Leading people is one of the most challenging roles we can take on in life. It requires a dizzying array of skills, a strong education, and passion. Most often, when we take on a leadership role, we do so because we want to make a difference. As leaders, we know we’ll work long hours, make sacrifices, and ride the roller coaster of success and failure.
However, the busyness that accompanies being a leader in today’s 24/7/365 interconnected world often distracts us from what’s important and limits our ability to lead with excellence. When we are really honest with ourselves, we may have to admit that there are far too many times when we feel as though we’re spending the day putting out fires and wasting time rather than doing our best work.
Does it need to be this way? Happily, the answer is no.
When you are able to do so, you are much more likely to make the conscious choices we need leaders to make. These choices often lead to a win-win-win scenario: good for the organization, good for the employees, and good for the community
What exactly is a mindful leader?
A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the services of others. Leadership presence is a tangible quality. It requires full and complete nonjudgmental attention in the present moment.
Once, a friend of mine decided to attend a local rally to see if he could get an important healthcare question answered by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton. Of course, when he arrived, he faced a screaming crowd, but he maneuvered his way to the police barricade and waited. Clinton soon arrived and began walking along the barricade shaking hands. As my friend stretched out his hand and Clinton took it, he yelled out his question. In that moment, the candidate stopped, faced him, and responded to the question. Later my friend said, “In those few moments when we spoke together, it seemed as though Clinton had nothing else on his mind. It was as if there was no other person there.” He felt heard and respected. That’s leadership presence: you give your full attention to what you’re doing, and others know it.
Leadership presence is powerful. In your life, you can probably recall times when you experienced leadership presence, either in yourself or someone else. It might have been in a one-on-one conversation, or it might have been in an audience filled with people. Presence can be felt even from far away.
You can undoubtedly recall the much more common experiences when you the person you’re speaking with is not really there. Like all of us, even when you have every intention to be focused, your mind becomes easily distracted—thinking about the past or the future, and only partially in the present. In those moments, you are not embodying the innate capacity everyone possesses to be present.
Why is that? What do we know about being present?
You might recall a moment when you experienced full awareness. When there seemed to be nothing else. This might have been a moment like the birth of your child. In that moment, time seemed to stand still, and nothing else existed but the warmth of that miraculous being softly sleeping in your arms. You were not distracted by the to-do list or the noises in the hall. Your full attention – mind, body, and heart – was completely absorbed in that moment.
Or it might have been an ordinary moment, the kind often overlooked and not particularly celebrated. A sunset. Perhaps you recall that it held you in its beauty, all of you, for what seemed like forever but in clock time might have been just a couple of seconds. In those seconds, you became aware of the colours, the light, the energy, and the feeling of belonging to something bigger.
Maybe you were at the coffee shop, your mind racing through work, and you looked up and noticed a piece of art on the wall or the warm, comforting aroma of the shop. Whatever it was, it interrupted the busy mind, and you were living that moment more fully.
Such moments, when we fully inhabit our bodies and our senses are working, are what give life true meaning. Beyond that, for those who hold positions of influence, the ability to be present is not only critical for us, but it also has a ripple effect on those around us: our families and friends, the organization we work within, the community we live in, and potentially the world at large. Just as a pebble thrown into a still pond can create ripples spreading, so too can the cultivation of leadership presence go far beyond the effect it has on us alone.
The two qualities of a great leader
It’s not that hitting the quarterly numbers isn’t important; it is. What sets people apart as leaders, however, is something much bigger than quantitative metrics. The people we call to mind in this reflection have touched us, inspired us, and made us feel their leadership. The qualities can be rolled up into just two capacities of leadership excellence.
Ability to connect – to himself, to others, and to the larger community. Connecting to self is how we stay connected to our values and our ethics. It’s the rudder we steer within the midst of the chaos. How deeply we are able to connect authentically with others is the difference between an organizational environment that values inclusion and one that is insular and divided into silos that rarely communicate with each other. Connecting to the community comes from being able to see the bigger picture and not get caught up in the minutiae of a single objective. That wider connection is how great organizations give meaning to their existence and inspire their employees.
Ability to skillfully initiate or guide change. The important word is skillfully—leading not by command and control but by collaborating and listening with open curiosity and a willingness, at times, to live within ambiguity until a decision becomes clear. It’s also this capacity that fuels a leader’s willingness to take a courageous stand, lead the organization or industry into new arenas, and accept failures as experiments from which to learn.
Original article: Transforming Leaders into Mindful Leaders