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Leading with the mind

Posted by Aubrey Warren on 12 March 2019
"You have power over your mind - not outside events," said the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. "Realise this and you will find strength."

It's advice that's nearly 2000 years old, and it still makes a lot of sense. But just because something makes sense doesn't make it easy to do. Exercising our power over our minds, like any worthwhile activity, takes practice and effort. It's most commonly called "being mindful".

"Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally," according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the field of mindfulness. It is about being more aware of what is happening inside and around us and being able to focus and act in more productive ways.

As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, we actually have little real power over outside events. But we can respond to and influence those events more effectively if we are able to manage ourselves and our mindset. And managing our self and our mind is crucial to effectively managing others and influencing their performance.

Of course, we kind of know that. And it's rarely the case that our intentions aren't good. It's that it's so difficult in the pressure of the moment to focus clearly on what really matters and notice what is happening to us and those around us. But it's in those moments that leadership is defined. Our leadership is defined by others' experience of what we say and do, and how we say and do it.

Which is why it's hard to separate mindfulness and leadership because our leadership attempts should begin in the mind, with responses shaped by focused, purposeful awareness of what is actually happening not only around us, but also inside our minds.

"The starting point for self-awareness is mindfulness," say Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter in The Mind of the Leader. "In a busy, distracted work life, focus and awareness the two central characteristics of mindfulness are the key qualities for effective mental performance and self-management Focus is the ability to be single-mindedly directed in what you do Awareness is the ability to notice what is happening around you as well as inside your own mind."

But that, as noted, is difficult. Which is why we need practical tools and techniques to enable us to manage our responses "in the moment". Mindfulness techniques and thinking tools can help us focus the power we (potentially) have over our minds.

The Situational Leadership® model is another practical tool for leading with the mind. It's a proven framework for focusing our attention and maintaining awareness of our own and others' behaviours. It's a simple but powerful approach to managing "outside events" by consciously harnessing the power we have over our minds.

First, it focuses attention on the task. What is it, exactly, that needs to be accomplished? Assumption are foolish; vagueness is not helpful; lack of clarity is frustrating and wastes time. Creating a clear and shared picture of performance is a critical but often-overlooked first step to creating the conditions for effective performance.

Second, the Situational approach directs our attention to the ability and/or willingness currently being applied to complete the task to the standard required. It enables us to assess the level of performance being delivered.

Finally, it guides our response to the appropriate levels of directive and/or supportive behaviours in order to deliver the leadership response that will help ensure performance is developed or maintained.

There's an old saying that suggests "all things are created twice, first in the mind". Mindful focus and awareness enable us to get "one second ahead of your autopilot reactions and behaviors", say Hougaard and Carter, shaping more effective responses to situational challenges and opportunities. One second can shape mighty amounts of difference in performance. That one second of difference between "autopilot" reactions and "mindful" choices can change directions, actions, outcomes, relationships. And minds.

A mindful approach enables what one CEO calls "disciplined presence". It's probably what Marcus Aurelius would call it too. It's certainly part of the Situational approach to leadership.

Aubrey Warren 

Situational Leadership® Master Trainer and Australia and New Zealand Affiliate for the Center for Leadership Studies

References

Hougaard, R. & Carter, J. (2018). The Mind of the Leader: How to lead yourself, your people, and your organization for extraordinary results

Kabat-Zinn, J. (nd).  https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-video-series-on-mindful-org/

© Copyright Aubrey Warren 2019

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Tags: Situational Leadership Focus attention influence

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