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Mindful : February 2014
February 2014 mindful 59 leadership have a positive ripple effect. We need to train the mind. The work of developing leadership presence through mindfulness begins by recognizing how much time we spend in a mental state that has come to be called continuous partial attention. If you’re like most of us, you probably take pride in your abil- ity to multitask, to be incredibly efficient by simulta- neously listening to a conference call, writing a few emails, and eating your salad at your desk. Sound familiar to you? And yet, when you were listening in on the call, did you actually hear anything? Did you share your best thinking in the emails? Did you enjoy your lunch, or even notice you ate it? Perhaps one of my most memorable lessons about the cost of multitasking ca me early one morning as I sat at my desk, getting things ready for a day filled with meetings and reviewing the latest emails. One of the messages that morning came from my husband, who was forwarding a message from my daughter’s teacher. It was asking us to choose one of the available pa rent-teacher conference slots on her calendar, and my husband wanted to know which one I wa nted before he replied. I wrote to my husband, “Thursday at 10 would be great. Love you forever, thanks for last night.” Fine. Except that in my haste and partial attention, I wrote those words to my daughter’s teacher. Needless to say, when I finally realized what happened, it became a moment to remember. A few moments of people-watching in the hall- ways at work or on the sidewalk in front of your building ca n also give you a taste of the disconnec- tion that results from multitasking. You’ll notice people texting and checking email as they walk, barely avoiding walking into walls and each other. It has even become acceptable to do this while wa lking—and supposedly having a conversation— with someone else. Once upon a time, this would have been considered rude. Putting manners aside, though, continuous partial attention can also be exhausting and inefficient. Neuroscience is now showing us that the mind’s capacity for multitasking is extremely limited. We’re really built for doing one thing at a time. The hallways of offices used to be places for informal greetings a nd impromptu conversations. Valuable connections could be made in the hallways. Physiologically, a walk down the hallway used to allow a few moments of space when you could leave behind the thoughts of the last meeting and arrive at the next with a bit of openness. Today, few if a ny connections are made, as everyone rushes down the hall with thumbs blazing on smartphones. As a result, everyone arrives at the next meeting still attached to the last one. We lead hurried, fractured, complex lives, and we seem to be more easily losing the richness a nd engagement that come from being in the present moment. With all the many ways we are enticed to get distracted, to drown out our intuition, and to fragment our attention, we can easily go through our entire lives without ever bringing all of our capabilities a nd attention to any given moment. What do we do about that? Is leadership presence a natural gift possessed by a special few, or can it be cultivated? Can we train our minds to support our intention to live life with focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion even when our lives a re hurried, fractured, and complex? Tha nkfully, we can. Leading with excellence, being fully present for what we do, and connecting with others—these are innate abilities we all possess. In my experience, those who are good leaders, a nd those who aspire to be good leaders, are eager to cultivate these abilities. Mindful leadership training can do just that. By following simple practices that hone your at tention and your ability to be aware of what’s going on in your body and mind at any given moment, you can utilize all of your capabilities—clear minds and warm hearts and wise choices—and begin to see the results of leading from an authentic place. ● The work of developing leadership presence through mindfulness begins by recognizing how much time we spend in a mental state that has come to be called continuous partial attention. Excerpted from Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership by Janice Mar turano. Copyright ©2014 by Janice Marturano. January, 2014, by Bloomsbury Press. Reprinted with permission.