with a few experiments to try for yourself. Training your mind, like training your body takes commitment and courage. And, like the body, the mind has many innate capacities you can strengthen to live your best life. Are you ready to begin?

3 Mindful Steps To Better Sleep

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Does your busy brain send you a 3 a.m. wake up call? Try this practice to ‘block the call’.

Sarina, a high-level executive, recently left me an urgent voicemail message, “I am utterly exhausted and yet I wake up at 3 a.m. every night. My head starts spinning through my ‘to do’ list or the things I didn’t do well or the things I wish I had said. I try to go back to sleep but it’s a useless effort. I finally give up and get up, but it means another day of feeling tired. And I know I’m not doing my best work. Can mindful leadership training help?”

Sarina was suffering from what I call the 3 a.m. Wake-up Call from her brain. And she was asking if there was a way that mindful leadership training could “block the call.” Does this sound familiar to you? It certainly was something I struggled with for many years. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t make myself go back to sleep when my mind started racing. Little by little, my resiliency was lessening until it felt that I was using every bit of my energy just to make it through the day. I was always feeling tired. When I did manage a good night’s sleep, it was striking how much it changed my experience of the next day. I was not only more alert, I was more patient, clear and creative.

Learning to sleep well moved to the top of my list. I did not want to take sleeping pills. I needed a healthy, long-term solution. Thankfully, by this time I was deeply involved with the development of mindful leadership training, so I began to experiment with a simple practice each night. Little by little, I began to sleep more restfully and for longer periods of time. There are still times when that 3 a.m. call rings but I now know how to answer it in a healthy way.

If you are ready to sleep better, try these simple steps:

3 Mindful Steps to Better Sleep

1. Remove all smart phones, tablets and computers from your bedroom. They don’t belong there. Seeing an email or social media post just before bed, or knowing that distractions are only inches from your head, can fuel the busyness of your mind.

2. When you settle into bed, bring your attention to the feeling of your breath. Feel your breath stretching the muscles in your chest or belly, feel the release. This is not an invitation to think about your breath or control it. Just feel the sensations.

3. When your mind starts to get busy, bring your attention back to the sensations. Let the thought that pulled you away go for now and redirect your attention back to the gentle movements and sensations of your breath. It is important that you be patient with yourself. Redirecting your attention is simply part of the practice and it does not matter how often you need to redirect your attention. Just be intentional about letting the thinking go (for now). It is as if you are saying ‘not now’ to your thoughts and worries. Now is a time to sleep.

Be consistent with this practice, using it each night that your sleep is interrupted. It may take some time to train your mind in this way but the benefits for your health and happiness are worth it. Happy dreams!