To succeed on the Balanced Leader journey there are two key skills you must cultivate: mindfulness and self-responsibility.
Despite the current preponderance of books on the topic, interest in mindfulness is not a new phenomenon. As an Eastern concept and practice it’s been around for centuries. One of the earliest pioneers to bring it to the West was Jon Kabat Zinn who defines mindfulness as:
“The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
Many people consider mindfulness a spiritual or religious practice but Kabat Zinn’s definition implies this is not necessarily the case. Indeed, I came to mindfulness many years ago while taking lessons in the Alexander Technique. The point was to notice what I was doing with my body moment by moment. To catch myself when I tensed my neck and shoulders leading to stress headaches; and when I was slumping in my chair restricting my breathing leading to feelings of tiredness.
I first chose to apply mindfulness to my work while interviewing others. I realised that in many cases my interviewee’s future was directly in my hands. I would make a decision about whether to take the process further based on our discussions; and I must be present to the other person in order to make the right decision. Being present in the moment – moment by moment as Kabat Zinn says – was a challenge then and is an even bigger one now that we’re surrounded by so many technologically based distractions.
So mindfulness is something we make the commitment to cultivate and it’s like anything else. The more we practice the better we get. I’m not an avid reader of mindfulness books but one I have come across recently that I rather liked is ‘This is Happening’ by Rohan Gunatillake who also developed the buddhify app.
Mindfulness is an essential tool in our armoury since without it we can easily lose sight of our boundaries and our vision of how we want our balanced life to work.
Self-responsibility on the other hand is the attitude we adopt when we choose to be one hundred per cent responsible for everything that happens to us. Yes, of course there are other players and outside circumstances going on. And we always have a choice of coming from a place of being the victim of these or one of self-empowerment.
Let’s say – for instance – that your workplace culture doesn’t currently support flexible working at managerial levels. You have a choice. You can either tell yourself “it’s not going to be possible here – I may as well leave” or you take a deep breath and ask “how could I change this situation?” You prepare a short TED talk style presentation summarising the way your new arrangement would work and the benefits to everyone.
Or let’s say one of your clients is a little miffed because he couldn’t reach you yesterday – even though you made it clear from the outset that you work flexibly. Rather than being annoyed he’s forgotten you look at how you can improve your client management skills so there’s no repeat of the situation.
Accepting radical self-responsibility requires us to constantly step up to the leadership role in any situation. To be clear on the balance we want in our lives. To identify where our power lies to change things; and which of our skills we need to enhance to achieve the results we’re looking for.
A commitment to cultivating mindfulness and self-responsibility is the essential foundation we need to support us on the Balanced Leader journey.