BY MARTIN STEPEK
In recent years, I've found that leadership has become one of those terms that's ever-present and endlessly discussed. So much so that there's a whole industry dedicated to the subject of what a leader is and how to be a better one. But sometimes I think we miss the real point... so here's my go about trying to clear it up.
What we often picture when we think of leaders are bosses of one sort or another. People in high places, leading an organisation at the top. But that's not necessarily leadership; that's just having authority. For me, everyone is a leader all the time. Let me explain...
Every moment of every day, we experience something quite remarkable. We experience choice. Do we decide to continue reading this blog? Do we address a burdening issue with our colleague? Do we take time out of the office to go on a learning programme? Besides the time we spend sleeping, we always have this amazing freedom of choice.
But what we may not realise is that when we 'choose' we are literally 'leading' our lives. Choose A and get a different result than if you choose B. And by choosing A rather than B, even if only in a tiny way, you have had an impact on the universe forever. Isn't that all leadership really is?
Recognising this also allows us to recognise the challenges leadership can bring. Do we always know what to choose at any given situation? Do we have the clarity and space in our minds to identify our choices and communicate them effectively?
When making these choices, is your mind full? Or are you mindful?
To be mindful, we need to pay attention to what's going on in the present moment and not just accept what our mind first chooses. Instead, we need to recognise the impact of our feelings and emotions, reflect on what choice we're making and determine if that choice is wise or not. If it's not, allow other options to arise until you're happy with one.
By developing a more aware and considered approach, we can respond to situations, rather than react to them. With less clutter and distraction within our heads, we gain clarity and perspective. Ultimately, it makes our choices wiser, our decisions better, our communications more concise, and therefore our leadership more effective.
To help get your started, here's a simple exercise you could try:
1. Relax and Breathe
Sit in a comfortable position (i.e. feet flat on the ground, and hands resting on your thighs). Breathe deeply and exhale fully, until you're nice and relaxed.
2. Engage your Senses
For each of your 5 senses, one at a time, dedicate a minute to focusing on how each sense is activated in the present moment. Keep breathing steadily throughout and if you're distracted by anything during this time, just gently bring yourself back to your senses.
When listening to the sounds around you, try not to judge them as either good or bad. Can you notice more subtle sounds that you didn't initially notice?
Now notice the smells in your environment. Try closing your eyes so you can focus on the subtlest of scents.
Open your eyes again, and focus on the colours and shapes around you. Notice the colour variations and different textures. Is there any colour missing?
If you have something to eat, isolate the different flavours and textures when you take a bite from it.
Notice the sensation of where your hands meet something solid. Notice the pressure between your feet and floor. Feel the textures you noticed by sight. Once you've completed this minute, stand up and bring energy back into all parts of your body.
3. Keep Practicing
How do you feel now? How does this compare to how you felt when you started? Any changes?
Mindfulness sounds like a simple concept, but it can be hard to establish as a habit so learn how to do it well. It needs to be practiced and engaged in regularly. And though it may not solve the problems we face in our leadership roles, it could help us identify the choices we have to tackle them.
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Martin Stepek has been teaching mindfulness for ten years, and is a pioneer who helped take it from a spiritual to a secular audience. He has taught it in prisons, schools, universities, businesses, third sector organisations, and local authorities; deliering free weekly classes every Tuesday evening in his home town of Hamilton. It is believed to be the largest attended mindfulness class in Scotland.