Mindful Leadership in a VUCA World

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In my last article on the VUCA Proof© leader, I made the case that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective towards this purpose, leaders must be extraordinarily bold, rising above the distractions of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA) to inspire others. Yet, embracing boldness as a leader is only part of the equation, as a strength overdone becomes a weakness.

Perhaps, you have met an “overly bold” leader. Someone whose vision was so far ahead of the rest of the team, they had a hard time gaining buy-in during execution. Or maybe, they challenged others so intensely to attain their vision, they burned out even their most ardent supporters (or themselves) along the way. For boldness to be effective, it needs a counterweight. Mindfulness is the Yin to the Yang of boldness.

Mindfulness

You may think, “Oh no, not another mindfulness article!” For some, the word mindfulness conjures up images of yogis meditating on a pillow, and it’s “too far out there” for them to practically access. So, please allow me to break this down in the most tangible way possible. Mindfulness is about training your attention. For a VUCA Proof© leader, mindfulness is about training your attention to cut through chaos, so you can notice what’s going on and deeply understand the impact of your leadership initiatives. Let’s look at these components in greater detail.

Cutting through chaosIt’s No Longer Optional – In a world of information overload and multitasking, a leader’s attention is their most precious asset. One might think of attention as the currency of leadership, just like in your wallet or purse you have a finite amount of money you have available to spend. How you spend it is largely a function of your values/needs, and how a leader “spends” attention reflects their priorities. Unfortunately, in today’s VUCA world, it’s easy for leaders to spend their attention on distractions. Mindfulness is no longer optional; it is now a critical leader behavior.

Hand in waterGetting Beneath the Surface – With deliberately focused attention, the leader can dig deeper to see and to hear what might go on in their environment. Think of your daily workflow as moving like a fast-paced stream. The water is rushing by, and from the banks, you can see rocks and how they are affecting flow. Now, you take your hand and place it in the water. Immediately, you notice new information. The water is cooler and deeper than you expected. You also notice there is a strong undercurrent down about two feet. Similarly, leaders leverage mindfulness to observe, feel, sense, and think about what’s going on inside them and around them.

connectionsSeeing connections – With fresh information to work with, a mindful leader can practice greater curiosity and empathy. They might notice the VP of Sales sounded a little down on the call today and get curious about how he is holding up after almost three straight weeks of traveling. They may then remember he has a 5-year-old daughter at home, who has likely also been affected. Or a leader might notice their own frustration around why Project X hasn’t made more progress in recent weeks, only to realize they haven’t done a great job communicating expectations for certain milestones. Having connected the dots, the leader now has greater choice as to what leadership actions will increase their influence and produce results.

Yet, like boldness, mindfulness does not just happen to us one day; it’s a behavior that must be practiced and embodied. To be a mindful leader, here are a few things to keep top of mind:

  1. Be Your Own Intervention – VUCA typically has us thinking about past events and anticipating the future. To get oneself in a fully present state requires an intervention! We need to interrupt our thinking and quiet the mind. For many, the best way to do this is through a micro-meditation that focuses one’s attention on your breath and/or our body. Sometimes, a short mantra can help. As an example of all three techniques, here is Deepak Chopra’s “go-to” 3-minute meditation to get focused.
  2. Make Curiosity a Habit – Once you are well practiced at quieting your mind on demand, you will have the space to practice authentic curiosity — questioning your observations in an open, honest, and non-judgmental way. For better introspection, this is a solid list of 13 questions every leader should have on hand and reflect on daily. However, mindfulness is also about what’s going on for others, and great leaders’ check in often with their people to test assumptions. Here is also a great list of 7 questions every leader should keep in their back pocket to better understand the impact of their leadership on others.
  3. Commit to Consistency – 10 minutes a day…at a minimum, that’s what it takes to increase your mindfulness (1). Just like heading to the gym, you must put in the work to build new muscle. Create the conditions for consistency. Perhaps, you start your day with 5 minutes of meditation and then 5 minutes of reflection on “questions of the day” (before looking at your email). A little discipline goes a long way, and over time, it will become easier. Finally, there is great new technology you can use to support a mindfulness practice. If you haven’t yet heard of Headspace, it’s a great app that helps to make meditation and mindfulness a habit.

I invite you to bring more mindfulness to your leadership. In doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for greater success and moving toward what I call a VUCA Proof© leadership style. Interested in learning more about what it means to be a VUCA Proof© leader? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a mindful, more VUCA Proof© leadership style? Simply download the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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“Soft Power” – Leading Without Authority

Bear FaceHave you ever tried leading a person or a group without any formal authority to fall back on? For many, this is one of the greatest leadership challenges we might face. Without the traditional “carrot or stick” to help get things done, we can feel powerless and limited in our ability to influence. Yet, some people seem to thrive in these situations and we admire their ability to still get things accomplished. I call this demonstration of applied emotional intelligence—leveraging “soft power.” So what are the secrets of “soft power” and how can we use it to accomplish both individual and team objectives? Here are three ideas to consider.

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  1. Give Power to Others. When working in groups where the formal power dynamics are flat, it is important to recognize that everyone is subconsciously “racking and stacking” one another and creating their own personal hierarchy. This evolutionary process is deeply ingrained within all humans and allowed us to organize ourselves for survival. Expect that there will be power plays as group members test to see where they fit in the group. Instead of allowing these dynamics to naturally unfold, tactfully intervene and try to facilitate a space where everyone’s voice gets heard. Rather than leading with your opinion, ask for input from others and encourage quieter voices to speak up. Insist on mutual respect for all team members. In creating a space for power to be shared, others will trust in you more and naturally give you an informal leadership role.

Create Space to Listen Deeply

2. Actively Listen. When we hold formal authority, we are frequently directing and telling others what needs to be done in order for the team to be successful. Thus, managers tend to get really good with their directing skills, often to the neglect of practicing their listening skills. In a power flat relationship, it is the better listener who will assume leadership. Use techniques like mirroring back what you heard and asking meaningful questions to gain further clarification. When others feel you are a great listener, they are more likely to trust you and hence give you referent power, which is the highest base of power a leader can access.

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3. Serve & Synergize. In power flat relationships, the synergistic details that lead to better teamwork can often be neglected as everyone stays in their personal lanes of responsibility. To be seen as a leader in a team, hunt down the resources that everyone knowingly needs, but no one finds the courage or the time to make a priority. Or perhaps you might seek out the management/stakeholder feedback needed to make the team work better, and then act as a liaison in making the team more aware. Make it your priority to help others succeed. These small acts of service will increase your value to the team and others will intuitively begin to seek out your leadership.

Leading a team without formal authority can often feel like a daunting challenge. Yet, when we smartly recognize the group dynamics at play and practice the use of “soft power,” we provide the leadership necessary to achieve results. The next time you are leading without formal authority, try using some of the above ideas to influence others… you might be surprised at how persuasive you can become!

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

Leaders…Go Bold or Go Home!

Do you consider yourself a bold person? For some, a certain pride comes with identifying themselves as “being bold.” Boldness is different, it’s daring, and it requires courage. For similar reasons, others purposely shy away from self-identifying as a bold person. To them, boldness is unnecessarily “rocking the boat,” it’s risky, and it lacks humility. Before we go on, I invite you take a moment to assess your level of boldness. Where might you place yourself on a continuum of boldness?

Now, I have another question for you….what level of boldness is appropriate for practicing effective leadership?

Many people will say, “that’s situationally dependent, because in certain cases, a leader needs to be bolder than in others.” To which I would offer a bold (albeit respectful), “Bullcrap!”

We are talking about exercising leadership here! You may recall, from my previous article, where I described how the purpose of leadership is to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. Such an undertaking, regardless of the situation, requires unprecedented boldness. This is especially pertinent to today’s business environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA). Consider the following:

  • It’s a Matter of Risk – There is always a risk in championing change, as every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it is experiencing. There will always be stakeholders that have a vested interest in keeping things exactly how they are. Yet, our VUCA world guarantees change is eminent; whether leadership is proactive about it or not is the only question. A lack of bold leadership ensures the forces of mediocrity will prevail until change eventually consumes and overwhelms us.
  • It’s a Matter of Visibility – Like getting caught in a storm while at sea, finding your way through our noisy, cluttered, and chaotic world can be challenging. The timid leader’s small ideas and objectives similarly get lost in disorder. Conversely, a bold leader’s ideas act as a lighthouse, cutting through the storm and getting noticed by those seeking shelter. Without first gaining their followers’ attention, there will be no leadership.
  • It’s a Matter of Motivation – Followers won’t buy into half-hearted visions that fail to challenge and inspire. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is especially true in our VUCA world, which exacerbates feelings of inadequate purpose and meaning. Followers need a bold leader who pushes them to bring forth their potential in a significant way.

Yet, boldness does not just happen to us one day; it’s a behavior that must be practiced and embodied over time. To be a bold leader, here are a few daily practices to keep top of mind:

  1. Know Thyself – Most people will only “stick their neck out” when they are reasonably confident it won’t get chopped off. Thus, leaders are well served in continuously reassessing their individual gifts and personal challenges. It’s far easier to be bold when playing to our strengths, and consciously mitigating our known weaknesses.
  2. Speak Your Truth – Bold leaders aren’t overly worried about how they may be judged, and they don’t withhold their opinions because they “might piss some people off.” However, this doesn’t mean they overpower with opinionated impudence. Instead, it means bringing their voice into the room with a respectful yet assertive poise.
  3. Embrace Vulnerability – Let’s face it, with bold action, there will always be a risk of failure. Learn first to accept this fact—then embrace it. By embrace it, I mean actively lean into it. Make it a part of your journey every time to push yourself and others to new heights. Know that setbacks are inevitable and celebrate the learning opportunity that results. When we adopt a mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Forward,” we are more apt to exercise bold leadership.

 

I invite you to bring more boldness to your leadership. In doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for greater success and moving toward what I call a VUCA Proof© leadership style. Interested in learning more about what it means to be a VUCA Proof© leader? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a bolder, more VUCA Proof©, leadership style? Simply download the VUCA Proof© 1-Day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

Are You a “VUCA Proof” Leader?

Attention all leaders out there. It’s a new year and I imagine you have some audacious goals already lined up for you and your team. You probably have a strategic plan by now, and you intuitively know that exercising leadership will be imperative to getting things accomplished. In this light, I have an important question to ask you….

After 20+ years of studying leadership, personally leading teams, and helping Fortune 500 leaders to effectively do the same, I’ve come to a few of my own conclusions that I’d like to share with you.

First, I should highlight that the words management and leadership often are conflated together. The purpose of management is clear, to increase efficiency through enhancing control over one’s environment. The purpose of leadership, however, is more up for debate. I believe leadership exists to disrupt one’s environment for the better. In this regard, the purpose of leadership then is to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results.

Yet, given this purpose, there has never been a more difficult time to be a leader. Today’s executives must learn to compassionately disrupt in an already highly Volatile, Complex, Uncertain, and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. We’re talking about leading change in a world where predictability and control are limited. Pushing individuals outside their comfort zones and taking them to their edge when they are already overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. Leaders today must learn to challenge followers to the highest levels of performance without breaking them (or being broken by them). For many years now, we’ve relied on a heroic leadership model to do this work, yet times are clearly changing.

So how should one adapt to effectively lead today? While no one approach works for every leader in every environment, there’s been a shift in the last several decades from heroic, authoritative, command and control approaches to more collaborative and adaptive methods. This hasn’t been some egalitarian impulse by leaders to more fully empower their people as some might argue, but rather a product of necessity. To be effective today, leaders realize that they need to be more strategic, flexible, and balanced. In essence, they’re learning to VUCA Proof© their leadership style.

What then does it take to VUCA Proof© one’s leadership style? It starts with critically looking at yourself and then building greater individual capacity in three critical behaviors: being more passionate, bold, and mindful.

1.      Be Passionate – Inspiring change requires a transfer of energy, and if one is to transfer inspirational energy to others, they must be inspired themselves. The more passionate the leader, the more inspirational they become to others who share similar ideals.

2.      Be Bold – As Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Leadership requires us to boldly challenge followers by walking with them to edge of possibility, and acknowledging our own vulnerabilities along the way.

3.      Be Mindful – Most people practicing leadership are in positions of authority, and with authority one can easily become self-absorbed. Effective leaders today must practice empathy and compassion to a greater extent than in the past, constantly seeking out ways to serve others before self.

Once you’ve built a strong foundation in these behaviors, then you can apply them at the team and organizational level. Importantly, these behaviors intersect with one another, to form three critical competencies for effective leadership in a VUCA environment: Alignment, Activation, and Attunement.

1.      Passion + Mindfulness = Alignment – An Aligned leader understands themselves and how they may best serve their environment. By being aware of what they stand for, what their value is, and where they fit in the world, they are more prepared to communicate their vision and make decisions in a turbulent VUCA world.

2.      Passion + Boldness = Activation – In a constantly changing VUCA world, being too comfortable can lead to a rapid demise (here’s 30 examples of companies struggling with VUCA who may disappear in 2017). An Activated leader abhors mediocrity, avoids safety, and inspires others with challenges. They know what it will take to achieve their leadership purpose, and they help others to boldly push beyond the boundaries of what is possible.

3.      Mindfulness + Boldness = Attunement – Perhaps the biggest shift leaders must make from a heroic leadership style is towards greater attunement. An Attuned leader recognizes the emotional impact of new initiatives on followers and others. They “feel” where there are pain points and opportunities to strengthen relationships. Most importantly, they care enough to make bold acts of compassion that keep people motivated during adversity.

So the question now becomes…how VUCA Proof© are you? Truth be told, when I first started leading, it was mostly a command and control world and I was a heroic style leader. My own transformation to a more VUCA Proof© style was born out of necessity, in order to meet the needs of the changing world around me. If you or your team is interested in walking a similar path, contact me directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn more about VUCA Proof© team training and personal coaching programs.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without authorized consent of the author.

How to Inspire Others by Finding Your Passion

Inspiration.

This seemingly benign word has confounded me for over a decade now. Long ago, I intuitively understood it to be the “secret sauce” of leadership. Yet, figuring out how one becomes more inspirational was not an easy task. For years I focused on accentuating certain behaviors like credibility, accountability and self-less service. I then concentrated on building skills like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and executive presence. Though I still believe these are important factors in inspiring followers, I now consider one factor to be above all others. At its core, inspiration is a transfer of energy, and if one is to transfer inspirational energy to others, they must be inspired themselves.

The question then becomes “how does a person find their own inspiration?” I think the answer lies deeper, as inspiration stems from one’s passion. Now I am not talking about a having a passion for woodworking or knitting, I’m referring to the internal energy that drives all acts of leadership in the world. We all have beliefs of what is right, good and fair. When we observe the world around us and see various disconnects, we experience a tension between what is and what should be. Leaders are the rare individuals who feel passionate about closing those gaps and are compelled to act. The more passionate the leader, the more inspirational they become to others who share similar ideals.

Think of your passion, as a leader, as something acting like a virus does in the human body. It’s infectious and contagious. Either you are contaminating others with low energy that brings them down, or you are infecting them with a healthy dose of passion, which inspires them to be more and do more. Moreover, the impact of your passion is far reaching. Once your immediate circles become exposed, they spread your level of passion to others (for better or for worse).

In his book, “Subtle Energy: Awakening the unseen forces of our lives,” Dr. William Collinge describes how people can feel your energy as much as three feet apart from one another. We’ve all felt this before. We walk into a formal meeting, feel the anxiety or fear present, and we personally become guarded. Or we begin to interact with an optimistic colleague whose smile and enthusiasm causes us to have a little extra bounce in our step for the rest of the day. Leaders should understand that the energy that we bring to our environment is often returned back to us.

One of my favorite examples of this phenomena in action occurred during Game 7 of the 2016 National Basketball Association Finals. With the series tied at three games apiece and the final minutes winding down, Lebron James’ will to win made the difference. In what’s now known as “the block that saved Cleveland,” James covered 88 feet at a speed of 20 mph, and then elevates 11.5 feet in the air to stop an easy layup for Golden State. His passion was undeniable, and it inspired his team to another level of effort that changed the course of the game and ultimately secured the championship for the Cavaliers.

If it is passion that inspires, what then are you personally passionate about? I offer a few thoughts below on how you can find your passion and exhibit more leadership.

  1. Know Your Values – Clarification of your values enables you to take a stand in the world. Yet, as an Executive Coach, I am amazed how many times I come across seasoned leaders who have little conscious awareness as to what they value. If you can’t name your top three personal values right now, I offer you invest 5 minutes in this free assessment to gain some insight (Barrett Values Centre Personal Values Assessment)
  2. Find Your Fire – There’s a reason passion is associated with romance. Passion exists first where there is a spark with someone else. After a few dates, that spark might ignite a flame of desire. Given the right conditions, that flame becomes a raging fire, and causes sustained drive to be with that person for a long-term relationship. Pay attention to your sparks. When do you feel that flame ignite in your belly? Perhaps you read an article and realize “this is a cause I care deeply about!” Or maybe you notice a problem at work and say to yourself “this isn’t right, we need to fix it!” Once you find your fire, you can burn brightly in the world.
  3. Inventory Peak Moments – We all come to this world with unique gifts. Sometimes we find ourselves leveraging those gifts to our highest potential, what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “Flow.”  When we find this intersection of natural talent and enjoyment from the challenge of getting better at a skill, we feel alive, energized, and inspired. To take inventory of your peak moments, think about the last task you performed, where you lost track of time. When you became so consumed by it that you forgot to eat or voluntarily gave up sleep to accomplish it. Then reflect on why you were experiencing these feelings. The intent is to bring awareness to where else we find this energy in our lives.

To sum up, the world needs your leadership! My hope is that you find your passion, take the lead, and inspire action in making the world a better place.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Contact David directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn more about how LGG’s practical training and coaching solutions help transform managers into highly impactful leaders.)

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all of this content is prohibited without authorized consent of the author.