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There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.

Updated: Sep 29, 2018

A leader is often thought of as a fiery, flag carrying, torch bearing, visionary on a white steed with his loyal followers marching behind. But a leader needs to be much more than this. Here are a few other traits leaders could practice developing. All about enhancing emotional intelligence through the practice of mindfulness.

A few days ago, I was facilitating a session for a group of over 50 global managers of a dozen different nationalities. I asked them to give me the first qualities that came to mind when they thought of bad leadership. As you can imagine, the list threatened to be long, passionate and elaborate!! So here's the tip of the iceberg.


- Poor listener - Poor communicator - Emotionally unstable - Deals poorly with stress - Micromanager - Authoritarian


I then asked them what great leadership looked like and they said:

* Responds, not reacts * Inspires by example * Supports and empowers * Absorbs pressure * Learns from failure * Trusts


Dashing, Leading from the front, Aggressive and Expert, didn't quite make the list. Are you surprised? I was not.


Don't you think leadership has developed a softer side in recent times? It's become a bit less about marching off in front and expecting people to just follow you?


Don't you think today, leadership is a lot more about being emotionally intelligent? A lot more empathetic? Collaborative? Possibly even compassionate and humble?


And if so, where does one acquire this kind of intelligence - the qualities that embody this intelligence? Is one born with it? Like IQ? Is there a course? Or are there companies where one can work and gather this through experience? But then, how do you get into those companies if you don't have it in the first place? How long does it take to acquire and can one afford to wait that long in this VUCA world?


Here's the good news, especially for people like me who can't rely on their IQ alone ;-)


Emotional Intelligence can be acquired and improved through the practice of Mindfulness!


EI is in fact closely connected to our state of 'Well-Being'. And like well-being, it is also a skill. And like all other skills, it can be learned and gotten better at.

World-renowned neuroscientist Richard Davidson, speaking at a recent Mindfulness & Well Being at Work conference shares that mental training in just 4 areas can alter neural circuits and bring about a state of well-being.


To sum up his talk, here are the four areas:

1. Resilience

The ability to bounce back when sh*t happens. Research suggests that people who have a stronger sense of purpose 'reframe stressful situations more productively' and that allows them to respond more positively to adverse situations. And while the time taken to rebound varies from person to person and it can take long to physically alter neural pathways, resilient people feel better faster and thereby also help  others feel better in tough times.

Sounds like a good leadership quality to me!


2. Outlook

The way you see the world. Seeing things in a positive way and the ability to savour the positivity in every experience goes a long way in creating a sense of well-being. Davidson talk about a recent study where people who had never meditated before, received 30 hours of training in compassion meditation over two weeks. “Not only did we see changes in the brain but these changes in the brain actually predicted pro-social behavior,” says Davidson.

But just believing that compassion can work or marvelling at the beauty of such feelings is not enough. You have to get off your a** and use all the circumstances of daily life to change your thoughts and behaviour!


3. Attention

"A wandering mind is an unhappy mind" says Davidson, echoing what many enlightened masters have said for centuries. He says that just turning down distractibility by 5% can have a profound impact on productivity just by being deeply aware of the present moment. 

Mindfulness anyone?


“Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with the body and mind in harmony – while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower.”

Thich Nhat Hahn Zen Master, great proponent of mindfulness and my teacher


4. Generosity

“When individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being,” says Davidson. “And these circuits get activated in a way that shows more enduring activation than other kinds of positive incentives.”

Extending generosity and kindness, both to ourselves and to others, is a powerful mindfulness technique.


Try this little mindfulness practice I use. Its easy. Just close your eyes and breathe, repeating the words silently to yourself.

Breathing in, I feel grateful Breathing out, I have so much to give

Breathing in, I feel grateful Breathing out, I have so much to give

Breathing in, I give everyone happiness  Breathing out, I give everyone peace

Breathing in, I give everyone happiness  Breathing out, I give everyone peace


Now coming back to leadership...

So will just doing this make one a great leader? Well, there are a lot of really evolved leaders out there with truly powerful ways to improve leadership and I mustn't put them out of business ;-)


But I'll tell you this. Mindfulness helped my EI and helped me become a better leader. Of myself, first and foremost.


For if I cannot lead myself and my life well, how can I lead you?


#mindfulness #leadership #Gopinion

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© 2018 by Gopi Krishnaswamy