the mind of the leader

The Smart Manager - - Reading Room - By ras­mus hougaard and jacque­line carter

We’re so­cial be­ings. We all want to be con­nected— not just dig­i­tally but in fun­da­men­tally hu­man ways. Be­cause of this de­sire, lead­er­ship can­not be a trans­ac­tional ac­tiv­ity. It’s about cre­at­ing hu­man con­nec­tions to strengthen en­gage­ment and in­crease pro­duc­tiv­ity. As lead­ers, we have a choice. We can uti­lize the built-in struc­tures of com­mand and con­trol and en­grained power dy­nam­ics to en­hance pro­duc­tiv­ity. Or we can fa­cil­i­tate true con­nect­ed­ness, mean­ing­ful work ex­pe­ri­ences, and hu­man flour­ish­ing to en­hance en­gage­ment, hap­pi­ness, and, in turn, pro­duc­tiv­ity. The lat­ter is an enor­mous op­por­tu­nity we can­not take lightly.

Con­sider the ex­pe­ri­ence of Naren­dra Mu­lani, chief an­a­lyt­ics of­fi­cer, Ac­cen­ture An­a­lyt­ics. Naren­dra joined the firm in 1997 with sig­nif­i­cant ex­pe­ri­ence rel­a­tive to many of his col­leagues, who had been hired di­rectly out of col­lege. At that time, he noted the strong sense of unity and co­he­sion in the cul­ture. It was as if ev­ery­one knew how to op­er­ate in the Ac­cen­ture mind­set to the point that peo­ple seemed to know what oth­ers were think­ing.

But now in Ac­cen­ture—as with most other large or­ga­ni­za­tions— the days of near mind-meld­ing cul­tural co­he­sion are long gone. Or­ga­ni­za­tions to­day are in­creas­ingly dig­i­tal, global, vir­tual, and in a state of con­stant change. As a re­sult, hu­man con­nec­tion and co­he­sive­ness is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. Yet, as Naren­dra told us, “You need some­thing that gives you a com­mon lan­guage and al­lows you to col­lab­o­rate, trust, and work to­gether, be­cause we all come with such dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s made me aware that ev­ery­one wants to con­nect. Even in this dig­i­tal world, per­sonal con­nec­tions are ev­ery­thing.”

We all have an in­nate urge to feel con­nected and part of a whole. For lead­ers, this hu­man need to feel con­nected is crit­i­cal to bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and manag­ing peo­ple. In global teams—de­spite dis­tance, dig­i­tal­iza­tion, and dis­rup­tion— mind­ful­ness can be­come the glue that cre­ates true hu­man con­nec­tions.

Nathan Boaz and Rahul Varma, global leads of Ac­cen­ture’s lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment and tal­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions, are im­ple­ment­ing global ini­tia­tives to help lead­ers care for their peo­ple like fam­ily, with a deeper sense of be­long­ing and con­nect­ed­ness. In our con­ver­sa­tions with them, they shared their phi­los­o­phy and strat­egy. “We are work­ing to de­velop a truly hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence within the com­pany, where ev­ery­one brings their whole self to work. One of the foun­da­tions

for this is that our lead­ers show up fully present, at­ten­tive and fo­cused, when they en­gage with their peo­ple and teams.”

In this chap­ter, we’ll share how you can lead your peo­ple with mind­ful­ness to build more ef­fec­tive teams and re­al­ize in­creased lev­els of en­gage­ment, trust, and per­for­mance.

the power of pres­ence

Some years ago, we worked with a coun­try di­rec­tor of a multi­na­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany. This di­rec­tor was re­ceiv­ing neg­a­tive 360 re­views on en­gage­ment and lead­er­ship ef­fec­tive­ness, putting him un­der pres­sure from the com­pany’s board. Although he tried to change, noth­ing seemed to work. His frus­tra­tion grew, and so he started track­ing the time he spent with each of his di­rect re­ports. Ev­ery time he re­ceived feed­back that in­di­cated he wasn’t an en­gag­ing leader, he would pull out his data and state: “But look how much time I spend with ev­ery­one!” He didn’t know what to do.

As a last re­sort, he got in touch with us.

We started him with ten min­utes of daily mind­ful­ness prac­tice and showed him how to ap­ply it to his ev­ery­day lead­er­ship ac­tiv­i­ties. Af­ter a cou­ple of months, peo­ple be­gan com­ment­ing on a big change in their ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with him. They found him more en­gag­ing, nicer to work with, and more in­spir­ing. He was sur­prised and elated by the re­sults. The real sur­prise? When he pulled out his spread­sheet that tracked time with di­rect re­ports, he saw that he was spend­ing on av­er­age 21 per­cent less time with his peo­ple.

The dif­fer­ence? He was ac­tu­ally there.

He came to un­der­stand that be­ing in a room with some­one is not the same as be­ing present with some­one. He rec­og­nized that pre­vi­ously when some­one came into his of­fice, he would of­ten be oc­cu­pied with other ac­tiv­i­ties or think­ing about other things. Most of the time, when he thought he was lis­ten­ing to oth­ers, he was in fact mostly lis­ten­ing to his own in­ner voice. This re­al­ity was ob­vi­ous to the peo­ple he was with and left them feel­ing un­heard and frus­trated.

If you’re not fa­mil­iar with your in­ner voice, it’s the one that of­ten pro­vides a run­ning com­men­tary of what you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. It of­ten says things like, “I wish he would stop talk­ing.” Or, “I know what she’s go­ing to say next.” Or, “I’ve heard this all be­fore.” Or, “I won­der if Joe has re­sponded to my text?”

To truly en­gage other hu­man be­ings and cre­ate mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions, we need to si­lence our in­ner voice and be fully present.

Ac­cord­ing to a Chi­nese proverb, pres­ence is the great­est gift you can give an­other. It is the in­ten­sity of at­ten­tion you pay to other peo­ple. And it greatly de­ter­mines the out­come of an in­ter­ac­tion. Mind­ful­ness stands in stark con­trast to be­ing scat­tered and dis­tracted. A lack of mind­ful­ness comes across as im­pul­sive­ness and lack of fo­cus. It doesn’t leave a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion.

Pres­ence is a univer­sal lan­guage with a two-way ben­e­fit. Ac­cord­ing to re­search from Har­vard Univer­sity, you are hap­pier when you are present, and the ones you are with ex­pe­ri­ence a greater sense of well-be­ing.’ In lead­er­ship, be­ing mind­fully present is foun­da­tional for con­nect­ed­ness, en­gage­ment, and per­for­mance.

Bain & Com­pany con­ducted a large re­search project to pin­point key traits of ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship. A

2 sur­vey of thou­sands of em­ploy­ees re­vealed thirty-three im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as cre­at­ing com­pelling ob­jec­tives, ex­press­ing ideas clearly, and be­ing re­cep­tive to in­put. But the one trait that stood out as the most es­sen­tial was cen­tered­ness—the abil­ity to be mind­fully present in a sit­u­a­tion so that you can bring your best traits to bear, mo­ment to mo­ment. ■

If you’re not fa­mil­iar with your in­ner voice, it’s the one that of­ten pro­vides a run­ning com­men­tary of what you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

Ras­mus Hougaard and Jacque­line Carter Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view Press 2018, 256 pgs, Hard­cover

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