As leaders we can’t control the circumstances we find ourselves in but we can have a powerful sense of initiative and agency over the choices we make and we can always choose the attitude we bring to a situation. Radical mindful leaders focus on attitudes such as kindness, compassion, empathy, trust, authenticity and humility.
Radical mindful leadership asks leaders to have courage, to allow others to see their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths.
We face so many different challenges, from Covid-19, to social injustice, climate change and inequality. What organisations need now, more urgently than ever, is compassionate leadership.
Leadership is difficult
Leadership is made up of many parts. There is the leading of others, or allowing others to be leaders (distributing leadership) and then the necessary skill of followership – the awareness of how we relate to power, influence and authority. (To learn more about this read Leadership: A Critical Text by Simon Western.)
Radical mindful leadership is different from a more traditional understanding of leadership, which often is individualistic, centred around the person and focused on behaviour, performance and productivity rather than attitudes such as kindness, compassion, empathy, trust, authenticity and humility.
Michael Chaskalson, one of the leading mindfulness experts in the UK, champions ‘quiet ego leadership’. As the ego quietens, it becomes more self-aware and less defensive. Recognising the interdependent nature of self and others, the quiet ego becomes naturally more compassionate. This interdependent self is not a lost self. It is strong, resilient, and self-assured (The latest leadership thinking from Moeller Institute, Insight Magazine, May 2020).
Radical mindful leadership is deeply rooted in mindfulness practice. It is about intentionally and voluntarily paying attention to our body, emotions, thoughts, others and our surroundings so that we can become more present and pay attention to what’s happening in the moment. It’s about developing positive mental states, i.e. getting to know one’s mind. It helps us understand what our unhelpful tendencies are, and to honestly explore what gets in the way of becoming a more human, uninhibited and compassionate leader in order to fulfill a positive contribution to staff, the organisation and the world.
Ethics – knowing that our actions have consequences
Radical mindful leadership is also about ethics and understanding the interconnectedness of all life. For example, how our intentions and actions have an impact on others, the organisation, the community and the world we live in.
Relationality – how we are in relation with ourselves and others
Radical mindful leadership is therefore also about ‘relationality’, the deep understanding that we are not separate but always in a relationship with ourselves and others. We learn to relate to ourselves and others with compassion and empathy, which in turn deepens connection, fosters empathy and understanding.
Attitude – how we are with ourselves, others and the world
Radical mindful leadership asks leaders to have courage, to allow others to see their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. It invites leaders to pay attention to self and others with attitudes such as:
Non-judgment: becoming aware of our judging mind and not judging ourselves for being judgmental. It means developing discernment. It’s about recognising what’s actually unfolding for us as leaders in order to lift the veil of our judgments to allow clarity and wisdom.
Curiosity: allowing ourselves to let go of our pre-conceived views and opinions, to look at things as though for the first time. As leaders, an attitude of curiosity can help us see our colleagues freshly and in their entirety, without the judging mind of ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘I like this about you’, ‘I don’t like that about you’.
Patience: as leaders we need to be able to be with what is right here, right now so we can respond wisely and creatively to change, developing our capacity to respond, rather than merely be dominated by our propensity to react. It’s about noticing impatience and pausing, relaxing, taking a breath and another one, allowing space for us to apply our leadership with wisdom.
Non-striving, non-doing, non-wanting: allowing things to be in our awareness without needing to do anything. Non-striving is a crucial attitude that we bring to what we do as leaders.
Kindness: the quality of openness, friendliness, curiosity, care, warmth and love. We do not need to fabricate it or make it happen. It’s already present, intrinsic in our human capacity. As leaders, kindness can enable us to care for ourselves and to see and hear our team members, colleagues and clients fully, building psychological safety.
Trust: as leaders, trust involves bearing the discomfort of not knowing and being able to navigate ambiguity, of staying open and curious to what may arise and not pre-empting, judging or knowing.
Compassion: arises when we have the courage to willingly engage with our pain, difficulty and suffering, and that of others. In our leadership, compassion enables us to sit with our colleagues’ and our own experience – including their suffering – with openness, kindness and curiosity, without needing to fix or solve anything. Compassion can be confused with (self-) pity, sentimentalism or horrified anxiety.
Acceptance: is not passive – as leaders we need to learn to turn towards our experience with openness, curiosity, kindness and compassion. It’s about relaxing into it without feeling overwhelmed by or hardening against it. Accepting is an active act, it is the willingness to allow and engage with our experience as it is.
Humility: to be humble is to be human; to show humility as a leader is to recognise that we are flawed and imperfect, to acknowledge our qualities and shortcomings. Being humble is not being subservient. To be humble means to be able to recognise our mistakes and to learn from them (growth mindset) with kindness versus getting caught up in negative emotion and self-judgment.
Authenticity: being authentic as a leader means knowing our deepest values, what most matters to us, how we want to show up in the world, in our home, work and social life. To be authentic is to have the courage to be who we are and not to pretend to be something else. To be authentic means being able to be vulnerable, to be seen by others without shame or guilt.
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We will leave you with some words by David Whyte:
“One of the marvellous things a leader can do is to invite the hidden parts of a person out into the world with all its difficulty and all its qualities versus reducing the people we work with to a narrow professional identity”. (From Conversational Leadership Seminars, David Whyte, April 2021).