Kickass Leaders are Mindful

August 14, 2017

After getting back from a yoga retreat vacation, “mindfulness” has been on my mind. There was talk about gratitude, drawing the right energy into our lives, setting intentions, and reclaiming our wholeness through thoughtful behaviors.

As I started thinking about it more, I realized that when it comes to leadership, in order to manifest significant positivity and change, we must also turn inward. Only by changing our own mindset and behaviors can profound change take place.

Yogi-vibes aside, below I’ve gathered various behaviors that unleash the kickass leader within, and in turn create a thriving work environment.

1. Create a safety net
Most of us have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where the first tier is safety and security. In her Harvard Business Review article, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World,” Sunnie Giles argues that the number one job desired from leaders is — you guessed it –security. Employees look for ethical and moral standards, job confidence and clear communication that shields them from being blindsided. It’s a win-win, though. Creating a safe environment also enables people to have a higher capacity of social engagement, innovation, and ambition. In his TED talk, “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe,” Simon Sinek also explores how leaders must set a tone of safety in the workplace. When people feel like they and their coworkers are protected, they not only trust but cooperate with leadership long-term.

2. Talk the talk — in a conversational way
Leaders can command rooms with their energy and presence — but they shouldn’t be commanding. “Leadership is a Conversation” finds that today’s smart leaders actually engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation versus commands. The benefits to communicating candidly are tremendous. When leaders speak with their employees (rather than just issue orders), they can create more operational flexibility, engage employees, and build deeper trust. On the flip side, leaders that listen to employees with curiosity and compassion have a greater chance at intimate conversations, which supports a respected and empowered workforce.

3. Allow people to speak freely
How many times have you heard people say, “We have a culture of openness and transparency,” but it’s not actually the case? In their Harvard Business Review article, “Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely?” researchers James Detert and Ethan Burris found that leaders want to make it simple for employees to share ideas and concerns, but they rarely address people’s fear of speaking up. Worse yet, they don’t do anything if their workforce voices concerns. When leaders are able to create an environment that welcomes discourse, retention goes up, financial performance increases, and employees generally have higher satisfaction. But it’s not just about saying you have an open and transparent workplace. A more vocal culture is created by regularly asking for feedback, creating a level playing field through how you carry yourself, and establishing some type of formal process that follows up on the ideas being implemented — or why they won’t be.

4. Lean into (or master) your emotional intelligence
We all know about IQ, but EQ, or emotional intelligence, is becoming a more popular topic area. It’s probably because when it comes to leadership, emotional intelligence proves to be twice as important as qualities like IQ. Emotional intelligence involves having self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. But if you don’t score well on emotional intelligence right now, have no fear. It’s not something you have to be born with. In fact, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman notes that emotional intelligence can be learned, but the focus has to be on training the limbic system (the part of the brain that’s in charge of emotions and feelings). The best way to do this is to work on specific behavioral changes. But don’t just take my word for it, for more tips and tricks on getting your emotional intelligence up to speed, read more here.

5. Be helpful
Today’s complex challenges require helpful collaboration. And when more help is needed to solve challenges quickly and nimbly, accessibility, trust, and confidence come into play. This is why in “IDEO’s Culture of Helping” Teresa Amabile and colleagues rank accessibility and trust as highly valued characteristics. But it’s not just world-famous agencies that can have a culture of helpfulness. Leaders can create this type of culture by modeling the behaviors they want to see. That means becoming accessible, not being afraid to show vulnerability, and seeking help themselves. Because asking for help goes against typical power principles, it requires a mental shift. But with practice, it leads to incredible cultural benefits.

We need to always remember that leadership is a choice, not a rank. The choices we make about being mindful, open, and treating our coworkers in a way that lets their light shine through not only creates organizational change, but it elevates a leader’s personal journey. And that’s just kickass.

Ready to turn inward and infuse more heart into your organization?

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