I attended a mindfulness leadership conference recently where I was reminded of what an invaluable role mindfulness can play in our lives. It also struck me – in a blinding flash of the obvious – that we can approach mindfulness from either the love-based or the fear-based world. Conscious awareness, moment by moment, without judgement, opens up possibilities for how we think and feel about the leadership issues in front of us. Being present in this neutral place, we can recognize and choose to access either the love-based world of being or the fear-based world of doing. The first choice is all about paying attention, the second choice all about setting an intention.
Mindfulness is about being present with whatever thoughts and feelings arise, without either pulling them in or pushing them away. This neutral attitude provides us with the space to choose which door we want to walk through. This is especially challenging and valuable for leaders, as we juggle competing priorities, meet deadlines, put out brush fires, innovate, and try to create a compelling vision for the future. But there’s the rub: the greater the challenges we face, the greater the potential benefit from simply being mindful of our emotions and thoughts. Creating space – or as stated in a previous blog – minding the gap – provides us with options that are unlikely to surface otherwise. It creates the ability to shift from unconscious reactivity to conscious reflectivity and towards archetypally intelligent actions.
Holding the space we create when being mindful allows us to choose a love-based world approach or a fear-based world approach. The love-based world is simply about paying attention to and seeing the intrinsic worth in what is, recognizing the strong need for belonging and connection in all of us. The fear-based world is about setting an intention with a focus on a strong value or principle that is maintained despite distractions. Being mindful enables you to discern what that value is for you. For example, some people meditate on a specific theme – becoming more compassionate, joyful or less reactive. This reflects the the fear-based operating system where you discipline yourself to stay focused and work to shape the world towards a particular outcome.
Meditation is a great way to cultivate mindfulness. It is essentially taking a page from the fear-based world and setting an intention to regularly practice sitting in a contemplative state. Without setting this intention and disciplining yourself to follow through, the benefits of mindfulness will be elusive. Once in the practice it is the love-based operating system of staying present in the moment that gives you access to rejuvenation, insight, and joy.
Being mindful can also be about simply holding space in the present moment to see what comes up, without aversion, attachment or intention: let “what is” be. This approach reflects the attributes of the love-based world – open-ended, curious and accepting. Through simply paying attention to our thoughts and feelings we are open to all ways of being and creativity and insight are possible.
Leaders can benefit from both forms of mindfulness because they provide access to and insight into the love-based and fear-based worlds. As previous blogs have pointed out, understanding and applying the respective qualities of both worlds elevates leadership practice to a new level. Mindfulness expands the leader’s capacity for sound judgement, reflection, compassion and clarity of purpose. Taking time to pay attention and to set an intention ensures these important leadership attributes are cultivated.