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A few thoughts on authentic leadership

5 April 2019 | , Elizabeth Granger | Mindfulness for Organisations ,

Recently we partnered with Humanity in Business to co-host a conference on Authentic Leadership where we heard from a cross section of people ranging from those of us who teach mindfulness in organisations and their clients, academics who research and teach leadership, and a number of former CEO’s who have transformed failing businesses into thriving ones.

It was a rich day and I wanted to share some of the key insights and some thoughts as the day unfolded. In particular I couldn’t help but be struck by just how foundational mindfulness is to truly authentic leadership in the following ways:

1. Start close in

Leadership begins with ourselves, - our capacity to manage others well depends on our capacity to manage ourselves – our physical, mental and emotional states. Mindfulness involves cultivating a more wise and skilful relationship with ourselves, getting to know how to work with our own minds, bodies and hearts.

2. Live your values and pay attention to when you don’t

Authentic leaders know what they stand for AND they walk their talk. It is well known how important both knowing our values and embodying them are to leadership, and yet connecting to one’s values requires a connection to ourselves first, knowing what is truly important to us as a human being, what aligns our heart and mind.

Through the self awareness cultivated with mindfulness, we also get to know and understand how it feels in those moments when we don’t act in integrity with our values. This is painful but we need to learn to work with these painful states rather than defend against them for anything to truly change.

3. Relationships matter

The other interesting piece of research is that the no 1 reason people leave their jobs is because of the relationship with their direct line manager. Not surprisingly much of leadership is about relationship. It is not just what we say in words, but how we say it, how we listen, and our actions and behaviours ie.. the presence we bring to all our interactions.

4. Creativity and vulnerability

It is also widely known that for organisations to survive today in this rapidly changing world, they need to create and innovate. And yet behind creativity sits vulnerability and uncertainty – as we go from the known to the unknown. The question then is how do we create cultures or spaces where people have the courage to bring the diversity of their ideas, and are free to fail.

5. Everyone is a treasure

And finally I was moved by some words from Mark Bilton, former CEO of Gloria Jeans, who spoke of creating a culture of honour, where everyone is truly recognised, acknowledged and valued, no matter what their role. Mindfulness is a practice of deep respect, a way of honouring ourselves, and also others, and has revealed to me that everyone is a treasure

6. What of the future?

I was so impressed with the quality of minds in the room where there was a sense of a mature understanding and pain about the challenges ahead in terms of the bigger picture that face Australia and the world at large – the issues of climate change, food security, equity and safety. The spoken and unspoken question was: where are our leaders?

Thankfully mindfulness offers us a way to work with all of these difficulties as they arise, learning how to continue to take action rather than be paralysed by the fears, to take risks and hopefully find a little more equanimity with some of the slings and arrows of life.

Is it comfortable? No. Is it bearable? Yes, - and I remind myself that these difficult moments in life are actually catalysts for growth and change.

Mindfulness and the practice of it serve us well in creating organisations and societies where people can thrive rather than survive and who knows what is possible!


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