Flavor of the Day or Evolutionary?
Colleen M. Niese
How many times have you started a day promising yourself you’re going to knock out one, two, three things, only to find yourself on the drive home wondering where the day went and repeating that same promise the next day?
It’s no wonder how easily time can melt away, considering that studies show we spend between 30% and 50% of our time in meetings, another 25% to 30% answering email, and combined with the volume and accessibility of distractions – think Google searches, social media and apps – getting things done, let alone being present as a leader, has become more of a challenge than ever.
Enter “Mindful Leadership” – a discipline that teaches leaders to drive team effectiveness and results by authentically engaging ourselves and others to gain focus, clarity and creativity when it comes to making decisions, setting priorities and moving thoughts to tangible actions.
In plain-speak, calm the mind, turn down the distractions and concentrate on what needs to get done.
Like any leadership philosophy that’s relatively new, a ridiculous amount of content and opinion is available that can make mindful leadership clear as mud. It’s been described as meditative, holistic, and a stress management tool. Critics claim leaders who spend so much time meditating over a decision are actually, in reality, procrastinating.
On the other side, Aetna Inc. has proved to be an excellent business case for just how effective mindful leadership can be in the workplace when it comes to financial and intrinsic results. By implementing a wellness center, a fitness center, mindfulness classes and a healthful menu cafeteria, Aetna employees, (who participate on a voluntary basis) have reported to be more productive and less stressed, and the company’s internal health costs have decreased by 3% year-over-year since instituting the program.
So how does one start to be a more mindful leader without completing a series of classes on a mediation, yoga and mindfulness? Those are just a few of an array of tools available to be a more productive leader. At the end of this article are some simple tactics that anyone can use to improve being present and focused by changing two aspects to be more of a mindful leader: stress management and active listening.
Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, has a great YouTube video titled “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” Basically, it demonstrates that zebras spend a good amount of their time running for their lives. When they survive one of these episodes, they physically shake off the stress from the run, move on and don’t mentally reconnect with the danger until they’re chased again.
Humans, unlike zebras, don’t shake off the stress from a situation. In fact, if something stressful happens, we tend to talk about it, over and over again, and every time we do, the biochemical reaction causes stress levels to jump right back up, as if it were all happening again, for the first time.
The point is, stress is self-inflicted; people, places, things can’t force us to stress out. It’s a choice we make. In the words of my mother, a simple fix is one of her favorite quotes: “Stop doing that.” Definitely easier said than done.
Here are a couple of ways that may better serve stress reduction:
If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of work you have on your plate, and it’s causing you to vibrate, draft a “Not Now” list and place all those things that are not a high priority on the list. Put that list away and focus only on what your current imperative is. Worrying over things that aren’t mission critical can easily cause distraction and anxiety, especially when we take in the whole composite of everything we’re responsible for.
If you work with someone who typically gets your heart rate going and stress levels up, there’s only one rule you can follow – don’t take the bait! A good way to remind yourself of that little trick is to change something before your next interaction – don’t wear your favorite piece of jewelry, pick out a tie you haven’t worn in a long time – find something to change that will make you slightly physically uncomfortable. It’ll remind you of the golden rule to not take the bait.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman, the author of “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence” and a known “thought leader” on emotional intelligence, points out that the way we react to anything, good or bad stress, always starts the same: with listening.
In today’s world of never-ending quick messages, we treat them all the same in terms of level of importance. Goleman calls it a “neural buzz” that can easily distract our ability to listen and focus.
To find that sweet spot of being able to actively listen without losing attention due to the gizmos, turn them off. When in any type of meeting that you’re leading, insist that everyone switch all of the gadgets to silent mode.
A friend of mine will never have a one-on-one in her office; she always escorts whomever to a nearby conference room because she’s recognized the four devices in her office that all call for her attention on a random basis are just too much of a distraction and affects her ability to give her attention and listen to her colleagues.
If your curiosity with mindful leadership is a bit piqued, finding additional resources is a snap. As mentioned above, countless websites provide training, coaching and self-directed solutions on the topic. The trick is to find, from the wide spectrum of tools available, the ones that best resonate with your leadership style and career goals.
Trust me: If you do, your leadership effectiveness will go to another level and your work/life balance will improve as well.
Contact Colleen M. Niese, a Principal of The Marlyn Group, at firstname.lastname@example.org.