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It’s that time again: Every four years Americans splash about in a pre-electoral pond to help decide who will lead the country. The campaign process can seem part shouting match, part popularity contest, and part poll driven exercise in polarizing the population. Sometimes it just seems like people throwing rocks to see how big a wave they can make.

What it doesn’t generally seem like is an opportunity to ponder what leadership means, or how we might recognize excellence in it. That’s because excellence in leadership comes from a quiet place, and quiet places don’t feed the news cycle the way contentiousness does.

Some people seem to operate effortlessly from that quiet place; mindful leadership comes naturally to them. Instead of making waves, they radiate ripples of sanity. We recognize them by their unflappable ability to stay grounded while adapting to change, inspiring others to do the same. Such people have authentic presence. We may be inspired without realizing that what draws us to them are capacities that are innate in all of us. Some of us just have to work a bit to cultivate and fully express those qualities.

Mindfulness is a way of doing that work. It is the practice of being present with whatever is going on in our lives, using tools that help focus the mind so that we can see how our thoughts shape who we are and how we react. Leaving behind our habitual conceptual filters provides clarity and allows a fresh approach to everything we encounter. When we are no longer on autopilot, the door is open to creativity in every moment; that openness leads, inevitably, to a greater connection with ourselves and others, and to the realization that we are all in this together. Compassion arises then, without pretense or effort. We all share the same space.

From that space, elections are opportunities to practice excellence in leadership. Whether we are running for office or simply voicing our views, out loud or in the privacy of the polling booth, we can see the bigger picture and understand why others act as they do. We can listen deeply to other points of view, and even when we don’t agree, we can still be emissaries of sanity, expressing care and good humor whether around the dinner table, in a public forum, on some app, or simply arising in heart and mind. From that space we can tell what’s needed in each situation to skillfully initiate, facilitate, or exemplify beneficial change.

That’s excellence in leadership, and people will notice. So the ripples will grow. As you consider the challenges and opportunities that this year will bring, I invite you to join us, in person or online, to develop and support your own mindful leadership practice.