19 November 2014

Mindful Leadership: beyond the autopilot

Agreeable work with less stress, achieving higher reliability of operational processes, much more intensive team work with horizontal responsibilities and a greater call for creativity and innovation. We also have high expectations of managers, for they can guide their teams and organizations in the proper direction or they can slow them down in the delivery of performances and setting out an innovative course. And therefore many actions are undertaken to boost team performances, managers work on their competencies or change programs are implemented.

And yet, in our daily work, we see that it is far from easy to provide leadership for those changes. Again and again we see organizations and their leaders fall into the same old traps. Apparently, as manager, you are not sufficiently aware of the emotional reality of your team and the result is a spate of trouble and inadequate performances.  Or the top management of an organization does not succeed in keeping an open mind as it tries to focus on customers and the social environment, resulting in the competition grabbing the lion’s share of the market or government policy proving completely redundant.

At the heart of this is what I call the autopilot of routine, which encourages you to trust in what you already know rather than seeing the signals of the change that is on the horizon. Managers are so busy being busy that they forget to take a time out for reflection. And often forget that when change happens they, as manager or leader, have to change along with everybody else.
Now managers and leaders of organizations can handle a lot; they are very good at persevering. That’s why they were chosen. But enduring stress and persevering under pressure is something other than coping with it smartly and effectively. And you need more to free yourself from your autopilot. You must be able to deal consciously and attentively with your role, know what you’re doing, strengthen your physical and mental resilience and be able to concentrate not only your attention but also the attention of your team or organization on the right things. And for that you need mindfulness. Mindfulness as the basis for leadership that shifts the attention towards unknown territory, without losing sight of the here and now. For in that unknown territory lie the solutions with which organizations can create value for their customers and their social environment.

Mindful leadership ensures that teams and organizations have a broad awareness of what they are doing. And for that you must learn to switch between action and reflection. Mindfulness enables that by strengthening their physical and mental resilience, increasing the presences of mind to see what is really happening and taking responsibility for it. And this makes it possible for them to investigate what is necessary with an open mind and discover while innovating what works best.