Infuse MINDFULNESS into Your Actions as a Leader

By Nina Cherry and Craig Weber

Few things inspire less confidence and provoke more fear than a boss who cannot control his or her emotional reactions. Since our inherent responsibility is building organizations that perform at their best, whenever we behave in ways that that makes it hard for our people to bring their A-game to the enterprise, we’re failing at our primary job.

There are two reasons our impact has such a direct effect on our people: first, because we set the tone for the work environment and second, because our authority amplifies the impact of our behavior. Everything a boss says is heard through a bullhorn. Our behavior as top managers, in other words, is central to organizational performance. It directly influences whether our people will pull away from the hard work of building an effective organization or lean into it.

Given all this, if we’re to exercise more effective leadership we need to build our capacity to behave in deliberate and disciplined ways under pressure—to be less reactive and more intentional, less an obstacle to organizational performance and more a facilitator of it. There are two decisive competencies for doing this: conversational capacity and mindfulness.

What is conversational capacity and why is it important to the exercise of leadership?

Conversational capacity is the ability to remain balanced, open, and focused on learning when dealing with difficult subjects and challenging circumstances. It’s a pivotal competence. The tougher the problem we’re facing, the change we’re orchestrating, the conflict we’re engaging, or the strategy we’re implementing, the higher the conversational capacity we need – in ourselves and in our teams – to pull it off well.

In any meeting or conversation there is a “sweet spot” where the conversations are open, balanced, and learning focused. It is in this sweet spot that the best work gets done. We know we’re in the sweet spot when there is balance between two important things: candor and curiosity. We’re sharing our views
and perspectives in a clear way, and we’re working just as hard to get the perspectives of others on the table in an accessible manner. When it comes to the sharing of ideas and information, in other words, the conversation is balanced. Maintaining this balance is easy when facing comfortable, routine issues, but under pressure people and their teams tend to fly out of the sweet spot towards the more dysfunctional ends of the behavioral spectrum. Some people drop candor and shut down. Others drop curiosity and heat up. So we have high conversational capacity when we can work in the sweet spot in difficult circumstances in which most people will lose balance and move out of it.

People in leadership positions have a huge impact on the performance of their team or business because their behavior can so easily affect people’s ability to work in the sweet spot. Our authority, remember, acts like a megaphone that makes every word and action far more intense to the people who report to us.
“An organization is a community of discourse,” says Robert Kegan, a professor at Harvard University. “Leadership is about shaping the nature of the discourse.” The ability to productively influence what issues people are discussing and how they’re discussing them is a skill that separates an effective leader from an inept one.

Yet despite our good intentions, primal emotional reactions often trigger us into behaviors that push people out of the sweet spot. This is an important but challenging problem to recognize and manage. The powerful emotional reactions that send us flying out of the sweet spot – crippling our conversational capacity and that of our teams – are grounded in the potent fight-flight response. By boosting our ability to recognize and manage these tendencies, we increase our ability to balance candor and curiosity under pressure and to shape the nature of the discourse in a more productive, learning-focused way. Effective leadership, in other words, requires high conversational capacity and high conversational capacity requires a high degree of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness and why is it important to the exercise of leadership?

If we are to better recognize and manage the habitual reactions that interfere with our effectiveness under pressure, a high degree of mindfulness is essential. Mindfulness is the ability to be conscious, present, and aware – of our own internal state, of the reactions and behaviors of others, and of the context in which we find ourselves in the midst of action. With cultivated mindfulness we can do this even in hard, stressful circumstances, but with low mindfulness we’ll lose our focus in even routine circumstances.

Practicing mindfulness, therefore, is an important leadership activity, for it allows us to notice our feelings and the knee-jerk reactions they can so easily trigger, and make deliberate decisions on how to act. In his new book, Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman puts it like this, “After some practice, you’ll build a muscle that’s strong enough to ward off emotional distractions.” It stands to reason that mindful leaders can be more intentional and effective because they recognize when their emotional reactions threaten their effectiveness, allowing them to make more purposeful behavioral choices. Without mindfulness, leaders lack the ability to recognize and manage their reactions, which can lead to ineffective and even volatile behavior.

A rapidly expanding body of impressive research now demonstrates that mindful awareness has such a powerful impact on performance that it is being taught to doctors, psychotherapists, teachers, Olympic athletes, and even soldiers.

Given its crucial impact on leadership effectiveness, how do we develop our mindfulness? First and foremost, we need to learn to cultivate our “observer self”, that part of our mind that is constantly watching our thoughts and emotions at work. Fortunately there are numerous ways to do this, including engaging in various forms of meditation, self-inquiry, yoga, tai chi, meditative running, and other attention-strengthening activities. If you don’t currently engage in such a practice, we strongly suggest you look around for one. If you do have a mindfulness practice, keep it up. You’re probably already seeing the benefits, and may recognize the need to invest in it even more.

What is the connection between mindfulness and conversational capacity?

In our increasingly fast-paced, turbulent, unpredictable world, the ability to remain mindfully focused is an increasingly valuable skill. Leaders who develop this capacity dramatically increase their ability to be effective under pressure – and to help others do the same.

Our capacity for mindfulness and for working in the sweet spot are inextricably linked. We can’t solve a problem we can’t see, so developing our awareness is vital if we’re to recognize and rein in the powerful tendencies that so easily separate our good intentions from our leadership behavior. If we’re largely clueless about what we’re doing in the moment and how we’re impacting the people around us, after all, we have little hope of balancing candor and curiosity under pressure, much less helping others to do the same. The key to getting the results we want in our lives and inspiring the performance we expect from the people in our organizations, therefore, is cultivating our ability to exercise leadership in a more conscious and disciplined way.

Craig Weber is a Vistage speaker and the author of Conversational Capacity.


Tips to Own Your Time

1. Clean your desk off every night or every morning before you start work.

2. At that time, write on a pad by your desk the three most important things you need to do that day. Make a fresh page every day. I have a 4″x5″ sticky notepad I use that works really well.

3. Block out a POWER HOUR on your calendar once or twice a week to work on important projects without any interruptions. During that time don’t answer emails or the phone, and even put a Do Not Disturb sign on your door. FOCUS and you’ll make headway!!

This week on Harvard Business Review there is a very thought provoking article titled The Unexpected Antidote to Procrastination. Here are some excerpts. I think you might like to print it out (see link below) and read it over your tea or coffee:

Why do we procrastinate?

Because we’re afraid of feeling. Think about it: our greatest fear is that we will feel something unpleasant.

What if you have that scary conversation you’ve been avoiding and it ends the relationship? It would hurt.

Here’s the thing: More often than not, our fear doesn’t help us avoid the feelings; it simply subjects us to them for an agonizingly long time. We feel the suffering of procrastination, or the frustration of a stuck relationship. I know partnerships that drag along painfully for years because no one is willing to speak about the elephant in the room. Taking risks, and falling, is not something to avoid. It’s something to cultivate. But how?


“Which you get by taking risks, feeling whatever you end up feeling, recognizing that it didn’t kill you, and then getting on the board and paddling back into the surf.”

Here is a link to the complete article: The Unexpected Antidote to Procrastination

What Is Your Leadership Style?

When you reflect on your business and career history, is it an expression of your life purpose, or do you find yourself off course?

One of my favorite discussions of leadership styles comes from the 2005 Harvard Business Review article, Seven Transformations of Leadership, by David Rooke and William R. Torbert. The authors researched thousands of leaders and defined types in ascending order of efficacy and transformative potential, noting that, “different leaders exhibit different kinds of action logic – ways in which they interpret their surroundings and react when their power or safety is challenged.”

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Limiting Beliefs Affect Your Leadership

Personal Beliefs Are Our Most Powerful Motivators

Whole person coaching usually begins with a client wanting to solve a professional problem or business challenge. As we drill down on the issues, our examination of the thought patterns and behaviors of a client often reveals personal obstacles to implementation. Some common indicators include beliefs like:

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The Gold in Networking

Networking is a great way to get clients and customers in your pipeline if you know how to do it well. When people are face to face with you, they have a much better opportunity to decide if they want to work with you, buy from you, or refer to you.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Get out from behind your computer because meeting prospects in person is the most effective marketing strategy.

I am an introvert and networking is not easy for me. But I am learning how to do it and actually enjoy it. I went to my first networking event in Honolulu in July and the second one in August. By the time I went to the third event in September, I actually knew people and had fun! One woman recognized me from high school 40 years ago, came up to talk to me, and then introduced me to a bunch of interesting people.

The tip that has helped me the most in networking is simply to be a good listener. People love to talk about themselves and their products or services. People long for someone to be attentive to them. The best good tact for sales is to be genuinely interested in other people and give them the opportunity to talk about themselves.

But don’t wait for people to come up to you, it is totally OK at networking events to walk up to anyone and everyone and introduce yourself. THEN begin to listen.

I just finished Dale Carnegie’s classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People. I highly recommend it. Dale says, “The world is full of people who are grabbing and self seeking. So the rare person who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.”

The famous Dale Carnegie sales trainings are based on Dale’s basic principle: Be a good listener. Encourage people to talk about themselves.

Styles of Networking

There are different styles of networking, so choose the one that works best for you:

1) The Quantity Method

I have a networking coach in Honolulu who tells me not to come to any networking event unless I bring 100 of my business cards and keep them accessible in my left hand as I introduce myself to people.

He has stacks of business cards organized by date and event, and emails each person after the event saying how glad he was to meet them.

He says it is important to have a professionally made name plaque attached to one’s right side at collar bone level.

He made himself a plaque that says “Greeter” and he stands at the door to any event and greets people as they walk in—on his own authority!!! That’s pretty gutsy.

2) The Quality Method

I prefer this method, which is more my style. I hone in on the list of the 25 organizations my networking coach gave me and decide which ones are going to be attended by the kind of clients I want—which in my case is executives. To me, it is a waste of time to go to a networking event full of people who are not my kind of clients. My networking guru thinks I am a snob.

3) The Volunteer Method

I spoke to a very successful businessman last week who said he scrapped all the networking events because they just weren’t worthwhile for him. He markets to chief executives. His opinion is that Chamber of Commerce events are full of people who are selling, but not buying.

His most powerful way to get clients is to volunteer in places he can meet his target population. For him it has been most productive to be a voluntary board member of highly visible companies.

Think about your prospective clients and customers and where they might congregate or network. . . and find the way to be there.

For networking events, follow these simple tips my coach gave me: Polish your elevator speech, dress appropriately, have your name plaque made professionally, and take a stack of business cards. Then approach people, introduce yourself and ask them about their businesses. Ask questions, listen for their pain points, and tell them briefly how you could help.

You will be very successful, and your life will be enriched with interesting people.