Mindfulness: Why It Matters For Leaders

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Is there anyone reading this who would not like to be calmer, more composed, influential and level headed, especially in difficult situations? Mindfulness can get you there.

Mindfulness is your ticket to sustained equanimity, happiness and success as a leader and a person.

What is it exactly?

At its most basic level, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight. Insight is critical for success because it is where transformative ideas, products and services get created. This is the bedrock of your organization’s success.

But mindfulness leads to more than these material results. It opens the pathway to wisdom, compassion and, dare I use the 4 letter “L” word, love. And hey, couldn’t we use more of this right now?

Why Does It Matter Now More Than Ever?

Here are just two reasons:

1. There are unlimited benefits of technology and social media but there are also staggering unintended outcomes that we are now beginning to understand more fully: Huge increases in narcissism, rapid declines in empathy and compassion, isolation, challenges in creating meaningful relationships, increased ADD and ADHD to name a few. Mindfulness practice is a powerful and fast acting antidote for these consequences and one that is available to us all for free. Leaders everywhere (formal and informal) are in a position to expand people’s awareness of this solution and of encouraging and facilitating the practice of mindfulness in the workplace where we spend so much of our time and lives.

2. We are in a time of domestic and world- wide turbulence of various kinds (political, social, economic, environmental) and this has many people emotionally triggered. When we’re triggered we are out of balance and reactive. Reactivity perpetuates animosity, fear and anxiety. If we don’t have a way of regaining and maintaining balance from the inside out, we can’t be part of the solutions for these challenges. In fact, we perpetuate them. Leaders don’t just lead strategy and execution. We set the tone emotionally for our organizations. Our teams will do as we do, act as we act and show up as we show up. Doing it mindfully is critical for setting the standards of leading with respect and integrity and compassion. This, as we have seen in countless research projects, will lead to better financial and organization performance. Subsequently, it also leads to levels of cooperation that allow for problem solving of the most profound kind for the world.

What can you do NOW?
We each have to find our pathway to mindfulness. Here are some options and resources to consider:

1. Yoga that is spiritually based not exercise based.

2. Mindful Meditation: Meditation is NOT about eliminating your thoughts. It is about catching yourself more and more quickly when you mind becomes a runaway train and returning to the moment. It is a direct retraining of the brain. The push notification tech world we are all living in has fractured our attention to the moment. Mindfulness fixes this.

a. Read or listen on YouTube to some of the great teachers to understand more (Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, Jon Kabat- Zinn)
b. Practice the old-fashioned way: sit and breathe.
c. Use Meditation apps:
Insight Timer: my favorite. The largest free library of meditations (Over 10,000) It also has talks and music and a huge base of worldwide teachers
Headspace: Good for beginners with lots of guided meditations and classes
Calm: Good for experienced meditators and also provides breathing exercises, visualization and guided sleep stories.

3. Learn from great, successful leaders who practice mindfulness and compassionate leadership like Jeff Weiner, CEO LinkedIn:

4. Gratitude Practice. Gratitude brings us into the moment instantly. I am taking a Grateful Living e-Course with Grateful Living. Org They also have a ton of other resources including e-cards to spread gratitude.

5. Attend a Wisdom 2.0 Conference. This is a fabulous gathering the focus of which is how to live with technology without it swallowing us whole. Check it out. Coming to San Francisco March 2019

To lead means to have followers. Our great responsibility and privilege as leaders is to use our leadership intentionally for the good of our teams, organizations and for the world. Every single one of us can make a difference by leading by example and becoming more mindful, present and dedicated to unlocking the potential good within ourselves and others.

Copyright 2018, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

5 Ways Experiencing Beauty Make Us Better Leaders

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It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Do you know what kind of beauty takes your breath away? What beautiful thing or experience completely captures your imagination and makes you smile from the inside out, forget time and experience pure joy?

Leadership is a tough gig and for many it can become all-consuming. In our endeavor to be the best leaders we can be we can forget to take care of ourselves. The irony is that this one act of forgetfulness can lead to a slippery slope of exhaustion, frustration and even burnout and we end up becoming the monster leader we are trying not to be.

I write often about how leadership is other-focused, and it is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deliberately and regularly take time for nurturing ourselves. In fact, the more focused we are on others and unlocking their potential and that of our teams and organizations, the more we need to tend to ourselves first so that we are grounded and balanced and, thus, able to successfully tai chi our way through the inevitable leaderships challenges we face.

One fun way to do this is to take yourself on what Julia Cameron in the book The Artist Way calls an artist date. This is a personal field trip in search of beauty that feeds your soul, brings you joy and clears the cobwebs and clutter out of your head. The one rule is that it has to be real, not virtual. You have to leave your phone and computer behind and experience something physically.

It is quite extraordinary when you do. I have a set of Harvard Classics that are from 1917 that were my grandfather’s. He died before I was born so having his books is a way of connecting with him and reminding me that my love of literature has been passed down from generation to generation. I’ve read most of them but sometimes I just take one out of the book shelf to feel the soft leather cover and the delicate gold trimmed pages, to smell the scent of the years it holds and to let myself think about the genius held within each page…Austin, James, Dostoyevsky, Balzac.

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So, whether it is nature, music, poetry, art, literature or any number of other things, seek it out at least once a week and experience the magic.

When you do, here are 5 ways the experience will make you a better leader:

  1. It will slow you down and slow down time. When you slow down you will notice people and things that you might miss when you are moving fast and going from task to task.
  2. It will get you out of the virtual world and into the real one where you actually have the possibility of experiencing things that have been around longer than you, the computer or the phone.
  3. It will refresh your mind, body and soul which keeps you in a positive state of mind. Positivity is contagious. Your team will notice and mirror that vibe and work will be more fun for everyone. This refreshment also helps keep you in balance so that your own triggers and issues don’t hijack you, spill all over others and create a hot mess that you have to clean up.
  4. It will return you to a state of wonder and possibility and guess what? This is where innovation and creativity live. Visit often!
  5. It will connect you to the universal muse of inspiration and this will provide perspective and remind you that within the beauty of the world there is so much that is bigger than the day-to-day challenges you face.

Copyright 2018, Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

 

10 Things We Must Always Require of Our Leaders

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We live in a time when the standards of behavior expected in our leaders has been eroding, when our tolerance for human foible is more pronounced than our expectation for the execution of leadership duty with honor, intelligence and sensibility.

To lead is not easy and those who choose this path need to have a visceral understanding and respect for this fact. It requires one to have wisdom and insight in equal measure about themselves as well as about the issues they face and for those whom they serve. And make no mistake, whether elected, promoted or placed into leadership, the role is  about service to others, not to oneself nor to one’s own ideas. This understanding and pledge of service is the first thing we must always expect from our leaders.

In a perfect world, leaders would hold themselves accountable to a set of admirable measures of behavior for themselves and others that bring out the best in humankind. But we do not live in a perfect world, nor are there any perfect people, so far as I know.

This means that we will falter. Leaders themselves will on occasion fail to set or meet high enough standards for themselves and in failing to do so will lower the bar for those around them and in particular, those younger and very impressionable future leaders who are always watching.

And equally so, those who follow will sometimes fail to hold their leaders accountable. We will become fatigued with having and holding our moral ground. We will get distracted by life, by death, by being human.

I believe that people are the most complex technology in the world and so in my coaching practice I like to keep tools and guidelines as simple as possible. With that in mind, here are 10 things we must always expect and require from our leaders:

  1. Tell the truth, always.
  2. Be respectful and kind and keep your word to everyone.
  3. Be humble, especially when you have the right to feel proud of yourself.
  4. Don’t let fear of failure stop you, ever.
  5. Be genuinely curious, ask questions that help people find new ways to think and lead from that state of mind, not from judgement or blame.
  6. Hold yourself and others accountable for actions and results.
  7. Convert failures into productive insights and actions quickly.
  8. Daily ask yourself, “What am I not asking, seeing or doing?”
  9. Tend to your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing regularly to be at your best and ready for any opportunity or challenge.
  10. Never forget that you, your organization, family, community, the environment and world are interconnected. Act accordingly.

Copyright 2018. Sheila Madden,  CEO, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved

Gratitude: The X Factor For Engagement

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85% of people around the world are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work. (Gallup December, 2017). The result is a $7 trillion loss in productivity worldwide. Sadly, this trend has been holding steady for more than 20 years.

It seems that everything in the world economy has changed except how leaders continue to miss the opportunity to engage people.

Gratitude: Could this possibly make a difference?

Yes.

What we desire and need as human beings in order to be engaged at work is to be respected, offered the opportunity to learn and grow and to be thanked for our contributions. Consider this:

  • Over 6 million people have watched Brother David Stendl Rast’s TED Talk on Gratitude.
  •  20,654,524 candles of gratitude have been lit from 194 countries through Brother David’s organization called A Network For Grateful Living.
  • The brightest minds in science, literature, medicine and the arts all express a deep understanding of the mystery, wonder and necessity of bringing our hearts and thankfulness to our every endeavor in order to unlock the fullness of human potential.

Indeed, we hunger for gratitude and we intuitively know that in a workplace where it is practiced, a more civilized, creative and thriving world will prevail. And yet, the research tells us that leaders worldwide are ignoring this inner wisdom and failing to engage the hearts and full commitment of their teams.

Curiosity, creativity and innovation are all human experiences that come from the integration of heart and mind. In organization life, we often forget this and we work only from the neck up, with our minds. Over-investing in rational thought and intellect is a great folly for leaders and is an epidemic in global leadership as we see from this multi-decade pattern of dismal engagement numbers. It is an approach to leadership where the primary mode of operation is believing that the mind provides the only road to solutions and results. It is an over-emphasis on tasks with not enough focus on people and expressing appreciation to those people  through which all things happen.

When we do this, we leave behind our potential genius and our ability to unlock the genius of others. The result of which is a lack of engagement and, subsequently, results that are a fraction of what they could be.

Another Program Is Not The Answer

Gratefulness is a powerful tool for building extraordinary and engaged teams. We don’t need another program to raise engagement. We need to coach leaders to lead with gratitude and reward them for doing so.

To be grateful leaders means we are paying attention to our people and to what is happening right now and to the opportunity in every moment. We are comfortable with ambiguity and, therefore, we are allowing ourselves to be surprised by ideas, people and situations. We are listening and responding. We are focused on others, not on ourselves.  We are operating with complete faith that in doing so, the results will come, and they do.

Grateful Leadership Behaviors

When we demonstrate grateful leadership we:

  1. Ask questions that help people learn to find answers as opposed to giving them the answers.
  2. We operate from a place of curiosity, not judgement.
  3. We act as catalysts and coaches to unlock potential, not as commanders and controllers to drive the execution of our own ideas.
  4.  We see ambiguity as the opportunity for innovation and for developing our confidence and that of our teams in finding the best solutions in previously unchartered waters.
  5. We never stop looking for the potential within people and every day do our best to unlock it one person at a time.
  6. We lead with reverence which exhibits itself as showing deep respect for others.
  7. We regularly thank people for their efforts.

Daily Practices To Develop Grateful Leadership Skill

Leading with gratitude is not difficult but it requires practice in order to bring the necessary balance to the dynamic between mind and heart. Here are some ways to develop your ability to lead with gratefulness:

  • Start every day being thankful that you are alive.
  • Practice paying attention to each moment and each person.
  • Every day express appreciation to your team.
  • Slow down, look around. Let the wonders of the world, be it nature, science, literature or art penetrate your heart.
  • At the end of each day write down one thing that you have done as a leader to leave the day better than it was when you entered it.
  • Subscribe to a gratitude website like A Network For Grateful Living and get daily messages that remind and inspire you.

If you want to work with these practices, try rating yourself on a scale of 1-5 (1=I don’t do this and 5= I consistently do this) on each of the 7 grateful leadership behaviors listed above. Set goals and action plans to improve. Utilize at least one of the daily practices suggested and then rescore yourself in 30, 60 and 90 days. Take note of how your practices help increase the engagement of your team and, wonderfully, your own happiness as a leader.

Sheila Madden works as an executive coaching supporting leaders in technology, healthcare, non-profits and higher education.

Copyright 2018 Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting. All Rights Reserved.

Napa Fires Offer Powerful Lesson on Leadership, Courage and Connection

 

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Napa Fire near Atlas Peak, October 2017

 

A client of mine lives near Atlas Peak in Napa. He and his family were evacuated during the horrific fires that descended upon the Napa Valley recently. When they returned to their home, miraculously, the raging fire had stopped 150 feet from his home.

A friend of his wasn’t so lucky.

My client and several friends gathered for safety at another family’s house after they had all been evacuated. One friend was devastated when he and his wife told the others that his family’s home and winery were literally in the line of fire and that he was certain their home would be lost. Their children were in the next room waiting helplessly.

My client and his friends and their families sat quietly for a while, all stunned by what was happening. The sorrow for this family’s loss was just about to consume them when my client and his buddies looked at their friend, his wife and kids and back to each other and said, “Hell, no, it isn’t going to take your house. Let’s go fight it!”

The wind was blowing at 70 mph, flames were jumping wildly across the landscape. Propane tanks were whistling and exploding without warning throughout the area. Flames shot up through unseen wells.

These men, bonded by love, friendship and a deep connection to the land, gathered with plows, chainsaws, buckets, hacksaws. They descended on their friend’s property and began to fight to put the fire out. The firefighters told them they were on their own.

They worked relentlessly and courageously into the night. The tall burning eucalyptus trees across the property rained fire down on their heads. There was no power, no cell service and no lights other than the surreal and ethereal glow coming from other homes that were on fire in the area. One of them fell into a well and when he was rescued, got right back to work, despite injury. They plowed motes to create fire breaks, they cut away burning trees and shrubs and stumps that threated to spread and destroy the home. My client was in tennis shoes and shorts. The ground was so hot it melted the bottom of his shoes, but he kept on. They carried five-gallon buckets of water in each hand and repeatedly filled and poured water onto the fire. They all continued working for many hours straight until they successfully stopped the fire.

Relieved and exhausted, they returned to the friend’s house where they had all gathered earlier in safety. They didn’t get much rest, though, as they soon found out that the fire had restarted. They returned for another several hours of battling until at last, and for certain, they had saved the home.

My client was modest and reflective as he told me this story. He said none of them thought twice about fighting the fire even though none were trained to do so. They never even considered the very real possibility of being injured. He said their anger at the fire fueled them. They refused to let it beat them. They channeled their anger in the most productive way possible. They joined together: friends, neighbors, fellow human beings. And as crazy as the experience was, he said it was a powerful experience, one of purpose and connection. In addition to saving his friend’s house, throughout the week as others were fighting to save their homes, he met neighbors whom he hadn’t met before. The “old timers” who had lived in the country for years taught him ways to protect his home and property. The tragedy created new bonds and brought a profound sense of community and shared purpose.

In the last sixty days we have witnessed an unnerving number of heart-wrenching catastrophes and we have heard similar stories of people helping others selflessly and without hesitation. I wept when I read the account of the woman in Las Vegas who held the hand of another concert goer whom she did not know, as he died. He did not die alone, she would not let him.

What is it that causes us to forget that we are inextricably connected to one another and need each other for survival in this world? It is so ironic that bias, judgement and hatred, which I believe all have their genesis in fear, fall completely away when we are scared for real, scared for our lives. Why does it take extreme situations for us to remember our common humanity and recognize the vulnerability present in every single one of us?

If there is any good that can come out of the tragedies and madness that is so pervasive right now in the U.S. and the world, perhaps it is an awareness that we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking that we are safe and that we can manage as stand-alone islands, merely co-existing with others. We cannot survive alone. We need each other, not just our families, friends and neighbors. We need each other across the globe. And not just in times of crisis. And not just because of economic and other interdependencies. I believe there is a universal soul of humanity and that soul is in desperate need of connection and of ongoing care and feeding.

Let’s be like my client and his friends in their refusal to let their buddy’s house burn down. Let’s daily make a point of showing our respect and love for others and refuse to accept anything less. Let’s look for ways to be nice, thoughtful, united and caring, especially when we disagree about issues. Let’s put our smart phones away for a while and make a point of talking to each other and building relationships. Let’s start each day with a grateful heart and intentionally share that heart with others in any way that we can. And then, let’s take measure of how it changes us. I’m betting it will be for the better. How about you?

Copyright 2017 Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

How To Lead With Valor In Turbulent Times

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Moral outrage and vehement, yet peaceful,  disagreement are necessary and legitimate responses to anyone or anything that goes against the morals and values of a civilized world. What we must be mindful of is not allowing our fight against injustice to mirror the energy and behavior of that with which we disagree. If we do, we inadvertently give what we don’t want MORE momentum.
The most effective and memorable leaders have risen powerfully against what is unjust while personally demonstrating  civility and respect for humanity. This is what shifts the momentum to what is good and just.
The characteristics of such leaders include being:
·        Principled vs self-righteous
·        Definitive vs equivocal
·        Passionate vs violent
The minute we fall into the same patterns of incivility in our protests  against the lack of civility, we have lost our power to influence change and we have inadvertently fueled the momentum of the very thing we despise.
“Hatred and fear blind us. We no longer see each other. We only see the faces of monsters, and that gives us the courage to destroy each other. Thich Nhat Hanh
Perhaps the greatest challenge of leadership is in managing our own emotional reactions to violations of human values. But when we can do so, we are able to  seize the opportunity and  respond intentionally with our thoughts, words and actions.  Leading by example for what we stand for and what we are unwilling to compromise on, even when provoked, has great power. It teaches and empowers others to do the same, and most important, it disempowers opposing forces.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller
Let us take inspiration from and stand with the great leaders, famous and not famous,  who have come before us and to those we see modeling leadership character today. The best way to show our gratitude for their brave actions that have made our world better is to do our part every day. It is not necessary to play on a huge stage. It is only necessary that we use our every word and action to demonstrate our  uncompromising devotion to a world where love prevails and where the universal operating system upon which we exist is based on the dignity of all humanity.
Copyright 2017, Sheila Madden. All Rights Reserved.

Top 5 Elements of Authentic Leadership

Sheila Madden, CEO, Madden Coaching & Consulting

“Being an authentic leader means being true to who you are and what you believe in. You understand the purpose of your leadership, and you practice your values consistently. .. It’s about leading with your heart, not just your head — so you’re leading as a whole person. And when I talk about matters of the heart, I’m referring to qualities like empathy, compassion, passion, and courage.”       Bill George, Author of  “True North”
Continue reading → Top 5 Elements of Authentic Leadership

10 Ways To Succeed As A Leader: Coach Madden’s Top 10 for 2012

Sheila Madden, CEO, Madden Coaching & Consulting

Do you ever notice that genuine leaders never stop saying “yes” to life? When good things are happening they celebrate but continue moving forward and no matter what adversity faces them, they find a way to transform it and create something good.

Fundamentally, that is what leadership is. It has nothing to do with titles, paychecks, spans of control or expectations.  It has everything to do with who someone is on the inside. It has to do with the character, creativity and promise with which they approach every single person, situation and day.
Continue reading → 10 Ways To Succeed As A Leader: Coach Madden’s Top 10 for 2012

How Extraordinary Leaders Communicate: 7 Principles of Fierce Conversations

Sheila Madden, CEO, Madden Coaching & Consulting

As I watch the staggering inability of the world’s leaders to communicate with integrity and to engage people in solving the problems we face, I am reminded of one of the best leadership books I have ever read: Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott. 

Does the word “Fierce” scare you? It shouldn’t. The lack of it is what should scare the living daylights out of you.  As defined on the book’s cover “fierce” means “robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager and unbridled.”
Continue reading → How Extraordinary Leaders Communicate: 7 Principles of Fierce Conversations