The Art of Mindful Leadership


mindfulnessA couple of workshops and a few great articles lately have reinforced the art of mindfulness and its role in changing mind-sets.
Mindfulness makes us less judgemental, more creative, more engaged and open, more productive and allows us to be ‘in the moment’. Mindfulness sets us in good stead for creating an awareness of our mind-sets. The ability to recognise, adapt and flex our mindsets when we are communicating with people across cultures is critical. They affect our behaviours and directly influence the perceptions and credibility that others place on us. An awareness that the other person might be not be receiving our messages and behaviours as per our intentions, can be a great trigger to stop and remember that our reality is just that – our reality. My friend Doreen Teo in Singapore is fond of saying “my intention is my reality, my behaviour is your reality.”
Adjusting mindsets begins with a consciousness of how mindless we can often be. We tend to operate in the same mode that we have always operated in, which is to notice what is visible: By this, I mean actions, results and behaviours, rather than the values, beliefs and attitudes that produce these. Barsh and Lavoie in their article ‘Lead at your best’ point out that by the admission of many leaders, there are often difficulties recognising, accepting and appreciating other viewpoints, and that the consequence is limited potential.
Some great ‘takeaways’ from Barsh and Lavoie are:

  • Practice pausing. Pause and reflect on what you believe is occurring, how you are experiencing the moment and how you feel. Listen for things that aren’t being said. The pause offers a moment for reflection and to make adjustments.
  • A healthy level of trust is critical in any business relationship. Understanding that firstly there are different perceptions of trust therefore it is important to learn what others value and to remember that it is behaviours that instil trust, not just intentions. A mindset of trust feeds a culture of collaboration, inspiration and engagement.
  • Choose your questions wisely. Move from a problem-focused conversation that usually attracts a defensive reaction, to a solution based conversation where people feel more empowered and engaged. If you look for a problem you will find one, just as if you look for a solution people will offer one. Adapt the style of questions depending on who and where you are working. For example when working with people from high context cultures taking a direct and personal blame focus perspective will at best be ineffective. Even in low context cultures this often leads to defensive reactions where people feel targeted, criticised and as a result disengage. By framing questions differently from – “who is to blame?” And “why haven’t you fixed the problem yet?” To, “what would you like to see happen?” And “do you recall a time when the solution was present – at least in part?” These are great strategies for shifting to a solution-based mindset.
  • When problems arise ask people in a group to describe something that they believe is happening ‘under the waterline’ that is potentially causing difficulties. This can be done before meetings or teleconference calls. It offers opportunities to be heard and to hear other perspectives, especially important when working virtually across cultures.

I think that it takes great personal strength to change mind-sets because it requires a certain level of self-effacement, an acknowledgment that we don’t always have ‘it right’ and that we all have blind spots and shortcomings.