It was the week before the 2016 presidential election when I received the following in an email:
“Are you suffering from Electile Dysfunction?”
This tongue-in-cheek, yet provocative question in my teacher Jonathan Foust’s newsletter caught my attention as I was getting ready to travel to Washington D.C. to attend the Mindful Leadership Summit. The antidote he offered in the form of a podcast, “How to Keep Your Heart Open During the Election,” helped me to manage the pre-election anxiety I was feeling. So much was at stake for our country and the world, and the uncertainty and volatility in the two candidates’ probabilities of winning seemed to be running in circles around me and those near and dear to me. It felt too tight, too close, and too risky. I needed some space.
Not only did I get some space to pause, observe, and absorb at the Mindful Leadership Summit, but I also met and connected with other compassionate leaders from almost 30 countries around the globe. It was truly inspiring to be part of this community as we gathered to seek knowledge, skills, and connections to transform ourselves so that we could lead more effectively and joyfully to make the world a better place, doing what we can do in our own communities and workplaces, here and now. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the gathering of mindful leaders at this Summit gave me exactly what I needed to prepare for the unexpected election outcome.
“Opportunities for leadership are all around us. The capacity for leadership is deep within us.” ~ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness, you might ask: “What exactly is a mindful leader?”
One answer is: “A mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others.”
This definition is from Janice Marturano, one of the many thoughtful and inspiring leaders who spoke at this conference. She is the author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, and the founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership. Her definition resonated with me all the more when she pointed out that leadership presence is a tangible quality that is felt and seen by the people around a mindful leader.
Leading with results and relationships intact while maintaining sustainable stamina is seemingly impossible when we see what is asked of leaders today. Mindful leadership in its essence is self-work, self-care, and self-compassion that leaders cannot skimp on if they choose to lead. Sometimes the person we have the most trouble offering compassion to is ourselves—especially for those of us “Type A” people who have high standards and drive ourselves hard toward achievements and accomplishments. Yet, self-compassion is essential for mindful leadership.
Furthermore, compassion is not a good-to-have quality reserved for saintly persons. In today’s connection economy, we can’t ignore, deny, or disrespect the webs we live in—whether the literal interweb or the metaphorical webs of lives—and be successful in making a difference that matters to us and the world. Technical knowledge and skills, expertise, and experience will not get us where we want to go if we don’t know how to inspire, benefit, and “touch” the lives of our employees, customers, and partners. Compassion is the glue that connects humanity.
That human connection was palpable at this conference. Everyone I met was eager to learn, connect, and be in the service of others. For instance, instead of asking “What do you do?” many of us started conversations with “What brought you here?” This subtle tweak made a meaningful difference. It focused us on our purpose and experience of being part of a community. It was refreshing to leave our professional masks aside, and experience each other’s leadership presence from moment-to-moment.
“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.” ~ from “The Invitation” by Oriah.
As I learned more and practiced leadership presence with other mindful leaders from a wide array of organizations, I felt a sense of belonging, ease, and flow. It was not an accident. I learned that this year’s summit was the third annual event organized by the co-founders, Mo Edjlali and Eric Forbis, who wanted to make their vision come true “with the idea of doing something that would be of service to the growing mindful leadership movement, and something that would be of real benefit to leaders and aspiring leaders.”
This Summit made me recall one of my favorite inspirational quotes from Buckminster Fuller:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
We know that there is much room for improvement in the area of leadership whether at home, workplace, community, country, or the world. The old model of command-and-control doesn’t work for sustainable positive change. Showing up harried and hurried to tackle an incessant to-do list while multitasking and drowning in information overload isn’t sustainable. The problem of miscommunication and misunderstanding leading to missed opportunities will continue unless a new system replaces the old. Instead of fighting what’s not working, we can build a new model of leadership that makes the existing model obsolete.
May we all live and lead a life of purpose, focus, clarity, creativity, and compassionate wisdom.
If you’re interested in learning more about how cultivating mindfulness and emotional intelligence could make a sustainable difference for you and your organization, contact SoulCo to learn about our complimentary 8-week learning series.