Mindful Leadership – Part I

DalaiLamaI work with educated, sophisticated, well-travelled, and experienced leaders.  Many lead large groups of people and achieve amazing results.  However, I consistently notice that they expend significant portions of their energy on leadership at the work place, and minimize or outsource the role in their personal lives.  Many profess that their passion and the way they assess their sense of self-worth is related to the welfare of their families and their role/contributions to it, and fostering deep and long-term relationships are paramount to their happiness and well-being.  However, when the conversation focuses on energy expended or commitment to success in these areas, it becomes obvious that their actions don’t necessarily support their words. By and large, they have scant knowledge of child psychology/development, and they spend little time reading and becoming more accomplished in human relations and powerful conversations.  Many see areas relating to emotional and social competency as important, but they are areas they may compromise given their busy lives and work commitments.

I recently spoke to the spouse of a leader as part of the interviews I was conducting in order to coach him.  He told me that his family is the reason he works so hard and wants to succeed. He wants to provide for them and ensure that he shares a long and prosperous life with his wife, described as his long-time sweetheart.  Not so surprisingly, I had expected that his wife would describe him as a rare example of a C-suite executive with the ability to leave work behind when he entered the house; someone who was present and mindful during their time together; aware of what is important to her and the children.  I had visualized that he would go out of his way to make her and the children feel special, notice the little things that she did on a day-to-day basis to support him and his family, and show appreciation and do things that would in return really lift her spirit and be important to her.  In fact, I found out that my client could not turn off work and was absorbed by it.  His wife told me that she is often frustrated by his poor listening skills.  “Sometimes, I feel like I have to shake him on the shoulder to get him to be with us…”  She felt there was no separation for him between work and home, and felt like most of his colleagues at work were with them in their house every night.  “He talks and obsesses about them as if they are members of our family, and knows more about them than he knows about me and the children.  I can’t help feeling like we are taken for granted…”  She admitted that he does all of the nice formalities – holiday, birthday, Valentine’s, and anniversary presents and cards.  However, they felt to her like rituals since his conversations and level of curiosity were superficial.  He seemed not to care how she really felt or what it was like for her to juggle and balance the multiple areas of their life.  He seemed to outsource their family and friends to her and to follow suit, rather than being an engaged partner with her.  Not surprisingly, she told me that his teenage son only told him what he wanted to hear – how well he was doing in athletics, how popular he was, etc… Their elementary school-age daughter would not even bother to talk to him about anything of substance and saw him as an easy target for funding things she wanted to buy.  Both thought it was “cool” that they had a rich dad, as it made it easier for them to achieve social status in their schools.

As the coaching progressed and he started to trust me, he revealed that he felt lonely and unfulfilled.  He does not really open himself up to anyone because most of his time is spent at work, and he does not trust his colleagues with his vulnerabilities.  He said that he did not feel “whole” because he expends great physical, psychic, and emotional energy on work and on his team, but every time he feels like he is accomplishing something or getting close to someone, things within the organization change. The organization is re-organized, a project is changed or discontinued, or people are leaving or coming into the organization. This leaves him empty and he feels like he is on a treadmill that keeps on getting faster and faster, but not leading to anywhere.  He then starts to regurgitate what he could do, why certain things happen, and why so-and-so said this or that, and he just cannot turn it off when he gets home.  He told me there is just not enough of him left for his family.  “It’s not that I don’t care or love them.  They are my whole world.  I just feel like there is nothing left.  I just can’t get the gremlins from work to stop talking…”

I wish he was the only one, or just one of the few.  Sadly, this leader represents the norm at this level in an organization.  The advent of electronic gadgets such as smart phones and tablets has only exasperated the extent to which my clients feel unanchored and out of balance. They are reliving the past or planning the future, but never really being present with their “whole” self.  They are failing as leaders in the most important arenas of life – being a father, a partner to their spouses, using their skills and presence to make a difference in the world, and serving as role models to those with less privilege, education, social capital, and influence. 

In the next posting I will share my thoughts about the work leaders need to do to get reconnected to their values and core essence.  I will update you on the work that the leader discussed in this blog is doing to rediscover his “whole self”.


 Questions For On-Line Conversation:

  1. How would you coach the leader discussed in this blog?
  2. What are you doing to reconnect with your values and whole self?
  3. Do you have examples or stories that can provide further insights?

About Kaveh Naficy
Kaveh is the leader of Heidrick and Struggles executive coaching practice in North America. Kaveh focuses on working with leaders placed to make transformational and creative changes in their organizations. Kaveh has a proven record of success in harnessing the strengths of these leaders to achieve accelerated business solutions. He is able to create significant insights through reflective thinking, presence, and disciplined follow-through. Executives who have worked with Kaveh say that his strengths are his deep insights into the realities of the current and future business world, accelerated scanning of the environment and competition; creative out of the box thinking, and leveraging the collective intelligence of their teams and creating the organizational culture to support and foster the appropriate organizational design and strategies. They also point their deep trust and personal connectivity with Kaveh, his coaching approach, and style.

One Response to Mindful Leadership – Part I

  1. Matt Barrett says:

    This is such a rich post! One of the things that really spoke to me is the importance of being present. I find in my work life, I make less mistakes and solve more problems when I’m not distracted by worries regarding the past and present. In my personal life, there’s no question that presence makes life better. And a better personal life leaves me feeling more refreshed and ready for work. Recently, I started spending a minimum of an hour every day meditating by silently saying “Peace” to myself as I breathe in and repeating it as I breathe out; so far this is really helping me.

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