Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Managing mindfully

Mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis as opposed to rushing from one meeting to the next while handling an ‘urgent’ matter on your cell phone and forgetting documents you will need at the meeting while rushing into the room without noticing the people around you, let alone sensing the atmosphere in the room. Guilty?
Mindfulness refers to purposefully paying attention in a particular way: in the present moment but also non-judgmentally. It can be described as an attitude, a frame of mind, a way of seeing and being. For a person to be mindful he needs full awareness, a concept from the Gestalt Psychology about which I wrote in a previous post.
Mindfulness not only results in noticing details. It simultaneously assists in seeing the bigger picture and connecting issues and solutions. Who wouldn’t want this?
Some key factors in managing mindfully are awareness, authenticity, presence, making good judgment calls and passion and purpose. I’ll discuss these three key factors of mindfulness briefly.

Awareness refers to awareness of self, awareness of others and context, and awareness of the relationship between self and the context. In “Organizational Consulting – a Gestalt Approach” Nevis extensively discusses the importance of becoming aware and turning this awareness into useful action. Awareness and self awareness of a leader form the basis for the use of self as an instrument of change – the most important instrument of change! Awareness provides the potential for one’s presence to have a high impact. It is a growing consciousness or comprehension stemming from use of the senses like sight and hearing. Awareness is a basic process that goes on continually and it includes choosing what to focus on and with your full person.
On a different note, your awareness of your values and how these values are aligned with your strategy, choices, actions, and style is crucial for inspiring, effective leadership.  Values are critical because they define you. To know you and to follow you, someone must know what’s important to you.  Another area of awareness you want to master deals with awareness of your own state of mind and your own feelings and intuition, for example when you enter a board meeting: what do you see and feel when you enter the room, to what extent are you at ease, but also: awareness of what might be going on in your surroundings: how are others walking, sitting, interacting. You can use all this information and turn it into action. Does this meeting need strong leadership, attention to present tensions – what does it need?

Authentic leaders learn from their own life story and they know and live their values and their passion. Authentic leaders lead with their hearts as well as their heads and maintain meaningful long-term relationships. To get results they demonstrate the three “self”: self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-discipline. As an authentic leader you see yourself as incomplete, as having strengths and weaknesses, and you make up for your missing skills by relying on others rather than denying, covering up, or trying against all odds. This relates to resilience and to your willingness to own your vulnerability and to confess your failures.

As Rebecca Shambaugh discusses in “Leadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton” (2010), authenticity is acting in alignment with your values and core beliefs. It involves knowing what is really important to you, what you are committed to, and what your priorities are in both the short and the long term. This gives you a true sense of direction and a clear purpose and vision of yourself.

The main elements of authenticity are:
1.    Accept who you are as a leader instead of how you would like to be or how others see you or want you to be. Show your true self to others, again, including your weaknesses, and act in ways that are true to yourself as a leader.
2.    Walk the talk. With everything that goes on within your company and all that is thrown on your plate, it’s easy as a leader to become distracted from the things you believe in and care about. To be inspiring, effective, and followed it is of crucial importance that you maintain your focus and continue to act in accordance with your values and goals. Resist the temptation to say or do things to please others or to look good in front of board members and business partners. This touches upon the characteristic ‘courage’: daring to be different if need be, daring to speak the unspeakable, daring to go against the stream if this is what your values, goals, and insights tell you to do.
3.    Create your personal brand. The perception that others have of you plays a large role in the opportunities and results you create. Your core strengths play a vital role in your personal branding. Rather than operating in a vacuum which so often is the case with leaders, solicit feedback on the perception that people have of you now and on what you have done to create those impressions. This will assist you in determining what you will need to do to change these perceptions, if desired and in accordance with your values.
4.    Focus on significance rather than just success. Make a contribution and leave a mark on the people around you.


As Halpern and Lubar discuss in “Leadership Presence” (2003), presence is a distinguishing feature between great leaders and leaders, between great actors and actors, between great pizza men and pizza men. Presence is connected to inspiring, motivating, commanding, energizing, compelling, but also to credibility, focus, and confidence. Presence is much more than the ability to command the attention of others. Presence is the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of others, but first, I’d like to add, the connection with your own thoughts, feelings, and motivations for which awareness is needed. Presence is not something you have to be born with. Presence is the result of a set of skills, both internal and external, that virtually anyone can develop and improve.
Leaders in particular need presence, since at the core of leadership is interaction, the connection, the relationship between a leader and his followers. Leadership is also about results and outcomes, and so leaders want the hearts and minds of others directed toward some purpose, some result desirable for the group or organization. Presence is the fundamental way a leader can engage the full energies and dedication of others to a common end. In their book, Halpern and Lubar provide numerous ideas to enhance your presence.

Making good judgment calls
Tichy and Bennis (“Making Judgment Calls – The Ultimate Act of Leadership” Harvard Business Review, October 2007) state that one of a leader’s most important roles in any organization and situation is making good judgments which they describe as well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. Most of a leader’s important calls reside in one of three domains: people, strategy, or crisis and for all three awareness, authenticity, and presence are crucial.
Of course, elements like critical thinking, passion, and the notion of subjectivity play into making the right judgment calls. Briefly, critical thinking as defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking is “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. It is based on universal intellectual values like clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness”. I might have lost you by now, but remember this: as an inspiring, effective leader you not only apply your own critical thinking skills, you also stimulate the act of critical thinking among your employees, on the processes within your organization as well as on your leadership and everything else that affects your organization, it’s culture, and its results. To prevent any possible misconception, critical thinking is more than just the gathering of information. It has two components: 1) a set of skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior. Critical thinking, unfortunately as we know from history and from current affairs, is only possible, or better yet, safe to be put into practice in a free environment with freedom of speech. Just one of many examples: anyone who has seen the movie “The Dead Poets Society” by Peter Weir starring Robin Williams knows what critical thinking can lead to in a constrained environment.

Passion and purpose

Passion and purpose are concepts that have gained a lot of attention in the last few decades. Passion refers to doing what you love, which leads to purposeful living. How to get as close to your passion – finding it and living it – as you can, despite limitations you might be facing due to family circumstances, the state of the economy, or other reasons. Passion is sometimes referred to as a calling, with Mother Teresa being one of the better known examples. For inspiring reading about purpose and passion you can turn to top executive coach, educator, international speaker, and author Richard Leider (“Claiming Your Place at the Fire”), founder and chairman of the Minneapolis based Inventure Group, a well respected coaching and consulting firm.

Last but certainly not least, a brief note on subjectivity. Know that everything is subjective, something we seem to understand when valuing art, but which is greatly overlooked in most other areas of our lives and especially in business. The mindful manager and leader is aware of his own subjectivity and of that of others, and furthermore he is able to value subjectivity by valuing differences between people.

To sum it all up: To manage mindfully is not to have but to be. To be fully present, to be aware, to be authentic, to be honest, to be open-minded, to be fallible, and to be connected to yourself, to others and to your purpose in business and in life. It’s not a dream, it’s a reality if you decide to learn to live it.

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