There are many words to describe “good” leaders or effective leadership. These words often seem vague or theoretical, so it’s hard to take them seriously or actually put them into practice in your work as a leader. Here, I am going to describe what I believe are the most important attributes of Awake leaders. These are some of the words I use to describe Awake leaders and what they mean in practice. These are not personality traits that you have or don’t have; these are qualities inherent in everyone that can be developed. My intention is to differentiate these important attributes, describe why they are so important in practice, give guidance on how to begin practicing them, and hopefully make them more approachable and applicable for your leadership.
Authentic leaders know how to cultivate the conditions for success as a leader and contributor in their work. Don’t we all want to work under conditions that make us feel like we can do our best work and enjoy it along the way? It’s understanding of how you work best: the conditions that cultivate success for you in your work. Figuring this out takes time, observation, and iteration. You may have to change things up a few times to create a work environment and framework that cultivates your best work and to feel at your best. This is the foundation of authenticity.
On a deeper level, authentic leaders know what they are passionate about, they know their strengths, and they speak confidently from their heart. When we lay the foundation of a great work environment and framework that allows us to feel our best and do our best work, we can more easily figure this out. It takes time. Self-awareness and focused experience are important for a leader to learn their strengths and build confidence through experience and development. Self-awareness is a continuous study practice that takes time reflecting each day on your purpose and passions. With each experience, you learn what actions and styles of leadership are authentic to you. We all have the right and responsibility to live our life in a way that allows us to experience our life with a balance of ease and challenge that supports us in offering our best to the world, living to our highest potential.
Finally, an authentic leader is honest. They communicate transparently and honestly about their opinions, feelings, and point of view. They are open to hearing the authentic, honest opinions of others as well. Authentic leaders don’t vent or say whatever is on their mind – they filter but what they say is always honest as well as to the point.
What are vehicles for learning and practicing authenticity as a leader? Self-study and focused experience. As you live life and do you work, observe and reflect: what makes you who you are? What are your stories? What are conditions that cultivate success for you at work as a leader and how are you building that? What are you passionate about? Developing authenticity often requires overcoming fear in favor of taking action. We have to take action and sometimes act inauthentically to learn what is authentic action for us. We all start out following others but a point comes where we can start to question what is right for us and what is most important to us as a leader of our work and our life. You’ll know when you feel it. You’ll lead with confidence and be proud (but humble) to lead by example. Since we all are always changing and served new, challenging situations as leaders, it’s a constant practice to tune into your authentic leadership style.
Mindful leaders understand and acknowledge how action, as a team, impacts the organization and the world. Mindfulness involves awareness; awareness of yourself as well as how your actions impact and connect with the world, the realm beyond just you. So, mindfulness involves acknowledgement of connection. It is mindful to acknowledge others on your team because this is connection to the greater whole. “Mind the gap” and “be mindful of others around you” are phrases commonly used to draw attention to connection – people and things beyond just your immediate body and mind. It’s about curiosity and developing understanding about how your actions impact others, contribute to the whole, and integrate with the world. In our growing, global society it’s harder and harder or really understand the widespread impacts of our actions. It’s very complex and a huge system to understand how each thing we do impacts the world. So, don’t get overwhelmed.
Great leaders have often had a variety of experiences, which allows them to relate to the experiences of others. Likewise, mindfulness in leadership is awareness of the needs and experiences of others, beyond just your own immediate experience, actions, and needs. Mindful leaders are empathetic and know makes makes the members of their team and peers tick. They observe their team members, how the actions of the team integrate and impact the organization. They care about their team’s conditions for working efficiently, authentically, and having opportunities to develop to fulfill their highest interests and potential.
To practice mindfulness as a leader you can begin by understanding the realm of your own team and how your actions work together to accomplish your mission for the organization. Next, you can look at how your actions and the actions of the organization impact the world. What is the larger impact on the world of your organization? You can also acknowledge your team members and have regular meetings with them to share and collect feedback. Finally, you can practice transparency so that others understand how you impact the world and how you connect with one another through commerce, development, and learning.
Intentional is where authenticity and mindfulness manifest in action. Intentional leadership is practicing understanding and awareness as you take action. It is taking action with a desired result in mind. We all have tasks that we inherit as leaders, when we step into a role and it’s our responsibility to understand why we take those actions in order to fulfill our mission as a leader. If we accept the tasks as “what we do” and continue to go through the motions without truly understanding why and how those specific actions contribute toward our mission, we are not acting intentionally. Without intention, we simply act, which is okay except just acting or going through motion without intention can have unintended consequences. Intentional leadership also makes measuring results easier.
To practice intentional leadership, always ask, what is my intention? What is my desired result I want to have on the organization, my team, my own experience, and the world by taking this action/doing this project/making this change? When you get caught up in a project, down in the weeds, you can zoom out and say, wait, what was my original intention here? This will reconnect you to that larger, mindful intention for your hard work and connect your team members’ actions back to the objective as well, creating alignment. The intention doesn’t have to be numbers-based but could be, “to improve…” or “to figure out…” Something mindful, executed authentically.
Back to the Intention
By aspiring toward these three leadership qualities and taking the first steps I suggest for practicing each, you will develop confidence and enthusiasm about your mission, work style, and team. You’ll find yourself working toward impactful results that are truly satisfying. Lead by example by encouraging your leaders and team members to cultivate these qualities as well and foster a culture of engagement, progress, learning, and enthusiasm. It’s a transformational process that happens overtime with dedicated practice.
I hope this helps clear up some of the fog and highlights the importance of these qualities in practice! Find more exercises for developing authentic leadership and collaboration in my book Awake Leadership, and please e-mail me if you have questions.
More Articles for Reading about authenticity and mindfulness in leadership:
The Truth About Authentic Leaders by Bill George
Cultivating Mindfulness by Jim Hopper, PhD.