the mind of the leader
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