12 November 2014

Mindful leadership: confronting your own demons by taking unconditional responsibility

Last week I talked an evening on mindful leadership with a group of 40 leaders from various backgrounds. Some leading big corporations, others from health care providers, some from very innovative start-ups. All curious to learn how to focus their teams’ attention on what really matters. Eager to learn how to build a capability as a mindful leader. We had lively dialogues and practiced mindfulness right on the spot. The one thing that shifted the awareness of the whole group however, was the dialogue we had on taking responsibility as a leader.

It started with a small example: I took a usb-stick in my hand and let it fall onto the ground. When asking the group what happened I got two crucially different answers. The first one was: that’s gravity in action. The other one: you decided to let it fall down. And that is exactly what this example is about: are you a victim of the circumstances or are you a player? It’s your choice as a leader!

Do you take full responsibility in a situation, however difficult that may be? Or do you shy away from it? Mindfulness practices, becoming aware of you own inner reactions to a situation, make that you see these moment more acute. And by shifting from your autopilot to a conscious response you can decide to take full responsibility. Mindfulness strenghtens the innate human capacity and freedom to determine the attitude with which you react to a situation.

And that is, as we know from from the story and wisdom of Victor Frankl, the famous WO II death camp survivor, possible even under the most severe circumstances, unconditionally. While imprisoned, he was able to comfort others and to keep alight the spark of humanity and a belief in a better world.

Taking unconditional responsibility for your leadership role also means confronting your own inner demons that keep your autopilot going and put you on the road of egocentric action.
Personnaly I had to learn that painful lesson as a first time manager and starting to see my team members as human beings in stead of knowledge driven robots. I had to step out of my cocoon and start relating to them.

Mindfulness practice help you to stop the autopilot and shift your attitude from your own interests to one that takes the whole as its starting point. From the “me” position to the “we” position.

That gives us the space to lead wisely