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Mindful : February 2014
February 2014 mindful 57 leadership What Exactly Is a Mindful Leader? A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others. Leadership presence is a tangible quality. It requires full a nd complete nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. Those around a mindful leader see and feel that presence. A friend of mine decided to attend a local rally to see if he could get an importa nt healthcare question answered by presidential candidate Bill Clinton. Of course, when he arrived, he faced a teeming, screa ming crowd, but he ma neuvered his way to the police barricade and waited. Clinton soon arrived and began walking along the barricade shaking hands. As my friend stretched out his hand and Clinton took it, he yelled out his question. In that moment, the candidate stopped, faced him, and responded to the question. Later my friend told me, “In those few moments when we spoke together, it seemed as though Clinton had nothing else on his mind. It was as if there was no other person there.” He felt heard a nd respected. That’s leadership presence: you give your full attention to what you’re doing, a nd others know it. Leadership presence is powerful. In your own life, you can probably recall times when you expe- rienced leadership presence, either in yourself or someone else. It might have been in a one-on-one conversation, or it might have been in an audience filled with people. Presence can be felt even from far away. You can undoubtedly recall the much more common experiences when you feel only pa rtially in the room, or you feel the person you’re speaking with is not really there. Like all of us, even when you have every intention to be focused, your mind becomes easily distracted—thinking about the past or the future, and only partially in the present if at all. In those moments, you are not embodying the innate capacity everyone possesses to be present. Why is that? What do we know about being present? As a beginning, you might recall a moment when you experienced full awareness in a situation. When there seemed to be nothing else but whatever you were noticing. This might have been a momentous moment like the birth of your child. In that moment, time seemed to stand still, and nothing else existed but the wa rmth of that miraculous being softly sleeping in your arms. You were not distracted by the to-do list or the noises in the hall. Your full at tention—mind, body, and heart—was completely absorbed in that moment. Or it might have been an ordinary moment, the kind often overlooked and not pa rticula rly cele- brated. You may have lingered to notice a sunset. → Leadership presence is not only critical for us as individuals but also has a ripple effect on those around us: the community we live in, and potentially the world. Yet time and again, they feel as though their capa- bilities and their leadership training are inadequate. They tell me that even as they execute well and meet the quarterly goals, they simply do not feel they are living their best lives—at work or at home. They feel something is missing. But what? The most frequent a nswer is: Space We often simply do not have the space, the breathing room, necessar y to be clear a nd focused, and to listen deeply to ourselves and to others. How can we expect to generate the connections with our colleagues a nd communities that we need when we are so busy that all we can really do is check off boxes, squeeze in a perfunctory hello to our cowork- ers, and get through the day’s meetings and calls? Can we realistically expect leadership excellence when we spend whole days on autopilot—looking at our watches a nd wondering where the day went, looking at the calendar and wondering how it could be spring when just yesterday it was Thanksgiving? Whether our leadership affects millions, hun- dreds, or a handful, we can no longer afford to be on autopilot in our lives, with our fa milies, or in our organizations. We ca n no longer afford to miss the connections with those we work with, those we love, and those we serve. We can no longer make decisions with distracted minds, reacting instead of responding or initiating. We ca n no longer lose touch with what motivated us to lead in the first place. We need mindful leadership to lead with excellence. So fa r we have been exploring the need to be present for leadership roles in the workplace. There is an equally, or perhaps more, importa nt need to be present for your leadership roles in your personal life. Excellence involves making conscious choices about not just how you work but how you live your life and how you connect with your family, f riends, and community. We need mindful leadership to live with excellence.