BY DEREK BBANGA
To what extent do others perceive that you (the leader), are aware of your own strengths and limitations? To what extent do other people notice you asking for feedback on how you approach things?
In the PwC’s 20th annual CEO Survey, leaders were asked to list the top issues they face at work and the analysis showed that 76 per cent are on people or relational issues. Undeniably, leaders who practise mindfulness, and apply mindful techniques are better equipped to cope with everyday leadership challenges and create high performing teams. When you are mindful, you are able to observe and participate in each moment of any action you take while recognising it’s long term implications.
To be a mindful leader, you first need to be self-aware. This is the ability to know your own emotions, moods and feelings and how they impact you. Self-awareness leads to self-confidence which leads to success. A quote from the book Competent Manager says, “Among supervisors, managers and executives, a high degree of self-confidence distinguishes the best from average performers.” Self-confidence is not arrogance or cockiness, it’s more about feeling that whatever situation you go into, you will be okay.
The first component of self-confidence is self-assessment – what are my preferences, my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. It helps one to understand and prepare before going into situations that are challenging.
The second component is emotional awareness. If emotions affect you so dramatically, you need to be aware of your internal state and intuitions. At the core of self-awareness is the ability to understand the impact your behaviour has on others.
Leaders should demonstrate an awareness of their moods and emotions. Emotions are physiological responses that arise as a result of an external stimulus. Mindful leadership notices those emotions as they arise, so that when upset, you are aware when your emotional state changes. In fact, bodily sensations are easier to detect, so you can use them as a gut check in your emotions.
Two key questions arise; to what extent do others perceive that you (the leader), are aware of your own strengths and limitations? Secondly, to what extent do other people notice you asking for feedback on how you approach things? How would you fare if you had to compare how they see you and how you perceive yourself? True to the German expression – awareness is curative – having an awareness of your limitations moves you towards protecting yourself against them.
An average person has approximately 15,000 thoughts a day and of these, about 7,500 are negative thoughts translating to about 5 negative thoughts per minute. Each of those thoughts evoke an emotional reaction although most go unnoticed. You might be sitting in a meeting with your colleagues at work and suddenly your mood falls off a cliff. This could be a reaction to one your emotions triggered by one of the 7,500 negative thoughts. We respond physiologically to these emotions and that affects our mood.
So, how can mindful leaders inspire performance in others? Well you must understand others’ purpose and contribution and what work is meaningful to them. Start by finding out what is meaningful for you. When you figure out how to create a vision that inspires you, what makes your own work meaningful and gives it purpose, it’s only then that you can inspire others. On his deathbed, Steve Jobs said, “Knowing you are going to die releases you from the burden of thinking I cannot follow my heart and create a vision of who I truly want to be.” He wished he had followed this philosophy his whole life.
Mindful leaders reflect on others’ feelings in decision-making. They ask others how they feel about potential solutions to problems, consider issues from multiple perspectives and are aware of biases (gender, race, religion etc).
A flood of research is increasingly proving that a company’s people are the differentiating factor. Mindfulness is all about “people smart” – it’s about relating to yourself and others. In difficult times, the soft stuff often goes away.
But being mindful, therefore, isn’t so soft and lack of it can jeopardise your ability to perform or be compassionate in a crisis. It isn’t a luxury you can dispense within tough times. At the end of the day, mindful leaders have more satisfied employees who perform better and suffer less burnout.
Derek Bbanga is a Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner with Genos International teaching emotional intelligence in the workplace. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org