Talofa Lava, Tena Koe
Every year at Leadership New Zealand, we adopt a theme to guide our leadership work – to help us centre, and focus everything we do. In 2013 our guiding theme was Disruptive Leadership, in 2014 we celebrated Creative Leadership, in 2015, last year we embraced Fearless Leadership (we felt the fear and did it anyway!).
Our theme for 2016 is “Mindful Leadership” - on looking at how we want to “be present in the world”.
Mindfulness has been described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2015).
We are interested in exploring how we stay mindful while achieving great things in life, in leadership? How do we stay present, when every moment of our day is consumed with ‘stuff’ to do, the busyness of life? How do we ensure we are mindful and that we treat others with profound levels of respect and compassion while needing to get traction, move things forward, create change?
How do we stay in touch with our greater purpose in life while achieving societal gains of success and fortune? We think that in this complex world, to balance our head and heart in leadership we need to be mindful first - putting our state of mind ahead of action. We believe that how we ARE is primary and what we DO is secondary. At the core of authentic, meaningful, impactful leadership is mindfulness.
There is a Mindful Revolution going on across the globe – it is the science of finding focus and clarity in a stressed-out multi-tasking world! In this high-tech world we live in, multiple distractions have increased exponentially and our ability to stay focused has lessened. But we are faced with complex challenges every day and if we can’t think clearly our ability to make sound decisions is compromised.
More than ever, we need to train ourselves to be fully present.
Becoming a mindful leader isn't easy. There are no five easy steps to do so. A few years ago when I asked the Dalai Lama how we can develop a new generation of compassionate, mindful leaders, he replied simply, ‘Develop a daily habit of introspection’ (Bill George, HuffPost).
Thousands of people at visionary companies including Google, Facebook and the Harvard Business School have adopted the principles of mindful leadership and are integrating evidence-based tools, mindfulness training to create thriving workplaces where people unleash creativity, productivity and purpose-driven high performance in their lives, communities and organisations.
This evolution of leadership is about leading from ‘the inside-out’, not from ‘the top-down’.
The Growing Importance of Mindfulness: Increasingly, companies see mindfulness training as a competitive advantage. Aetna, the USA’s third largest health insurer, partnered with Duke University to study meditation and yoga. Researchers found these practices decreased stress levels by 28%, improved sleep quality (20%), reduced pain (19%), and improved productivity 62 minutes per employee per week. Aetna is now offering similar programs to all employees as well as its insured customers. (Bill George, HuffPost)
Each of us has the natural ability to lead with excellence by cultivating our innate qualities of awareness, focus, authenticity and compassion. Mindfulness helps us to do that.
When we are still and in the moment, we’re able to step out of conditioned behaviours and uncover a deep sense of connection to others. We’re able to experience things as they are. With compassion and clarity of thought, we’re more able to understand the best course of action in any situation.
It helps us to be less reactive so we can make better decisions, to see the bigger perspective so we can create better results, and to develop environments of trust and safety, where there is respect for each individual's unique style, skills and contributions.
The key to effective leadership is the ability to integrate your head (IQ) with your heart (EQ). As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh taught me years ago, "The longest journey you will ever take is the eighteen inches from your head to your heart". Our hearts are where essential leadership qualities like passion, compassion and courage reside. By practicing mindfulness, mindful leaders exhibit high levels of self-awareness and intentionality in their actions (Bill George, HuffPost).
Amanda Sinclair, Professorial Fellow at Melbourne Business School, suggests “that regular practices of mindfulness give leaders a different perspective on their world, opening them up to ways of being which are both more focused on what matters and more observant and appreciative of what is there. Paradoxically, becoming more present enables leaders to see reality more clearly and act more purposefully and with less of their own stuff getting in the way (Senge, Scharmer et al. 2004; Sinclair 2007). This is one of a number of paradoxes which we often see operating in mindful leadership: to open up for change, it is necessary to sometimes stop striving to change things; to empower others, stop talking and listen from a different place; to go forward effectively, notice the present; to achieve things, stop doing and start being” (Sinclair, 2013).
Empirical studies that Sinclair refers to on mindfulness and leadership show how mindful leadership practices lead to changes in Attitudes and feelings (more positive, open, non-judging), Attention (concentration, perspective, less distracted) and Intention (connection to values and purpose). These all impact:
- Presence - being there for others;
- Capacity to make choices on where to focus attention;
- Compassion for self and emotionally connection to others;
- Ability to be less reactive to our emotions;
- Enhanced cognition and problem solving; and,
- Ability to relax, experience well-being and be more appreciative of others.
This is the path of leadership excellence.
Mindful leadership is all about recognizing that our leadership is in service to others. It’s about creating the space in our life to cultivate self-awareness and compassion, and leading with authenticity in a way that inspires others. Mindfulness helps us to balance ambition, achievement and a focus on getting results with the wisdom, gentleness and authenticity needed to truly lead with excellence.
This is the way we transform our own lives, our organizations, our communities, and the world.
Note: I encourage you to join us in embracing mindfulness in your leadership. Throughout the year we will be posting useful articles, features, and resources in our LinkedIn group, and Facebook page and on our website. Please join in the conversation.
Mindful Leadership References