Much of what I do each day entails fostering and facilitating mindfulness training for leaders of industry, academia and healthcare. Many of these leaders have already enjoyed an illustrious track record of success and innovation in their field. And some are just getting started. But wherever they are on their journey, they tend to share certain qualities: a quick mind, high emotional IQ, substantial educational backgrounds and varied and impressive work experience. Rarer still but counted among them are the managers who display true adeptness at leading by example, championing team members’ accomplishments and having a bold vision for their organization.
So what is it that separates those who are great leaders from those who also model transformational leadership?
It is the willingness and ability to see things clearly and to act, as much as is possible, from that vantage point. This means being fully aware of our own perspectives, tendencies, and yes, biases in any given moment while remaining open to the ideas and beliefs of others (noticing the way the mind tends to quickly judge their opinions either negatively or positively) “without getting lost in a thicket of views.” This is mindfulness. It often includes seeing and doing things differently. It can be uncomfortable for a time like riding a bike, but gets easier with continued effort.
A practical application of this kind of seeing clearly and acting mindfully can be shown in the common vulnerability of organizations to experience breakdowns in communication or in the frequency of colleagues to hesitate rather than engage in authentic dialogue.
Here are some strategies to encourage rather than impede useful dialogue:
1. If you aren’t fully present yourself, dialogue isn’t possible. Remind yourself to put your phone away, make eye contact and sit still. Focus on what the person is saying, not what you’re about to say.
2. Plan your words carefully. Think about how you sound. “Well I just don’t get it” can be taken by the other person as they are being discounted. It may be wiser to say: “Can you explain this idea a bit more?”
3. Notice your own mindset before a meeting or important conversation. If you are frustrated or tired, you may want to engage in a few minutes of breathing or simply sitting, so you are less likely to react or be perceived to act in a negative way.
4. In the same way, observe when others are shutting down, tuning out, becoming defensive, not answering questions or blocking them. (And how many meetings are filled with people who don’t answer questions?!) When this occurs, you can try redefining the question or simply asking the question in a different tone.
5. Remember not to over-detail. It’s become pretty clear that a person can only maintain maximum full attention for only four sentences. Whenever you’ve gone beyond four sentences and are hoping for dialogue, be aware that the listener’s brain is getting crowded and attention is being diverted.*
*(Adapted from the collaborative work of Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and George Kohlrieser, Professor of Leadership and Management Behavior at (IMD))
Transformational leaders, in every walk of life, know that change and growth are essential parts of being fully human. Rather than trying to resist these realities or maintain the status quo, mindful leadership embraces and even seeks new ways of thinking and being in their world.