Being mindful: The choice is yours.
Beliefs, instinctive and dominant, informed my behaviours during my early years as a team leader and manager. “Believing” I needed to check everything my team did. “Believing” I had to have the right answer. “Believing” that alternative approaches to how I felt things should be done just would not work. All of these made it difficult for me to delegate effectively and benefit from the talents of so many great, talented and innovative colleagues. Informed by these beliefs, I was a workaholic, and not in any positive sense of the word. I would rather answer emails as soon as I received them and expect my teams to respond as quickly, whatever the hour; rather find myself assuming that all decisions and actions could only be correct or wrong, won or lost; rather believe that there were no alternatives, no greys, no nuances!
Does any of this sound familiar to you? I suspect so!
Although I was appreciated as a very capable person, I was proving to be a lousy manager. A manager who was unaware of how my stress level was influencing my behaviour as well as the impact that it was having on others. I was so wired about the need to be perfect and scared to make mistakes that I was unaware of my behaviour’s impact on colleagues, on my family, on my wider relationships, and on my health.
Mindfulness – or being mindful – is about paying attention to our emotions and how we respond to issues in and out of the office. It is about being conscious of the likely impact of our actions and decisions before we enact them. It is about appreciating the tone of our emails, the tone of our voice, and the impact of our body language. It is to be considerate rather than reactionary. It is about appreciating that there may be multiple perspectives and multiple solutions to problems and opportunities. Although most of us cognitively recognise people as our greatest assets, we are often guilty of treating colleagues as if they are just the means to an end. Frequently, this occurs because anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, and a myriad of other emotions take hold of us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, our emotion-informed responses affect people around us. And they do so in ways that are often unintended.
Mindfulness helps us control or disengage from some of these powerful and destructive emotions. Through practice we can learn to appreciate in-the-moment that our emotions are not always informed by fact. We can learn to respond calmly rather than emotionally and instinctively to stressful situations. We can learn to step back. Through mindful action we can create the positive environment for others that we seek – for the benefit of the team, the organisation, and for the reciprocal positive feelings that our colleagues have for us.
People exercise their leadership in different ways. Whatever ones natural behaviour and styles, leading in a more mindful manner helps improve social interactions and enables greater individual and organisational effectiveness. Being mindful and fully present in your interactions with staff members increases their perceptions of being valued and respected for their person and contribution. Mindfulness is about learning to be silent and making friends with quietness. It is about listening without wanting to instantly respond. It is about having a calm non-judgmental centre.
As a colleague of mine often articulates, each of us has to make a conscious choice about how we wish to impact people. His words continue to echo in my mind.
“Choice” – I wanted to have a better impact on all the wonderful, people I work with, and engage with socially. When colleagues come to my office to talk, “choice” helps me silence the voice in my head and truly listen. “Choice” means that I no longer respond to queries and opinions immediately when my emotions may lead to an ill-advised, and potentially hurtful responses. “Choice” explains my current practice of sometimes delaying a reply once I have mentally crafted it until the following day. A practice that gives me the time to reconsider and that reduces the inclination to be reactionary. “Choice” to help people grow, help people believe in themselves, and help people achieve things they never thought they could dream of achieving. “Choice” to truly believe in the capabilities and enthusiasm of the people I am working with and leading.
Achieving the above has not been easy. Honestly, it still isn’t. It requires practice and a real need to be mindful about mindfulness! I still find myself needing to engage in ‘in-the-moment’ awareness exercises. For me, a rather strange but useful one involves shaking for sixty seconds. I find a quiet place and shake everything – my legs, my arms, my body, and my head. Stupid, I know! However, after doing this exercise for quite some time, I find that it brings me back to the here and now. It makes me laugh. Undoubtedly it de-stresses me!
Do I still answer emails in the middle of the night if I wake up? No! Do I believe I am always right? Definitely not! Am I more mindful of how I treat staff? I believe so! Do I still have a long way to go before I am consistently mindful? Undeniably!
Let me conclude with two quotes from Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and someone who clearly understood the essence of mindfulness as long ago as the early 1600s. First, “nothing is so powerful as gentleness, nothing is so gentle as true strength”, and second, “if we say a little it is easy to add, but having said too much it is hard to withdraw and never can it be done so quickly as to hinder the harm of our success.”