I learned a great deal from ten years of coaching senior leaders in the corporate sector including several successful and some not so successful entrepreneurs, and some politicians as well. The cross-sharing of experiences was able to help fulfill their performance potential and that of their people who benefited greatly from the transformed way of being of their respective leaders.
While leadership effectiveness depends on several competencies it is also the leader’s consciousness that is equally telling in terms of how they are able to overcome their challenges and succeed in a very volatile, complex and uncertain world.
Ichiro Kishimi a disciple of Adlerian Psychology and author of “The Courage to be Disliked” explains that at the end of the day all human problems are interpersonal relationship problems.
The one lesson that stands out prominently in all my coaching experience is that whilst leaders focus strongly on the task ahead of them, it is their people skills, the way they manage interpersonal interactions at work that ultimately makes the difference between winning and losing. The current US President and the numerous broken relationships with former members of his ‘team’ that has resulted in a sense of chaos in the world’s most powerful office are a stark reminder of the value of strong interpersonal relations. Jose Mourinho the coach of Manchester United in the English Premier League, had to be let go of because of his failed interpersonal interactions with his team.
I had written an article in The Straits Times, Singapore, some years ago titled “the business of business is people”. Nothing has changed since then and if anything, it has become even more clear that leaders need to excel at building trusted relations with their people just as much as they do with their clients.
Getting them to feel motivated and take ownership, inspired by the leader’s ability to guide and support them on their journey, giving meaning to their life with a strong sense of fulfillment is what delivers organizational success.
In the words of Henri David Thoreau, “it is not enough to be busy...the question is what are we busy about?” Most leaders are very busy often working long hours without a break, trying to squeeze every bit out of themselves in the limited time at their disposal. Yet this is their biggest challenge as they fall into the trap of fixing the urgent, taking their eyes off the important tasks that need to be addressed on a priority basis.
Most critically they do not find the time for themselves, to reflect and think about the long term, the vision and purpose of their existence. This is due to their focus on the short term, the quarterly numbers, the need for immediate results that quite often can be in conflict with their long-term goals. It is this aspect of managing the polarities, both the short term and the long term that gets in the way of effective time management which then leads to several self-limiting behaviors that get in the way of business performance.
One CEO client of mine lamented that even if there were more than 24 hours in the day he would never be able to find the time to relax and find time for himself. On the other hand, I’ve had the opportunity to work with executives like Amit Banati, President, APAC, ME and Africa at Kellog Company, who have developed the art of having time for their people and still find enough time to reflect for themselves. Their effectiveness and resultant success owe itself to a large extent on this ability to find time for the things that really matter.
Rasmus Hougaard a pioneer of Mindfulness and author of “ Óne Second Ahead’’ explains it as learning to master your attention, which is nothing but learning to master your thoughts. It has a positive impact on your physiology, mental processes, and work performance. It requires the ability to see clearly what is happening in your mind and make wise choices about where to focus your attention. This kind of open awareness allows the leader to work with clear thinking which when combined with a sharp focus on the single task at hand leads to mindfulness for o0utstanding results.
So multitasking is a thing of the past. It is not something to be proud of. It causes distraction and usually results in behavior that is on autopilot- not a great way to achieve the flow that the leader seeks in himself and his team as a way of achieving outstanding results. Mindful goal setting, positively framed, increases the chances for success and even routine activities like emails and meetings which otherwise become overwhelming can be dealt with in an effective manner. Is it any wonder that Google, one of the world’s most successful companies, has been a pioneer and a strong advocate of mindfulness, running elaborate programs for its executives to inculcate this attribute?
This is the one quality I have seen amongst many of the successful leaders I have coached. Their decision making, the choices they make, how they categorize, respond (not react) and reorient themselves to the context of the external elements they cannot control. Three critical disciplines that contribute to their stoicism are: The Discipline of Perception (how they see and perceive the world around them) The Discipline of Action (how they respond by way of behaviors in the context of external stimuli and to what end) and The Discipline of Will (how they deal with things they cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgment and come to a true understanding of their place in the world).
Singapore itself is a great example of the virtues of stoicism. Right from the time of its independence to this day, the country’s leadership has had to overcome several challenges to get the country to where it is today. How the country responds to the changing social, economic and geopolitical dynamics is a lesson in stoicism worth emulating.
By mastering the disciplines mentioned above, leaders cultivate resilience, purpose, and joy in the work they do even when faced with complex dilemmas and challenges on a daily basis. They are able to keep their emotions under control, stay calm and poised in the face of extreme provocation and find mental clarity to direct their actions properly and justly.
Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five good Roman emperors in his Meditations 9.6 refers to the Big Three disciplines of stoicism: “certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common
good in the present moment; and gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.’’
Leaders who are self-aware are able to see themselves clearly, understand who they are, how others see them, and how they fit into their organization and the world in general. There is a strong and positive co-relationship between the self-awareness of leaders, their authentic behaviors and consequently their leadership effectiveness. On the flip side, the lack of self-awareness often leads to a fall from lofty pedestals, as has been the recent case with Carlos Ghosn the ex-CEO of Renault/ Nissan.
According to accomplished leadership coach and author Dr. Tasha Ulrich, self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century. The qualities most critical for success in today’s world –things like emotional intelligence, empathy, influence, persuasion, communication, and collaboration – all stem from self- awareness. It is what makes them great team players, great relationship builders, and superior leaders.
Self-aware leaders constantly seek to be aware of their perspectives, how they show up and how it impacts others and the organization. They derive their self-esteem from the fact that they see their journey as one of continuous learning and development. They do not ignore their ignorance, seek to explore their imperfections, and how they need to recalibrate their beliefs to overcome them. They know that change comes from a lot of little things strung together and are not afraid to start the journey of transformation.
Lastly, I want to end with a quote from Carl Jung: “All the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally not solvable. They cannot be solved, but have to be outgrown. This outgrowing requires a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appears on the horizon, and through the broadening of our outlook, the insoluble problem loses its urgency. It is not solved logically on its own terms, but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.”
Leaders have to keep growing the structure of their own mind and that of their people. This new structure is what will drive performance. If you wish to take the organization to the next level, you have to change the consciousness of the people, have different conversations, conversations not had before, even change the language you speak so you can create a new way of being that will lead to new doings and new outcomes.