When someone talks about being mindful, do you envision sitting cross-legged on a cushion chanting “Om”? And your first reaction is, “There’s no way I’m doing that!” Many of my coaching clients have this reaction when I first introduce them to mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing or scanning the body for tension. During our coaching sessions, I introduce clients to several breathing exercises and encourage them to practice often in two-minute pauses during the day. That way, you don’t have to sit on a cushion for 20 minutes every morning (although that can help), but you incorporate mindfulness mini-sessions into your daily routine.
Mindfulness practices are particularly helpful to leaders. Leaders have heavy responsibilities and are often stressed with too much to do in too little time. And, because all eyes are on the leader to set the example for the group, it is important that the leader takes a measured response to challenges and obstacles. Mindfulness has been shown to create these benefits:
What leader doesn’t need all of these things? Here are four practices to gently add to your daily rhythm that will build your mindfulness capacity:
It is a fact of life that we all get stressed, not only at work but at home also. During these moments of stress and worry, it is known that practicing gratitude is an effective way to calm our brain and focus on the positive. Brain science has shown that gratitude is “can change your brain, make you happier, boost your immune system, improve your relationships, and make you more productive.”
Recently, one of my coaching clients was telling me how he uses gratitude when the situation at his office gets tough or stressful. I asked him what he did to practice gratitude and he listed the usual: “I tell myself I’m thankful for my wife, my family, my house, my car, etc.” While I admired his gratitude practice, I challenged him to push this concept further, by “amping up the gratitude” as I like to say. He was curious to understand my meaning so I made a few suggestions:
This month, our article is an infographic on the benefits of coaching. There is a growing body of research that establishes coaching’s return on investment as between five and seven times the cost. Read on for more information:
Listening seems like such a natural skill; one that we don’t need to practice or learn about. Really, who doesn’t know how to listen? Unfortunately, it seems that many of us haven’t mastered this core leadership skill, given how often the need for better listening turns up on 360 leadership assessments that I’ve seen.
We are living in an easily distracted time, with so many things vying for our attention: emails, phone calls, smart phones, Facebook, LinkedIn, TV – the list goes on and on. One of the casualties of this kind of environment is listening – truly listening to someone with your ears, mind and heart, which I call deep listening. This kind of listening is coveted by your team, your family and your friends. Deep listening creates stronger relationships, trust and loyalty. I recommend this kind of listening to all leaders who wish to make a difference with their teams.
Here’s five steps to active listening:
1. Physically prepare yourself to listen
Someone pops their head into your office to say, “Do you have a minute?” In our busy lives, it’s tempting to continue responding to email while you try to multi-task and listen to the person. If you don’t have a minute, say so and set up a future time to talk. Or, if you just need a moment to finish what you’re doing, you could say, “Give me one minute, please.” Then, immobilize your distractions: quickly finish what you were doing, take off your ear buds, put your cell phone away. Then physically create an environment for effective listening by either moving to a table near your desk or to a private room. Another option is to pivot in your chair so that you are facing towards the person with your hands off the keyboard. Then, look them in the eye and take a deep breath to oxygenate your brain. Then ask, “What’s on your mind?”
2. Focus on what the person is saying
Here are several suggestions on how to focus your attention on the other person and what they are saying:
a) As if you were watching a live play in a theater, imagine a spotlight illuminating the person who’s talking. Visualize darkness everywhere else. This directs your mind and attention away from yourself and to the other person.
b) To better focus on what the person is saying, silently repeat their words in your mind. For
example, if the person says, “I’m having trouble with Sharon, the accountant…” you mentally
repeat, “I’m having trouble with Sharon, the accountant…”
c) Visualize in your mind what the person is explaining. If the person is describing an argument they had with a co-worker, envision where they were and what they were doing as they were yelling at each other. I often get a picture of what was going on and play back that image to the speaker, as in, “I was imagining how that was for you, and I got an image of a momma bear in my mind. Did you feel like a momma bear?”
d) Get curious about what was going on under the surface. What was motivating the
characters? What might have led up to them acting the way they did? What were their
3. Ask open ended questions
To confirm your understanding and show that you are really, truly listening, ask some open-ended questions. Here are a few examples to get you started:
4. Paraphrase what you’ve heard
Another tip is to paraphrase or summarize what you’ve heard. You could say, “What I’m hearing from you is really three things…” or “Here’s where we are in this…” Then ask for agreement: “Do I have that right? Did I understand correctly?” Succinctly reviewing and summarizing what the speaker has said brings clarity to the situation and helps them focus on what’s really important.
5. Use empathy.
Brene Brown defines empathy as “connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience” (Dare to Lead, 2018, p. 118). Name the emotion that you guess they might be feeling, with words like, “Gosh, that’s terrible. You must have felt so frustrated.” That leaves the door open for the other to agree or refine the emotion. They might come back with, “No, I wasn’t frustrated, I was mad!” Another way to empathize this is to say, “I would be feeling the same way if I were in your shoes.” Sometimes, just your presence with the person is enough to show that you connect to what they are feeling.
In our multi-tasking, always-on world, it’s unusual to take the time to really listen. In my coaching and consulting practice, I find that those who make the effort to actively listen stand out as a leader and a shaper of high-impact teams.
When I teach leadership skills workshops I have a favorite exercise that asks participants to think of their worst boss ever and write down two or three characteristics of that individual that drove them crazy. Invariably, one of the most common complaints I hear is micromanaging.
No one likes to be micromanaged, even if the individual is new in position. And, micromanaging is not an effective leadership style because it doesn’t respect the abilities and talent of team members. There are several types of micromanagement:
When team members come to you with a problem, is your first instinct to tell them what to do? Of course it is. Jumping into help is a normal thing. What is the benefit of helping the employee think through what to do vs. telling them what to do? Research shows that advising or telling is effective only 1/13 of the time. What is far more effective is to ask probing questions and encourage your team member to think for themselves.
Next time someone comes to you with a problem, you might set the stage with, “Hmm, you have a good challenge there. Would it be OK for me to ask you some thinking questions to help you plan your actions?”
Here are some thinking questions to use:
Many companies have jumped on the culture bandwagon, creating their own core values. Some of these organizations have even defined the meaning of these values; what they mean when they have “integrity” or “customer-focused” in this list of standards. Not many have taken the third step, which is defining the behaviors that both support and detract from the values.
I’ve worked with many organizations on creating their values. Often, these values are dictated from upper management for the entire organization. That’s OK because it’s difficult in large organizations to involve all the team members in values creation. It’s also OK because each business unit and department gets to take the values to the next level by defining the behaviors that go along with the value statement.
Explicitly define your understanding of the value word
Let’s start with the definition of the value. Rather than presenting only a word or phrase for each value, it’s best to define exactly what you mean by the value. For example, one of Brio Leadership’s core values is “Integrity.” For some, this word means simply following the rules. For us at Team Brio, it means “doing what we say we’ll do, being scrupulously honest, because everything matters.” Can you see how these two definitions are quite different?
Sleep deprivation is linked to infamous disasters such as the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that killed seven crew members, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, and multiple US Navy ship collisions that also resulted in deaths. Less dramatic in scope, but equally devasting, are the 6,000 or more car accidents per year caused by falling asleep while driving. Not getting enough sleep is definitively linked to slow reflexes, poor decision-making, emotional outbursts, sluggish thoughts and forgetfulness. As reported in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, lack of adequate sleep costs companies between $2,500 and $3,156 per employee, per year in lost productivity and poorer performance. Reported in this study, the cost of reduced productivity from inadequate sleep totaled $54 billion per year across the four surveyed companies.
Sleep deprivation impacts our personal lives and reduces the effectiveness of our companies, communities and countries. In my leadership coaching practice, I always ask my executive clients how much sleep they are routinely getting. It’s sadly common that they are averaging less than six hours per night.
How much sleep does a normal adult need? The research is unequivocal about this: between seven and eight hours of sleep nightly are required for optimal functioning. And, the result of less than six hours of sleep for four days running is akin to drinking too much, according to researcher Dr. Itzhak Fried of University of California at Los Angeles. Plus, the long-term health effects of too little sleep are also well-known; they range from increased risk of cardio-vascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, among other health risks.
What can be done about this silent epidemic that is hurting all of us, both at work and at home? There are both individual and organizational remedies. Let’s look at two areas of recommendations:
We present a video of our CEO, Kristin Robertson, sharing her thoughts on Mindful Leadership. Mindfulness practices are gaining in popularity in the business sector. This is due to the growing body of research that documents the benefits of practicing mindfulness, including better health, greater happiness, reduced emotional reactivity, and stronger leadership/mental capacities. Listen to our Vlog to learn a quick mindfulness practice to reduce stress in the midst of your day.
In a survey of 75 members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Board, respondents rated self-awareness as the most important capability for leaders to develop. Executives need to understand their own foibles and propensities – the characteristics that executives assume to be the norm but in fact are the exception – to be an effective leader.
One powerful way to build self-awareness is to practice self-reflection, and what better time to start than at the end of a year? It’s time to look back on the last twelve months to identify you and your organization’s successes and where you missed the mark, so you can prime yourself for the new year.
In this article, we offer a series of questions that you can use to do a self-evaluation – either of yourself or of your team. Light a candle to symbolize the importance of the moment and answer these questions by recording them in a journal. Note: these questions are equally valid when applied to your own personal accomplishments or those of your team.
From the desk of