This is a guest post by Karen Martin, president of the global consulting firm TKMG, Inc. Her latest book, Clarity First, outlines specific actions to dramatically improve organizational and individual performance.
Most leaders agree, it’s important to have clear ideas about the issues that matter to them and their organizations. Yet, leaders are praised far more often for making quick decisions than for thinking clearly.
In such a fast-paced, noisy world, leaders understandably feel the pressure to think and act fast—but this can be to their detriment. Today, more so than ever, it’s critical to give oneself the time needed to assess a situation fully, gather on-point information, and develop a thoughtful position.
Not convinced? Think of it this way: clear thought is a precursor to making good decisions, acting decisively, solving problems, and seizing opportunities in a way that consistently fulfills the organization’s goals.
But, as most leaders will attest, this is much easier said than done. You have to be patient and possess disciplined thinking habits.
Here are three ways to start:
Mindfulness means paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. It’s a state of being that allows its practitioners to lead with greater clarity by developing a calmer and more focused mind. It introduces a pause between receipt of information and your reaction to it, and it slows thinking processes enough that they become observable.
Mindfulness and the practice of mindfulness meditation is a trending topic in leadership and management literature for good reason: there’s a growing body of scientific evidence showing that mindfulness meditation changes the brain in a powerful, performance-enhancing way. It develops areas of your brain responsible for self-regulation, allowing you to more effectively place your attention where you want it, regulate your mood, and manage your response to information.
Here’s another bonus of mindfulness: it helps create more healthful stress responses and more effective ways for the brain to process large volumes of inputs.
“Mindfulness helps create more healthful stress responses and more effective ways for the brain to process large volumes of inputs.” -Karen Martin
I first read Leadership From the Inside Out years ago. It is one of the books that helps build a foundation of knowledge for leaders. That’s why I was excited to see that it is now out in a new version with updated chapters, new case studies and stories, and even more practical exercises to help everyone achieve their leadership potential.
Author Kevin Cashman is the Global Leader of CEO & Executive Development at Korn Ferry. He has advised thousands of senior leaders across almost every industry.
We recently talked about his updated book and his leadership views.
“While spreadsheets are the language of management information, stories are the language of leadership inspiration.” -Kevin Cashman
You’re just out with a new version of Leadership From the Inside Out, a classic must-read in leadership circles. What prompted you to update it, and what’s new?
Well, thank you for endorsing it as a “must-read.” It has been humbling and fulfilling to witness the success of each edition. Twenty years ago, when the first edition came out, it was one of the first books to deeply connect personal growth to leadership effectiveness using timeless, enduring principles of human development. We had been seeing how this “grow the whole person to grow the whole leader” approach resonated in our practice with CEOs, CEO successors and executives, but at that time, there was little or no research on these principles—authenticity, self-awareness, courage, character, purpose—and their impact on results. We did the second edition in 2008 to share new stories and case studies, but also to share some of the mounting research from independent sources that was catching up with what we were seeing in the trenches. For this third edition, we felt compelled to share more abundant recent research, including a study that directly connects top leader self-awareness with organizational financial performance, a study on the results of purpose-driven leadership’s significant impact on financial growth, and more. The book is still framed in areas of mastery, but we’ve added Story Mastery and Coaching Mastery, both taking leaders to deeper levels of awareness to enhance their influence and multiply it. We updated stories and case studies and added and revised exercises and practices to sharpen relevance. This third edition is an even deeper, integrative growth experience.
“The Character-driven leader tends to emphasize service over self.” -Kevin Cashman
I’m a passionate believer in character, and your book was early to focus on this aspect of leadership. Would you comment on the centrality of character?
Leading in Character is foundational, or to use your word, “central” to Personal Mastery, which is the ongoing growth of authenticity, courage, and influence that has enduring value. It is at the heart of transformative impact and servant leadership. Both Character and Coping are present in most leadership situations. However, we need to ask ourselves, “Which one is my master, and which one is my servant?” When we are self-aware and make Character the master of our leadership and Coping the servant, we move toward better relationships with team members, customers, employees, all our stakeholders and the greater marketplace. And, we create more sustainable value. As leaders, it is essential to learn how to build our awareness of when we are being guided by Character and when we are being pushed by Coping. One CEO we worked with in our Chief Executive Institute told us that learning how to pause to make sure that values are on the table and that she and her team were leading with character has really stayed with her and been significant. She developed a systematic process of asking her team for their expert opinions, probing them to explain how they came to that opinion and whatever concerns they had. She explained that when a problem or a crisis comes along “stepping through it is grounding and everyone has the same fact base. It encourages synthesis and congruence with values.” That’s leading with Character and Authenticity.
“Purpose elevates teams to move from short-term success to long-term significance.” -Kevin Cashman
Most of us have heard of mindfulness. These days it is all the rage in certain circles. My friend Matt Tenney is one who practices it in a way that inspires. It’s not just how he does it but also where he first learned it: in a prison cell. That’s right, my friend Matt was once behind bars where he changed his entire outlook and changed the course of his life. In fact, that dark time in his life seems to have been the best time because many people have learned from his mistakes and from what he learned through the ordeal.
“Every moment of our lives can be infused with the deepest meaning possible.” –Matt Tenney
Today, Matt Tenney works to develop highly effective leaders who achieve extraordinary long-term business outcomes—and live more fulfilling lives—as a result of realizing high levels of self-mastery. He is a social entrepreneur, an author, a keynote speaker, and a corporate trainer. Matt’s clients include Wells Fargo, Marriott, Keller Williams, Four Seasons, and many other companies, associations, and universities.
What are the key ways mindfulness can help us improve professionally and personally?
Everyone seems to agree that all successes and all failures begin in the mind. Yet very few of us take time to train the mind to function better. Most of us add knowledge through study, which can be very helpful. However, we know that a person can be very “book smart” but still have great difficulty making good decisions and/or developing and sustaining healthy relationships with other people.
It is clear that just as important as what we know is the type of mind we show up with every day. Mindfulness training provides a way to systematically develop a healthier, more effective mind, and there’s now a large body of research suggesting that mindfulness training changes the physical structure of our brains in ways that help us perform better both professionally and personally.
Perhaps most important for business, mindfulness training changes the brain in ways that enhance self-awareness and mental agility, which may be the two most important leadership skills there are. These skills reduce the degree to which we’re influenced by the biases we all have. This freedom from bias can dramatically improve our business acumen and our impact on the bottom line.
Also, self-awareness is the foundation of emotional and social intelligence, which are essential for creating and sustaining high-performance team cultures. All other things being equal, over the long term, a team with a more positive emotional climate is going to significantly outperform a team with a negative emotional climate. Mindfulness training improves our impact on the emotional climate of our teams.
Mindfulness training can also have a dramatic impact on our personal lives. The practice helps free us from unpleasant emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger and helps develop a special type of happiness that does not depend on what happens to us or what we have. We can train to develop unconditional happiness.
Mindfulness training results in highly refined levels of self-awareness.
Many people read about mindfulness and have a variety of perceptions about it. What is the biggest misconception people have about the practice?
The biggest misconception I see is that people conflate being mindful and techniques for developing mindfulness. People think engaging in mindfulness practice means we have to add to our schedules unfamiliar techniques like sitting still and watching our breath go in and out. Sitting still and watching our breath is not necessarily mindfulness practice. It is one technique, of many, that can facilitate the development of mindfulness.
To begin practicing mindfulness, you don’t need to add anything to your schedule. You just need to make and sustain a subtle inner shift during the activities you already engage in every day.
Study: Mindfulness training results in physical changes to the structure of the brain.