domain-b.com: Spending quality time with themselves helps business leaders realise their full potential in all walks of life, explains Stephen Manallack, a consultant in leadership and communication and a meditation teacher, in Australia. Read more here.
Meditation and leadership are two of the oldest human activities – they work well together. With beginnings in India, many western leaders are turning to this approach to improve leadership.
In meditation, we come face to face with who we are and find ways to become a better individual, and in leadership it is exactly the same – by coming face to face with who we are, we can find meaningful ways to lead others.
Leadership connects so well with meditation because it is a quick way to realise that wakefulness and ease of living are already within you – these are two of the best assets of a leader. It also helps us cope with stress and deal with change. Only through meditation does this ease of leading shine through, allowing you to be of benefit to yourself and all you touch.
Meditation is like a mango. A mango-lover might explain the taste but in the end, words cannot explain it adequately. If you want to know what a mango tastes like, you have to taste one yourself. So it is with meditation – to know if it works, you have to first try it.
The central point is that when we meditate we are reminded of who we really are. ”Know thyself” was the prescription of the Greek philosophers, and throughout history an enduring quality of the best leaders has been their self-awareness.
In the busyness and stress of the life of a leader, a regular sitting meditation practice reconnects you with the stillness inside – it centres you and gives a sense of ease, of wellbeing. The people you lead are acutely aware of whether you have this strong core, and respect it when they see it.
The combination of formal learning and internal wisdom becomes powerfully inspirational.
The meditative leader has a quality of presence and ease, and when others are flustered or confused, the meditative leader has clearly seen what is going on, pointing the way forward.
The life of a leader revolves around the needs and demands of others (boards and others above, managers and staff below, customers and suppliers, regulators, journalists and financial analysts and more), which is why meditation is such a special way for the leader to be more in tune with others.
Physically, meditation can soften all your tension, letting your face and eyes become soft, letting your shoulders drop and our arms and hands rest. Ultimately, it improves posture, because your stance reflects your mood. There is a whole natural rhythm of our body that we can rest in, taking refuge and peace in it – the only ”holiday island” you really need.
By being more focused in the moment, you become a better guide and analyst. Through meditation we can find the pure concentration of a champion. You cannot help others right now if your mind is already dealing with events still to come.
Modern offices and life in general are buzzing soundscapes, bright visualscapes and more information-rich that we have experienced in evolution. Increasingly people are reporting that this is confusing and stressful – but also addictive. They cannot break the cycle of constant activity and noise.
But we do know that stress and tiredness can become a way of life at the top, also causing emotional distortions and judgement deficits. On the other hand, if we feel good, little things do not grate, changes do not fluster and we can make priority choices easily.
Given that most leaders appear to be confident, it is surprising how many are internally concerned with am I good enough? I have heard leaders admitting that for all of their time as a chief executive officer, they expected the tap on the shoulder, the reminder that they should not be there.
Meditation helps your confidence soar – through developing a non-arrogant sense of ease, well being, of being well placed where you are. To have this mind of a leader, meditation on loving kindness for self is essential – otherwise the silent voice of self criticism finds a way through. The Buddha summed it up ”Search the whole universe and you will not find a single being more worthy of loving kindness than yourself”.
Many experience success without great happiness or contentment, and many others are their own harshest critic. Many have been a leader to others, but very far from being their own best friend. Even leading a team of senior people or advising others in high pressure roles, the inner judge can be merciless, relentless, ready to jump in and condemn…you.
Gradually you can become aware that you would never treat a friend the way you treat you – without mercy, understanding or kindness. Eventually, the critic wins out and things collapse around you.
You cannot be a leader like this, you cannot lead if within your mind is a lingering thought that ”something is fundamentally wrong with me”. This can drive you in lots of contradictory directions, searching for success.
Success as some kind of cover up is no success at all, because even at the very top you live in fear of failure.
To the world, this kind of leader can appear highly functional, successful, on top of things. But not so to the people around them – they can see the uncertainty, they directly feel the confusion and live on the edge.
Feeling not good enough could make you feel lonely, even when surrounded by family and friends – ”lost in your inadequate self” while others seemed happy and connected. Gradually, this leader becomes more and more hollow, anxious, lonely, scared and confused.
Meditation is a powerful way to reconnect with the positive, to realize this awful truth – that beneath all your mood swings, or alcohol abuse, or depression or loneliness, lurks this feeling of deep personal deficiency.
Gradually through meditation we can gain glimpses of the core of suffering that we cultivate and which could be with us for a lifetime unless we do something about it, starting now.
This is no overnight cure. Only over time will your heart start to feel lighter, and over time you will feel ”kinder to me”. Those that you lead also suffer in this way.
We have to actively train the heart and the mind to be ready for leadership. A leader who is at war with him or her self is not pleasant to follow. Their leadership is erratic, decision making emotional and the whole organisation becomes unstable.
Through meditation we can reverse our habit of living at war with ourselves, and reverse our fear of life’s experiences. By changing this focus on self, we become free to lead others
In that way, meditative mindfulness and compassion becomes the key to leadership.
Normally, we feel that if we think about my needs and my skills, we will be able to do our best. But meditation introduces a different view – we will do better if we think less and less about our own needs, and more about others.
The specific meditation known as loving kindness acts as a powerful antidote to anger and confusion and a closed heart. We know that anger is not a sound basis for decisions. Confusion does not inspire others. These are the enemy of the leader. But loving kindness opens the doors and windows of the heart, allowing us to be the leader we can be.
Applying meditation in hard times or when you face difficult circumstances can be very beneficial. It can free you from the chains of uncertainty, allowing you to focus fully on the situation.
A true leader is the one who keeps perspective when others are emotional. It is the one who sees the specific problem when others see a myriad of challenges. True leadership is the ability to combine calm and firm direction. Finally, true leaders have the ability to summarise the situation, identify the way out and communicate all of this in a way which reassures, which enthuses and which unites.
Danger lurks in many seemingly harmless parts of your organization, and this danger can be best described as the acceptance of bad habits. Once bad habits creep in, if you are not a watchful leader, these habits are passed on to others and gradually become part of your corporate culture. Failure is just around the corner.
Spotting bad habits sounds easy but is hard to do – most leaders exist in a kind of cocoon, surrounded by myths and a denial of what is true. Denial among those at the top, and around the top, is endemic.
While you deny reality, how can you possibly lead? While you deny problems, you will never face up to them. Denial is like delusion – it is not a guiding light for any of us.
To break out of the ”cocoon of denial”, you will need to be honest with yourself – even to the point of questioning all your fixed views, all your assumptions. An open mind is a sharp mind. In the same way, the mind of a leader needs to be open.
You can see how leaders who want to survive into the 2020’s will need a good mix of honesty and integrity, being able to see things for what they are and to plan ways to improve the success rate of every part of the organization. That is, good leaders have strong moral values.
As leaders face inevitable hard times and difficulties, they might need to change. How do we change ourselves? We know that emotions last for seconds, that moods can last for a day or so, and that temperament is something forged over many years. So if we want to change, we start small. Start with the emotions, this then helps change our moods, and that then stabilises or modifies our temperament.
That is, the way to change through meditation is to start with the instantaneous events that take place in our mind. It’s like the saying – if we take care of the minutes, the hours will take care of themselves.
A key point to recognise is that one thought leads to another. It becomes a chain of thoughts. Small thoughts can grow into personal disasters for us, and those around us. Meditation is the basic tool we use to change ourselves.
This is personal change on a scale that can be called being freedom. It’s not that meditation makes us zombies or apathetic – quite the reverse, it gives us mastery over our thoughts. Our thoughts no longer lead us by the nose.
In the same way, we can develop certain personal qualities that will become a new nature or a new temperament for us. These qualities might include generosity, patience, love, compassion and wisdom – leadership.
It takes a real leader to see the futility of old ways and old habits. By letting go, we have a greater vision, become free, therefore gaining strength and confidence because we are no longer condemned to our habits, but can emerge from them, change, grow and be a better leader.