Openness…recognition…trust…humility…accountability. Most successful leaders embody these and other key traits. But there is one trait that shines above the rest. Can you guess it?
How centered are you as a leader?
The Harvard Business Review shared results of a study by Bain and Company on the characteristics of inspirational leaders. They surveyed 2,000 people and came up with a list of over 30 key leadership traits that inspire employees. The results? Surprising, according to the article’s author.
The study found that one attribute in particular – centeredness – stood out. In fact, “Ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen as inspirational. However, there is one trait that our respondents indicated matters more than any other: centeredness.”
Bain concisely defines centeredness as “a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present.” Leaders who are centered can listen effectively, successfully relate to others, stay present in any situation, and keep calm even in stressful circumstances. Survey respondents said this behavior represented a truly inspirational leader.
The value of centered leadership is far-reaching.
As far back as 2010, a McKinsey article called How Centered Leaders Achieve Extraordinary Results asserted, “Five capabilities are at the heart of centered leadership: finding meaning in work, converting emotions such as fear or stress into opportunity, leveraging connections and community, acting in the face of risk, and sustaining the energy that is the life force of change.”
The benefits and rewards are obvious. For a moment, let’s turn to you now – as a leader and as a human being. When you think about an average day, how centered would you say you are?
Are there certain “triggers” that sometimes knock you off balance? Practice awareness for at least several weeks to watch how you respond in different situations. Consider keeping notes in a journal or using whatever method works for you to track your behavior over time. This, in turn, will help you start thinking about how you might become more centered, in leadership and in life.
Successful leaders practice mindfulness. And you can too!
Try these three practical strategies I’ve outlined for you below. The best part about this is that when it comes to mindfulness, there are no gimmicks involved to get started – no special tools or gadgets…not another app to download…no expensive workbook to buy…and you’ve got nothing to lose. Well, except maybe some excess stress and strain you’ve been holding on to!
- Use your breath. Breath is a very effective way to begin a practice of mindfulness. And you don’t need anything special to get started – except a few minutes of your time. Don’t try to force or alter it; simply be aware of each inhalation and exhalation. Just observe. That’s all. Make a habit of doing this at least once each day and notice how it becomes easier over time to be more present in those moments of noticing your breath.
- Give it your full attention. Multi-tasking drains us and leads to poor results. Whatever “it” is that you’re doing – from the most basic to more complex tasks, bring your full presence into it. What sounds simple actually takes some practice. Begin by listening to yourself and to others more astutely. How many times have you been in conversation with someone only to find your mind scattered off in various unrelated directions? Choose to quiet the inner chatter (the breath is a great way!) to give your very best to each moment.
- Make self-care a priority. You can’t give from an empty cup, so this one just makes common sense. However, too many of us are neglecting caring well for ourselves, which can lead to our bodies and minds not feeling in top form. Reframe how you think about self-care and have fun drumming up creative ways to infuse it into your daily activities. Here’s a great HBR article to get you started with 6 Ways to Weave Self-Care into Your Workday. A great takeaway? “Self-care flows from an intention to stay connected to oneself and one’s overall mission.”
Effective leadership starts with you.
In truth, effective leadership is never a “one size fits all” approach. Instead, it’s up to you to find the practices and strategies that are most aligned with your unique values and beliefs.
The leaders I work with and observe strongly benefit from practicing mindfulness and from developing the full set of skills necessary to become centered – in work and in life.
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