I was speaking with an HR leader the other day about his changing attitude to mindfulness. When it was introduced at the Leadership table, he and the CFO rolled their eyes at each other. In their minds it was one step from hugging trees and singing kumbaya.
But now they’re sold, although they don’t use the term mindfulness in public. We call it Active Leadership to distinguish it from personal mindfulness practices like meditation, breathing exercises and gratitude. What we’re talking about is [email protected]
What does that look like? John Allen, a very fine CEO at NZ Post and Foreign Affairs, used to say that the most important aspect of leadership is self-awareness. [email protected] is the practice of self-awareness in management.
We started our Active Leader System in the context of what business owners were telling us about their frustration with their management teams: “I just want them to think!”. All the modules in the Active Manager Programme are exercises in [email protected], from managing our time to delegating to managing stress. The real skill that’s being learned in the programme is the ability to observe oneself and others in the moment – real time, real life, without judgement or colouring.
True self-awareness is the ability to view your thoughts and feelings as if you are an objective observer. You don’t have opinions about them or see yourself in your mental images. And in interacting with others, you’re aware of your response, how you are interpreting their words, what assumptions you’re making about their intention and what you’re making up about the situation.
From self-awareness you can go to rapport with others. When you can put your reactions to one side, you have room to get inside the other person’s head or heart and feel with them. They feel understood and heard, and trust is formed. And where there’s trust, there’s a relationship. Note I didn’t say you have to like them, just empathise.
Many years ago I read “The Tao of Leadership”, and this idea has stuck with me: The wise leader has “awareness of process”, a deep sense of how things happen. Underneath all the activities and behaviours, we operate from a greater or lesser level of self-awareness. Increasing peoples’ self-awareness does more than improve their delegation skills or their ability to have a difficult conversation. It sets them up for a life of learning and growth. And that’s a gift worth giving.