A leader’s habits and behaviors have a significant impact on the engagement and effectiveness of their followers. In fact, at least 10 of the 12 core elements of engagement identified by Gallup in the book First, Break All the Rules, are directly or indirectly dependent on the leader’s behaviors and habits.
Good leaders plan ahead, prioritize and act with forethought and focused purpose. His or her day may start with a plan, schedule and prioritized to-do list but inevitably, crises emerge, new issues arise, customers demand attention, etc. No matter how diligently one plans, other urgent matters can quickly take over leaving even the most effective leader overwhelmed.
Exceptional leaders also pay attention to the things around them and are able to quickly adapt as circumstances and people change. Leaders with this awareness and ability to adjust to their organization’s needs, especially those of its people, will undoubtedly increase engagement in the organization. These skills require paradoxical abilities of open awareness, careful choices and singular focus.
A great visionary leader regularly pictures his or her preferred future, whether its hitting a certain financial milestone or selling the business to its employees, for example. Doing so can make them incredibly effective at setting strategies for the future. However, this future focus can also cause leaders to miss critical present-day issues that require a response. Effective leaders must practice an openness to and awareness of the present while continuing to work towards that preferred state.
In order to balance the paradox of responding to present needs while creating the preferred future, choices must be made. A good choice begins with having an awareness of the conditioned responses to the stimuli bombarding the leader. If he or she has the ability to stop and think of the desired future outcome prior to responding, he or she is more likely to choose a response that moves the organization toward the preferred future. Unfortunately, far too often the instinctive response given is one that addresses the issues NOW and won’t necessarily move the organization forward. It takes real imagination and sometimes restraint, to choose a response that is beyond our internal instincts.
In order to make real progress, consistent actions must immediately follow the thoughtful choice because only then will the organization move toward the imagined preferred future. Just like whatever the ultimate choice is, these actions are often neither instinctive nor conditioned. Rather, these actions should follow the processes and procedures in place to provide consistently throughout the organization. Again, thoughtful discipline is required to focus on these new actions and steps.
Mastering this paradox requires the mental discipline of controlling one’s thoughts in a mindful way which is easier than it sounds. First, we must have an honest and healthy self-awareness of our thoughts. Secondly, it takes creative imagination to see both a different preferred future as well as determine what new actions can help make that future a reality. Finally, a strong mental discipline is required to overcome instinct and conditioning that if followed, could return the organization to past, less desired outcomes.
In recent years, business leaders have become more in tune with the ideas and practices of mindfulness. These practices can lead to more awareness of the current environment, more imaginative futures and an increase in disciplined actions that will move the organization forward further faster.
Developing the skill of addressing current issues while keeping the preferred state in mind takes understanding and practice. Reading a few articles or attending a seminar is helpful but does little good in the long-run if behaviors don’t change.
Be more aware. Imagine a better future. Take disciplined actions to bring that imagination into reality.
This article was originally published in the Quarter 3 edition of The Digest, a publication presented by BATC-Housing First Minnesota.