Time for integrity: Mindful Leadership on the rise

20 February 2017

I have been teaching Mindful Leadership at the MBA programs for the Trinity College Dublin Business school, and now that Harvard Business School professors are teaching the benefits of mindfulness, it’s perhaps fair to say the practice of mindful leadership has arrived in the corporate world. I would like to share here some exerpts from a book called Resonant Leadership by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Harvard Business School Press (2005), which help illustrate some of the key tenets of Mindful Leadership:

“Great leaders are awake, aware, and attuned to themselves, to others, and to the world around them. They commit to their beliefs, stand strong in their values, and live full, passionate lives. Great leaders are emotionally intelligent and they are mindful: they seek to live in full consciousness of self, others, nature, and society. Great leaders face the uncertainty of today’s world with hope: they inspire through clarity of vision, optimism, and profound belief in their— and their people’s—ability to turn dreams into reality. Great leaders face sacrifice, difficulties, and challenges, as well as opportunities, with empathy and compassion for the people they lead and those they serve.” (Page 3)

Why is resonance so difficult? We think it has something to do with the nature of the job and how we manage it. Even the best leaders— those who can create resonance— must give of themselves constantly. For many people, especially busy executives we work with, little value is placed on renewal, or developing practices—habits of mind, body, and behavior—that enable us to create and sustain resonance in the face of unending challenges, year in and year out. In fact, it is often just the opposite. Many organizations overvalue certain kinds of destructive behavior and tolerate discord and mediocre leadership for a very long time, especially if a person appears to produce results. Not much time—or encouragement—is given for cultivating skills and practices that will counter the effects of our stressful roles.” (Page 5)

“In our work with executives we have found that true renewal relies on three key elements that might at first sound too soft to support the hard work of being a resonant leader. But they are absolutely essential: without them, leaders cannot sustain resonance in themselves or with others. The first element is mindfulness, or living in a state of full, conscious awareness of one’s whole self, other people, and the context in which we live and work. In effect, mindfulness means being awake, aware and attending—to ourselves and to the world around us. The second element, hope, enables us to believe that the future we envision is attainable, and to move toward our visions and goals while inspiring others toward those goals as well. When we experience the third critical element for renewal, compassion, we understand people’s wants and needs and feel motivated to act on our feelings.” (Page 8)

“People who think they can be truly great leaders without personal transformation are fooling themselves. You cannot inspire others and create resonant leaderships that ignite greatness in your families, organizations, or communities without feeling inspired yourself, and working to be the best person you can be. You must ‘be the change you wish to see.’” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“The trouble is that personal transformation is not easy. Facing your own shortcomings is hard work indeed. Honesty with ourselves breeds vulnerability. When we see who we really are and do not like it much, it hurts. Contrary to popular belief, it is not change itself that is so hard; what is hard is being honest with ourselves, looking at ourselves with no filters and admitting that we need to change. Many of us shy away from this honesty, just to vulnerability and, yet, the pain that comes with seeing that we are not all that we might have thought, and in fact not all that we want. Self-discovery is really hard work. Maybe that is why so few people do it, and why so few people are really great human beings and great leaders.” (Pages 201-202)