Friday, April 29, 2011

THE MINDFUL LEADER

We hear a lot these days about sustainability, especially economic sustainability, ecological sustainability and environmental sustainability. However, there is also something called human sustainability, and it is receiving more and more importance.

Effective leadership is all about balance and sustainability. In this article from the Financial Post Ray Williams writes:

“Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more - do more, better, faster, with spectacular results. We’ve become obsessed with continuous improvement at increasing speed, with resulting rising stress levels to leaders and their followers and deteriorating relationships.  Mindfulness as both a leadership practice and workplace culture holds the promise to bring back balance and better health.”

What helps to make a “good” leader? Well, many things,
such as strength of character (honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, reliability, self-confidence, self-knowledge, self-awareness, creativity, sensitivity, empathy, etc), the capacity to create and engender vision, a constructive spirit of discontent, the willingness to assume responsibility, the ability to engage others and build teams and adapt to changing circumstances, ambition and a competitive spirit, mental toughness and self-control (very important!), peer respect ... However, none of the foregoing guarantees one will be an effective leader. In my experience, one of the most important attributes of good leaders is the ability to keep on keepin’ on. Staying power, if you like.

Here’s something else I teach as a management and organisational consultant ... whatever one’s position, and duties and responsibilities, in an organisation, we are all leaders! And the hardest thing of all is this ... to lead, or manage, oneself.

Michael Carroll (pictured below), a Buddhist-trained HR executive with many years of experience in both the corporate and Zen worlds, is the author of Awake at Work and The Mindful Leader. In each of those books, both of which are favourites of mine, Carroll emphasises the renewal and perspective that can result from taking time out.

Carroll, who has enjoyed a long history of corporate life, shows us in his books and articles that rather than living as victims of our jobs - yes, there really are no victims, only volunteers - we can transform the everyday hassles and anxieties of the workplace into valuable opportunities for personal growth, heightened wisdom and increased effectiveness.

Carroll writes, "Innovative leaders and managers of corporations are discovering a growing body of research on mindfulness meditation; these studies show how the practice leads to stress reduction, mental clarity, and better physical health."

Carroll demonstrates in his books how mindfulness in leaders and their organisations can heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance, cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties in economic downturns, pursue organisational goals without neglecting the here and now, lead with wisdom and gentleness, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power, and develop innate leadership talents.

Leadership expert and author John Maxwell has written, "A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way." In order to do those three things, you need insight into yourself, others and the world around you. Such insight best comes from the regular practice of mindfulness.

So, take time to be mindful, both “externally” and “internally”. External mindfulness is being able to sense situations, being aware of the signals and cues in different contexts, and paying attention to them.  Internal mindfulness is being aware of one’s body, emotions and thoughts and requires the ability and attitude to monitor one’s inner reality.


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