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?