Mindful Leadership: Social Skills – Communicating with Insight

Chade-Meng Tan (affectionately known as “Meng”), is the author of the book, Search Inside Yourself, a developer of the related Google course and one of the founders of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

Meng maintains that as we grow in mindfulness we develop calmness of mind and clarity of thought.  So whatever the stressful situation we are in, we are able to remain in control of our emotions – instead of being held captive by the primitive part of our brain, the amygdala. (Meng’s Google Talk)

We are able to notice our emotions as they occur and to choose how we respond, e.g communicate with compassion, instead of with anger.  We are no longer controlled by our emotions.

The insight we gain is not only insight into ourselves but also understanding and insight into others’ emotions, motivations and behaviour.  So we are better able to communicate from this position of increased understanding and insight, a position of increased clarity of mind not confounded by emotions.  We also gain a greater understanding and appreciation of our environment, both the natural environment and also the micro and macro work context.

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute’s two day program on mindful leadership and emotional intelligence offers a process to help leaders communicate with insight in the context of difficult conversations.  The process involves reflection on a conflicted conversation that you have been involved in with another person.  It aims to help you to gain insight into your own perceptions, emotions and motivation and those of the other person.

The two step process starts with an analysis of your involvement in the conflict.   Firstly you are asked to identify the content of the conflict (what happened from your perspective) and secondly, your feelings at the time (your emotions). The process then helps you to gain a deep insight into your own motivations.

The third step, then, is the critical one. The assumption is that both parties in the conflict are ultimately trying to deal with identity issues  – a fundamental motivation behind the conflict for each party.  These identity issues are expressed as three  questions:

  • am I competent?
  • am I a good person?
  • am I worthy of love?

Once you answer these identity issues questions for yourself, you put yourself in the position of the other person and repeat the three step process with respect to the other person in the conflict (the what, the feelings and the identity issues for them).

This then puts you in a position to communicate with renewed insight into the other person in the conflict  You should undertake the follow-up conversation only after you have first reflected on your intention on having the subsequent conversation.  You may actually decide not to pursue a further conversation at this point, but resolve to approach the next interaction with greater care and insight.

Communicating with insight comes with growth in mindfulness.  As Meng points out, if you have developed mindfulness, you are able to approach any situation, whatever it involves, with clarity of mind and  calmness (free from from the influence of uncontrolled emotions).

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Empathy

 

The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute draws on Evan Thompson’s (2001) explanation of the nature of empathy that identifies two key aspects:

(a) The ability to experience and understand what others feel

(b) while maintaining a clear discernment about your own and the other person’s feeling and perspectives.

(Empathy and Consciousness, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 1-32)

So the first aspect of empathy is the capacity to experience what the other person is experiencing from their perspective.  It is like, metaphorically, standing in their place, realising and understanding what they are thinking and feeling.  It is not trying to provide a psychological solution or judging the emotion of the other person.  At the heart of empathy is understanding both intellectually and emotionally what is involved for the other person.

Secondly, it is the discernment ability to separate the other person’s emotion from your own.  It is not owning the other person’s feelings as if they were your own. This ability to differentiate yourself and your feelings from the other person and their feelings is critical.  An inability to do this means that you will eventually suffer from empathy overload, which can be harmful to you and reduces your capacity to help the other person.  Total identification with the other person is not the goal of a healthy approach to empathy.

There are a number of ways to enhance your empathy.  Here I will discuss three strategies:

1.Understanding and appreciating similarities

Foundational to empathy is self-awareness and the ability to recognise similarities between ourself and other people.  When we focus on differences, we are less able to empathise with others and are more inclined to make assumptions about others.  It is interesting, too, that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions and judge others by their presumed motivation.  We all know that there can be a huge gap between intention and action.

2. Empathetic listening

Empathetic listening involves not only attending to what someone’s is saying (the words), but also the feelings (the emotions) behind the words. It includes the capacity to not only reflect back the content of the other person’s communication, but also the ability to reflect back the emotion and depth of emotion  involved.  This is often very difficult to do, given our busy lives and our tendency to run away from emotional encounters – either withdrawing physically or psychologically by tuning out.  As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to stay present to the other person and listen empathetically.

3 Kindness

Simple acts of kindness, helping another in difficulty, builds empathy as it relies on awareness of another’s predicament and a willingness to take some action towards assisting that person.  If you are looking for inspiration for your own acts of kindness, here are some websites that may help:

Random Acts of Kindness

Kindness.org

103 Random Acts of Kindness

As you grow in mindfulness you develop your capacity to be empathetic, as empathy requires you to be present on purpose and non-judgementally.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Mindful Leadership: Motivation

There are a number of ways to build our motivation and mindfulness as a leader and I will discuss four ways here.

1. Alignment with our values

When what we are doing is aligned with our values, we have more energy, focus and insight.  In an earlier post, I asked the question, “What are you doing this for?”  In that post, I explored the exercise involving the process of asking yourself three times “why?” i.e.  why are you doing the work/ activity that you are doing ?   This is one way to check your motivation and how aligned it is with your values.

2. Alignment with our core skills

Previously, I explored three elements that contribute to happiness- an intrinsic source of motivation.  One of the core elements was how well aligned your work or other activity was with your core skills.  Alignment with your core skills keeps boredom at bay, builds learning through challenge and maintains motivation.

3. Envisioning our future

The capacity to envision the future provides the opportunity to work towards some desired state or future condition – this clarity around an end goal helps to maintain motivation and guide action.  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute provides leaders with a way to discover an ideal future through a scenario and a series of questions:

If everything in my life starting today, meets my most optimistic expectations, what will my life be like in 5 years?

  • Who are you and what are you doing?
  • How do you feel?
  • What do people say about you?

Consciousness about what you are working towards is foundational to mindful leadership, because a core role of a leader is setting a future direction..  If you don’t know where you are heading, it is difficult for others to follow you.

4. Building resilience

Resilience is your capacity to bounce back from setbacks and disappointments in pursuit of a goal or end vision.  There are always things that create temporary barriers to goal achievement such as illness, loss of sponsorship or exhaustion.  Resilience enables us to overcome these impediments and persist in the pursuit of an end state. In an earlier post, I discussed how mindfulness develops resilience.  The mindful leader needs to be resilient if they are to persist in the face of difficulties and enable their followers to contribute to their vision.

As we grow in mindfulness, we develop the capacity to create a greater alignment with our values and core skills, gain clarity about our vision and build resilience in the face of obstacles.  Each of these elements contribute to our development and motivation as a mindful leader.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dweedon1 on Pixabay

 

Mindful Leadership: Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be developed in many ways and it underpins much of what is involved in effective leadership.

I will discuss a few ways to develop self-awareness but this is a lifetime pursuit!

1. 3 Minute Journaling

I discussed this process in more detail in a previous post on journaling.  This free form of writing and reflecting is a very powerful tool for developing self-awareness.  You can build the practice of 3 minute journaling into each day at a set time, e.g. at the end of a day, or use the process more spontaneously when the inclination and opportunity arises.  In reading through what you have written, free of ongoing editing, you will achieve a closer insight into yourself and your reactions to people and events.

2. Somatic Meditation

This is an approach to increased body awareness. In previous posts, I discussed two approaches to this form of meditation – lower belly breathing and whole body breathing.

3. Progressive Relaxation

This involves progressively focusing on all parts of your body starting with your feet.  You can very quickly identify points of stress in your body and focus on those points to relieve the tension.  By reflecting on your day, you may be able to realise what was the catalyst for the tension in your body, e.g. an argument with your partner or colleague; conflict with your boss; or doing work you do not really enjoy or value.

4. Monitoring Your Thoughts and Language

Are you living in the future, not in the present? Are you “wishing it was Friday”; “Saying, I can’t wait for the weekend/holidays”?  This is living in the future, not in the moment.  If you monitor your thoughts and actions, you can become increasingly aware of when you are not focusing on the present moment.

5.  Catching Negative Thoughts

We discussed earlier how negative thoughts can harm your self-esteem and negatively impact on others you come in contact with. If you monitor your thoughts, particularly when you are getting agitated, you will be able to notice your negative thoughts and address them.

As you grow in mindfulness you will develop self-awareness; in turn, focusing on developing self-awareness will contribute to your growth in mindfulness.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

 

Mindful Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, who popularised the idea of emotional intelligence (EI) in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, maintains that EI underpins mindfulness.

In fact, in his earlier book, The Meditative Mind, he shares his experience of different traditions of meditation.  Thus meditation and mindfulness were part of the framework shaping his popular later work on EI.

Goleman acknowledges that he was not the first to use the phrase, emotional intelligence.  Many other authors had written about this concept before him. Two of these researchers, Salovey & Mayer (1990) describe EI as follows:

The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use that information to guide one’s thinking and action.

Based on this definition, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute identifies the five elements of emotional intelligence as follows:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skills

(Source: 2 Day workshop on Mindfulness-Based Emotional Intelligence for Leaders)

Both the definition and identified elements of emotional intelligence call for action, not just awareness and thinking.  As discussed previously in relation to lifelong learning, understanding is a necessary aspect but there is no sustainable learning without action.

The relationship between emotional intelligence and mindfulness is bidirectional – as we grow in mindfulness we are better able to exercise emotional intelligence; building emotional intelligence concurrently develops mindfulness.  Both involve being present in the moment.

In future posts, I will discuss each of the elements of emotional intelligence individually.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of johnhain on Pixabay

From Outer Landscape to Inner Landscape: The Growth of Awareness

In my previous post, I discussed mountains and rivers as a source of meditation and their predominance in Chinese landscape art. I also focused on the Shan shui tradition of landscape painting where the artists expressed their thoughts and emotions about a physical landscape in their painting.  In this way, they revealed something of their inner landscape.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, describes each of the traditional five senses in terms of a landscape, e.g tastescape and touchscape.  After discussing each of the five senses, he introduces “mindscape” and describes its role as follows:

…ultimately it all comes down to what we call, by extension, mindscape.  Without the discerning capacity  of our minds, there would be no knowing of any landscape, inner or outer.  When we become aware, when we rest in the knowing, we are resting in the deep essence of mindscape, the vast empty spaciousness that is awareness itself.  (p. 234, emphases added)

He maintains that as we grow in mindfulness, we can gradually gain access to mindscape – that unadulterated awareness that is a deep insight into our inner landscape and our outer reality.

With this awareness comes the realisation that everything is passing – our sensations, thoughts and emotions.  They are here today and gone tomorrow.

Awareness increases our insight into our inner landscape and how we tend to cling to things that we want. It enables us to let go of our disappointments generated by the past and fears about the future.

Awareness leads to full acceptance of ourselves as we are – with our bodies and our quirks.  However, being able to access full awareness, mindscape, does not mean that we will not go backwards towards lacking acceptance or engaging in internal conflict.  As Kabat-Zinn points out “that is part of the human condition”.

He goes on to say, encouragingly:

But, there may very well be a gradual shift in the balance over time, from more inner conflict to more equanimity, from more anger to more compassion, from predominantly seeing only appearances to a deep apprehending of the actuality of things. Or there may be so at times  but not at other times. (p. 235)

As we grow in mindfulness, we begin to see things as they actually are – we become less likely to project onto people, things or events, our negative perceptions shaped by our own life experiences.

Accessing mindscape, opens us up to full awareness of our inner landscape so that we can realise our full, creative potentiality, develop deep insight and self-compassion as well as compassion for others. In this state, we can find true peace and tranquility

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  johnhain on Pixabay

Mountains and Water: Source of Meditation

I took the photo above when returning at dusk from a boat trip on Lake Como as the mist descended on the mountains and water.

When viewing this scene as it appears,  you could focus on what you can see.  You could look at the shapes, the trees, the contrast of light and dark, the colours and the sun reflecting on the rippling water.  Alternatively, you could focus on any one of the other four senses – taste, touch, hearing or smell.

We are reminded by Buddhism that there is also a sixth sense, the mind.  It influences our perceptions through our thoughts, emotions and mental images. (China Buddhism Encyclopedia)  So when actually experiencing this scene, you could experience peace, tranquility or even anxiety.

As we have mentioned previously, what you see is not what I see because of our different experiences and our interpretation of those experiences. Our minds, like our other senses, are continuously free roaming – they are not in our direct control unless we reign them in as we grow in mindfulness.

It is interesting that mountains and water featured very prominently in Chinese landscape painting over the centuries and in different traditions.  Mountains and water had different meanings within the various traditions of Chinese landscape art. For some, it evoked a sense of freedom, for others, the perfect balance between Yin and Yang energy. (Karen Albert, Mountains and Water in Chinese Art).

Shan shui (literally, “mountain-water”) landscape painting, for instance, sought to give expression to the artist’s inner landscape – thoughts and feelings generated by nature – rather than provide an accurate representation of reality. (“Shan shui”, Wikipedia.org)

As we grow in mindfulness, we are better able to appreciate the beauty and grandeur of nature and to use mountains and water as a source of meditation – opening up the possibility of exploring our own internal landscape.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

We Need Support to Build Mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Coming to Our Senses, reminds us that we need support for our meditation if we are to build mindfulness. This support may take the form of a routine, technique, books, audio tapes or a support group. He cautions, however, that we need to gradually reduce our reliance on this support. Otherwise, we will create dependence on one form which will result in goal displacement.

He likens meditation support to scaffolding which is used to build a house. Eventually, however, the scaffolding has to be taken down once the house is built. It may be used again if there is a need for house restoration or renovation. So it is with the support for our meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that if we do not eventually remove the scaffolding, our support mechanisms, we will not realise the deeper levels of mindfulness that enable us to gain penetrative insight into our real selves and our full potentiality. The deeper levels of mindfulness are only reached as we remove the barriers to this insight.

He likens the deeper levels of mindfulness to the insight of Michelangelo.  He is reputed to have said that he sees the final form of his sculpture in the block of marble. His work as a sculptor is to chip away the bits of marble that prevent the final sculpture from emerging – he works to remove the barriers to emergence of the final perfect form.

As we grow in mindfulness through an ever-widening range of mindful practices we remove the blockages to achieving deep insight and reduce our dependence on particular support mechanisms. Mindfulness becomes increasingly a part of our daily life and way of being in the world with all its distractions and disturbances.

Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that we are aiming for what the Tibetans describe as a state of non- meditation as we gradually remove the scaffolding that is our meditation support system:

That scaffolding is helpful in aiming and sustaining your practice, yet it is also important to see through it to actually be practicing. Both are operative simultaneously moment by moment as you sit, as you rest in awareness, as you practice in any way, beyond the reaches of the conceptual mind and its ceaseless proliferation of stories even, or we could say, especially, stories about meditation and you. (Coming to Our Senses, p. 100)

By gradually removing the scaffolding, we are moving our focus from our support mechanisms to actually being mindful.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of Hans on Pixabay

 

 

Dementia, Ageing and Mindfulness

We all experience physical degeneration of the brain through ageing.  However, the impact of this degeneration varies from person to person.  There are genetic factors that come to play but also life experiences and lifestyle.

Professor Michael Ridding of the University of Adelaide argues that “cognitive reserve” explains to some extent how some people can continue to maintain effective cognitive function despite the presence of significant physical brain damage.

He explains the concept of “cognitive reserve” as follows:

This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology [physical brain degeneration or atrophy].  To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

He goes on to explain that life experiences such as education level, amount of social interaction and occupations that place a lot of demand on our brain and capacity to think (such as managerial or professional roles) all contribute to the development of “cognitive reserve”.

Our brain incorporates multiple pathways and connections that break down over time.  However, as indicated in a previous post, brain plasticity enables us to develop new pathways and connections.  This is why it is recommended that we learn a new language or do crosswords to help stave off dementia if we are not doing cognitively demanding work.

Mindfulness is another lifestyle factor that can contribute to the capacity to function effectively despite physical brain degeneration.   In fact, mindfulness has been shown to restore brain grey matter and reduce the thickness of that part of the brain, the amygdala, that controls our fight/flight response (including panic attacks).

A recent review of the research literature on the relationship between meditation and “grey matter atrophy” [physical brain decline], suggests that meditation results in an increase in “grey matter volume”, offsetting decline in brain function.  The effect of meditation is considered to enhance “learning, memory and emotional control, as well as activities like self-awareness and compassion”,  thus slowing down the onset of dementia.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can offset the natural decline in our physical brain and ward off, or diminish, the effects of dementia.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image sources: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Creating a Workplace Culture of Well-Being Through Mindfulness

In a recent McKinsey Quarterly article, the authors challenged what they call “neuromyths” – basically, misunderstandings arising from misguided interpretations of neuroscience findings.  They argued that many leadership development programs are based on these “neuromyths” and result in considerable waste of financial resources and employee time.

One of the myths that the authors challenge is the concept that the brain’s development is fixed at an early age and that little change in the brain’s structure can occur over a person’s lifetime.  However, recent neuroscience has shown that rather than being fixed in structure, the brain exhibits “plasticity” throughout our lives.  The research of this phenomenon has been described as follows:

Brain plasticity science is the study of a physical process. Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be forged and refined or weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities.

Research into the power of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction demonstrates, for example, that there is a real physical change in brain gray matter resulting in increased capacity in areas such as learning and memory processes and emotional self-regulation.

Health insurer, Aetna, has taken this research seriously and built their employee development programs around the ability of mindfulness practices to enhance mental capacity and reduce stress.  By 2015, more than twenty five percent of their 50,000 employees had participated in at least one form of mindfulness training.   Aetna’s aim was to reduce stress in the workplace and the associated loss of productivity and employee well-being, while simultaneously generating high performance.

As a result of realised benefits in the workplace, Aetna has increased their commitment to mindfulness training for employees.  In 2017, they created a Mindfulness Center with the explicit aim of “developing a workplace culture of well-being“.  The Center provides mindfulness activities a number of times each week and is designed to host future presentations and courses conducted by experts in the area of mindfulness.

Aetna has made this very substantial investment in mindfulness training because they have seen that their managers and staff, as they grow in mindfulness, reduce their stress, increase their resilience and develop high performance.

Aetna is certainly not alone in investing in mindfulness training for managers and employees – and in realising the associated benefits.  Google, for example, has trained more than 4,500 of their employees in mindfulness and emotional intelligence over the last 10 years.  The derivative program developed by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) is providing mindfulness training to leaders in thousands of organisations in the public and private sector on an ongoing global basis.

A recent Mindful Leaders Forum in Sydney was an extension of a forum that is contributing to the global development of mindfulness in the corporate world:

In three years, 1500 executives from more than 350 companies have come together to explore a new style of leadership.  It’s all about helping individuals, teams and organisations to thrive in the digital age.  It’s part of a global movement that’s sweeping across the corporate world where innovative companies such as Google, LinkedIn and the Harvard Business School are using evidence-based tools to unleash creativity, productivity and purpose-driven performance.

The Sydney-based forum included presentations by Marque Lawyers, Westpac Bank, e-Bay, Australian Army and Medibank.

Organisations world-wide are investing in the development of mindful leaders who can build a workplace well-being culture that generates the dual goals of employee wellness and high performance.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: Courtesy of WolfBlur on Pixabay