Since the fall of 2008 we have seen trillions of dollars disappear from the global economy, causing a substantial restructuring. Indeed, few economies, organizations, or institutions in the world have been spared. Never in recent history have we had so much and lost so much. This is resulting in new realities for, and new expectations from, the global population. Through this economic crisis and its aftermath, many people have experienced disappointment in their leaders, whether they are business leaders, government leaders, celebrities, or top athletes.
During difficult times, anyone in a leadership position is scrutinized more closely. And it seems as if the demands of this new world order are beyond the experience of many who occupy leadership positions. The new reality requires all leaders to have an unprecedented presence of mind as a starting point from which to lead. Success hinges on the ability to effectively work with constant change and a state of impermanence. Ultimately, it will be mindful leadership that will help you navigate through these demanding times and unfamiliar waters.
The strict definition of a leader as the person who heads up an organization or a nation is no longer a useful definition. A leader is anyone who is in a position to influence another person. This may be a CEO, the leader of a nation, the head of a government agency or department, the head of a professional services firm, a department head in a university or a hospital, a call center manager, a sports coach, an athlete, or any celebrity who has the potential to influence others. Indeed, every one of us is a leader. Leadership is much less a role than an activity.
To be an effective leader of others, you must first start with self-leadership. One of the keys to self-leadership is being mindful. Mindfulness is simply noticing the way things are. By being mindful you can transform your life, your organization, and even your community. The first step is to transform yourself.
My experience coaching and teaching mindfulness to hundreds of business leaders and professionals is that the following ways of being are key determinants of professional and personal success. Mindful leaders behave coherently and consistently, and exhibit nine specific ways of being:
1. They are present . This means that they are in the moment. They aim to be right here right now, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
2. They are aware . They know exactly what is arising within them at any given moment. This means they won’t be blindsided by their emotions or negative patterns.
3. They are calm . Being calm allows them to keep their wits about them and increases the likelihood that those around them won’t panic. Regardless of circumstances, they are able to face any situation without losing control.
4. They are focused . When leaders are focused, they deliberately channel resources to accomplish priorities, rather than being scattered. They are able to concentrate on whatever they deem important in any given moment.
5. They are clear . Being clear is critical in order to make the best possible decisions. Mindful leaders understand what motivates them and why they are drawn to take certain action. They know what is important.
6. They are equanimous . Equanimity is the ability to accept “what is” without resistance. To be equanimous is to truly have inner peace, because you do not waste time fighting what you can’t change and you do not fight yourself. There is coherence in your being. You do not need for everything to be ideal in order to be content or even happy.
7. They are positive . This means that they are positive forces in their lives, organizations, families, and communities. And in so doing, they become an inspiration to those around them. They understand that the role of a leader is to be of service.
8. They are compassionate . Leaders who are compassionate have deep caring without attachment. They do their best each and every moment of the day, under the circumstances. They understand the importance and value of self-compassion, because they know that without taking care of themselves, their ability to serve and to perform at a high level is not sustainable.
9. They are impeccable . Mindful leaders are impeccable in their words and deeds. (But being impeccable should never be confused with being perfect.) They have integrity, are honest and courageous. They accept responsibility for their actions and do not blame others for honest mistakes.
There are countless resources advocating different leadership styles, but those styles tend to be faddish. Leaders searching for solutions often adopt whatever style is currently in vogue; however, then they cease to be authentic. This inevitably leads to inconsistent decisions, confusion, and dissatisfied stakeholders who recognize that the leader is hiding behind a facade. On the other hand, mindfulness can help leaders to remain focused on what really matters to them and to their companies and stakeholders. This allows them to lead from a place of authenticity. Mindful leadership entails being aware of one’s internal compass. It enables a leader to respond to a situation as it arises, to respond to the reality of constant change from a place of deep calm and focus, and to have the presence of mind to face the reality of any situation. A mindful leader is clear in his or her communication, and those he or she leads know that decisions are made from a place of awareness, integrity, and courage. A mindful leader inspires others to greatness, to achieve beyond their expectations.