With the mainstreaming of meditation and mindfulness practices, a yoga studio on almost every corner, and the growing popularity of “wisdom-based business” (think Wisdom 2.0), our professional lives intersect with our personal (and sometimes even spiritual) lives more and more. Buzz words like “authenticity” and “consciousness” find their way into business meetings and leadership trainings—usually with the best of intentions and positive results.
I get it. I can be as “woo woo” as the next California native. In fact, I LOVE that some of these practices, many of them with ancient eastern roots, are becoming a part of our western culture and lexicon. But what does it really mean to incorporate mindfulness and conscious business practices into our day-to-day lives? If you are doing it to make more money, you’ve already missed the boat.
One of the ways we can be better leaders, in fact, maybe even “better” human beings, is to practice values-based leadership. Values-based leadership starts with defining what is important to us and then doing our very best to ensure that our daily actions are in alignment with our priorities.
For example, kindness is a core value that I hold very dear. When I am moving about my day and I feel the pull of agitation or experience a negative reaction to someone, I try to pause and shift my perspective. What is really behind my reaction? Am I wanting something to be different than it is? Is there room to view the object of my annoyance with compassion? And why should I do this anyway? Why should I even care?
The cold hard truth about striving to become a kinder, more respectful, more compassionate human being did not come about because I woke up one day and thought, “Hey, I think I’ll focus on being nice.” No. I strive to be kind because when I treat others with kindness and respect, I feel better about myself. My inner critic quiets down. I sleep better. And guess what? The people around me seem to suddenly become nicer, too.
Well, that’s all fine and good, you might be thinking, but I have a business to run, employees to supervise, and keeping people “in line” is part of my job. Yes. Yes it is. And, you can have difficult, and even painful conversations, while still treating others with kindness and respect. Here are a few tips:
Prepare for a difficult conversation by quieting your mind. Take a few minutes to breath and settle yourself. Notice any agitation or negativity. Be curious about it. And then let it go.
Share your observations with clarity: “I noticed that when Shara disagreed with your position in the meeting today the volume of your voice became louder as you tried to make your point.” Be objective. Don’t blame, shame, or call names.
Assume that others are acting with good intentions. Most of us do the best we can with the tools and information we have. An easy way to build this practice into our daily conversations is to ask “What was your good reason for (fill in the blank)” as opposed to “Why did you…” It’s a subtle shift, but asking for the good reason behind an action demonstrates your assumption of good intentions whereas a “why” can set us up for a defensive response.
And just one more. Because it’s my favorite.
Don’t gossip. Period. Dishing about someone, whether true or not, can be tempting and seem harmless. But, in fact, it’s one of the most destructive relational behaviors we can engage in. It is hurtful to the person we are gossiping about, damages our own credibility, and erodes the trust of others. Let’s make a pact to pay attention to those times when we are tempted to talk about someone who is not in the room. Usually the impulse to do so comes from a (misguided) effort to build relationship with another, or to try to elevate our own sense of self worth. There are better ways to do this.
We can all become more conscious business leaders, more mindful executives, by practicing values-based leadership. And you don’t have to be perfect to do it. I have what I call “aspirational” values. This means that I aspire to incorporate these values into all aspects of my life, but in practice I often fall short. Way short. Yes, I still get grumpy with my kids when I’m tired. I might let an off-the-cuff comment slip out about someone’s unusual wardrobe choice. But that’s OK. I just try to do better the next time. And if I need to apologize, I do. Each day I work to align myself more closely with my aspirational values. Am I there yet? Not by a long shot. In the words of my ten year old daughter, I’m “flawsome.” Flawed + Awesome. How about you?