Mindful Leadership – Part II

Most leaders report that over time, they lose the roots that connected them to their values and passions.  Like the experiment in which the frog does not feel the gradual rise in the temperature of the beaker and eventually dies, leaders slowly lose their values and authentic selves.  As they rise in the organization, they gain more power, status, and wealth.  The external world surrounding them rewards outward signs of success and wealth.  The social fabric that once judged them on who they were and held them accountable now gives them a pass.  They are treated in special ways and are exempt from the normal codes of behavior that others are judged by.  Their sense of self-worth is validated through their status, power, and wealth.  In addition, the excessive time spent at work with colleagues and the addiction to stay connected to work-related issues blurs and destroys the healthy work versus home separation required to recompose and build resonance.  In private rooms and confidential conversations, it is not unusual for me to witness depression, addiction, burn out, tears/despair, broken lives, extreme loneliness, and spiritual and emotional bankruptcy.

The road to recovery is a slow and deliberate journey.  It starts with the leader surrendering and admitting that he or she is unfulfilled and asks for help.  This seems obvious.  However, many have practiced the art of deceiving themselves and others.  Their public persona shouts confidence, positivity, and inspiring leadership.  The ego that is now addicted to the worldly signs of success resists interventions aimed at change –  change that may require more time and focus away from work and working hard to build real, rewarding, and longer-term relationships – which can get them back to their core values, principles, and authentic selves that made each special.  The ego will demand status quo and create fears of being left behind, losing privilege, or losing the attention of powerful people.   Bill, the leader described in Part I of this posting finally admitted that he was unfulfilled and on the verge of a breakdown.

The next step requires the leader to engage in a disciplined process of self-reflection and examination in order to achieve meaningful insights.  Bill committed to our every two week, one hour session, and to calling me on an unscheduled basis if needed.  He committed to regular reflection and introspection, and to talk openly with his wife about his fears and insecurities, and to ask her to remind him of the person she had married to help him create conditions that would rekindle their original connection.

The leader must be ready to look at different perspectives and competing agendas and to make trade-off decisions that will better align them to their core.  Bill declared his working hours to his colleagues.  He told them that unless there was a real emergency, he would not be returning their emails or phone calls during the weekend or while on vacation.  He encouraged his team to do the same.  He spoke to his supervisor and explained that while he realizes that cutting back on travel may have consequences for his career, he was willing to take that risk.  Bill told him that he thought spending more time at home and using technology rather than in-person trips may actually improve his productivity and creativity.  To Bill’s surprise, his supervisor told him that it was his call and he would be judged as anyone else at year-end based on results, and not how he got there.

Finally, the leader must commit to practicing the new behaviors and to ask for help if he has difficulty following the regiment.  Real learning occurs only if it is practiced.  The brain literally creates budding neuro pathways for the new behaviors.  The new pathways compete with well established routines that have been long rewarded and therefore easier for brain to access.  It is only through repeated practice and reinforcement by the leader’s support system that these new behaviors take more permanent and sustainable form.  Bill and I talked regularly to focus on his progress, emotional barriers to practicing his new self, and ways to normalize the enormous challenges inherent in achieving longer-term behavioral change.  Bill’s wife was enormously helpful in providing emotional support, as well as guiding him to rediscover his authentic self, which was what had made him so attractive to her when they had first met.

Leaders are human.  They enter the work environment with inordinate passion, creativity, and purpose.  As leaders rise in their organizations, it is critical that they find support systems that regularly help them remember their core values and the unique gifts that led to their success. They remind her of who she is and what she stands for.  They provide a safe environment for her to share her vulnerabilities, hopes, and fears. They hold up a mirror that reflects how others see her, and they champion her as she tries challenging new behaviors that will fulfill her and make her a balanced and inspiring leader.


Questions for Online Conversation:

  1. Have you or others you know gone through the journey described in this two part series?
  2. What was it like?
  3. How did you address it?

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 II

  1. Matt Barrett says:

    This is a great post! Working hard in an organization can be an extremely rewarding experience. But no job or organization can feed every passion you have. The challenge is finding time to feed the values and passions that your organization doesn’t feed. One thing I do is go to a philosophy discussion group that meets once a week. In exchange for 90 minutes of my time on a Tuesday evening, I cultivate the philosopher within myself and meet interesting people from all different backgrounds. Enriching this part of myself gives me more energy to put into my work.

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