Hougaard and Carter note in “The Mind of the Leader”* that leadership starts in the mind of the leader. They point out that leadership pioneer Peter Drucker said “you cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first”.
They note that “by understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively. By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively. And by understanding and leading others more effectively, you can understand and lead your organisation more effectively – and by more effectively, we mean in a way that’s going to tap into your own and your people’s intrinsic motivations and sense of purpose.”
Hougaard and Carter believe, through their research, that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational for leaders of today – mindfulness, selflessness and compassion.
By mindfulness they refer to both practice and a state of mind. Mindfulness is about generating greater mental effectiveness, so you can realise more of your potential on both a professional and personal level. Effectiveness in this context is the ability to achieve your goals, objectives and wishes in life.
Selflessness is the wisdom of getting out of your own way, the way of your people and the way of your organisation to unleash the natural flow of energy that people bring to work. Selflessness combines strong self confidence with a humble intention to be of service.
Compassion is the quality of having positive intentions for others. It is the intention of being of service to other people’s happiness and the desire to help alleviate their problems. It’s the ability to understand others perspectives and use that as a catalyst for supportive action. In this context, compassion is different from empathy. When practicing empathy you have a tendency to take on the suffering of others – in those circumstances you can both lose. With compassion, you are empowered to skillful action.
So what does this all mean in practice? A good leader is cognisant of firstly how they operate, how their people operate and how that impacts the organisation. Being acutely aware of your internal processes, the way in which you manage work, interactions, stress and the day to day is key. Practicing techniques to allow you to be acutely mindful of those skills, along with the impact that those traits have on others, will hold you in good stead to be able to lead your people and your organisation. If you don’t have it together and you struggle in managing yourself, you will find it difficult to manage and therefore lead others. Some simple tips that you can employ include:
- Knowing what you are doing professionally and why you were doing it and maintaining a passion for that purpose;
- Fixing good habits and routines in your daily professional practice to allow you to become the person that simply does things rather than a person who will get to it;
- Learn to be acutely aware of your presence and the impact it has on others.
Whilst it’s not always obvious at an employee level, when you are stepping up into a leadership role it is important to understand that people are watching what you do and taking their cues from you on a daily basis. If you are having a bad day or not feeling like work, this will be picked up by your team members and will impact the overall vibe of the office. Checking yourself at the door, or if it’s an option for you, not walking through the door in the first place and potentially working from home, can be the best leadership decision you can make on that particular day.
In conclusion, it’s important to be mindful at all times, mindful in terms of how you work, how you present and how your overall presentation on any given day will impact your team and the organisation. Finding your own routine and key habits to develop will assist you in ensuring that you maintain good leadership skills.