Summary: The Mind of the Leader By Rasmus Hougaard
Summary: The Mind of the Leader By Rasmus Hougaard

Summary: The Mind of the Leader By Rasmus Hougaard

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The MSC Leader

If we as leaders want to cultivate truly thriving organizations, we need to understand what really matters to human beings. We all want to be happy. We all want to live meaningful lives and contribute to the well-being of others. This truth also applies to work. People leaving the office every day with a sense of fulfillment will want to come back, focus on tough projects, and work hard. Because of meaningful intrinsic motivation, they will want to continue doing their best day after day, year after year.

So how do you facilitate meaning, connectedness, and true happiness for the people you lead? Or, more specifically, what qualities of mind does a leader need to develop to be better at leading this changing workforce?

Based on extensive research—including surveys and assessments of tens of thousands of leaders. Three mental qualities stand out as being critical for increasing engagement, happiness, and productivity:

  • Mindfulness (M)
  • Selflessness (S)
  • Compassion (C)

All three characteristics are closely linked. In fact, they are mutually enhancing. Mindfulness makes us more selfless, and selflessness makes us more compassionate. More compassion in turn, makes us more mindful and selfless. While it’s true that some leaders have innately developed these characteristics, our experience shows that all three can be learned, practiced, and enhanced.


I. Welcome To Your Mind

Who manages your mind? The answer may not be what you think—or hope—it is. Here are a few facts all leaders should know about their mind:

#1 You do not control your mind.

You probably don’t control your mind as much as you think. To test whether that’s true for you, focus on any word in this sentence for a full minute. Don’t think about anything else. Don’t get distracted. Just focus on one word for a full sixty seconds. No cheating. Okay, go ahead.

How did it go? Were you able to maintain complete focus for a minute? Or did you question the purpose of the exercise? Did you debate which word to focus on? Did the word catalyze new thoughts, leading you to think of other things? The point is that if you strayed from complete focus on that one word, you failed in leading your own mind, even just for a minute.

If you failed, don’t worry. You’re normal. Most people fail this test. Why? Researchers have found that on average, our mind involuntarily wanders nearly half our waking hours.

While you think you’re managing your mind, you’re not.

#2 You are not rational.

Sure, we like to think we’re rational beings. But in truth, we make choices based on emotions and rationalize them afterward. For example, numerous studies confirm that our decisions are influenced by how options are framed. In one study, faced with making a medical decision, subjects chose the riskless option when outcomes were positively framed in terms of gains, and the risky option when outcomes were phrased negatively in terms of losses.

#3 Your mind creates your reality.

Consider the last time you believed you led a meeting where everyone was perfectly aligned, only to later find out that some participants perceived it differently. This type of situation happens all the time. We all have unconscious biases that influence and filter everything we experience. Put more succinctly: we don’t perceive things as they are, but as we are. Literally, our mind creates our reality.

#4 You are not your thoughts.

In the vast majority of cases, thoughts arise randomly in the mind. But they’re not you. Instead, they’re just events playing out in your mind, as if your mind is arbitrarily flipping through TV stations. We often identify with our thoughts, believing they are true and believing they define who we are. And that’s a problem, since we have thousands of random, repetitive, and compulsive thoughts every day. They’re random because they often come out of nowhere, and for no reason, such as thinking about a meeting you attended earlier in the day while you’re trying to be present with your family. They’re repetitive because we often repeat the same thoughts again and again, like a childhood memory that comes to mind thousands of times throughout life. And they’re compulsive because they just keep coming, flowing like a waterfall, even if we try to stop them.

These mind facts should be concerning, especially for leaders. If we as leaders don’t manage ourselves, how can we lead others effectively, and, ultimately, lead our organizations? This challenge is best faced by first understanding more about the mind, how it works, and how it can be trained.


Shut Off the Autopilot

Mindfulness training enables us to expand our awareness of what’s happening in the landscape of our mind from moment to moment. It also helps us pause in the moment, so we can make more conscious choices and take more deliberate actions. These are powerful skills to have as a leader.

Fortunately for all of us, awareness can be enhanced. We can change the ratio of our conscious to unconsciousness behaviors, which can make the difference between making good or bad decisions. But what is awareness really? Do you know what awareness feels like? Take a moment to experience it:

Let go of this summary For one minute, sit still.

Whatever comes into your mind, be aware of it. Simply notice it.

Let go of any inner commentary of why you are doing this exercise.

No analyzing, no judging, no thinking.

Simply be aware.

Just be.

That is awareness. A direct experience of what is happening for you, right now. And paying attention to it helps us understand ourselves. Did you become aware of anything about yourself that you were not aware of before the exercise? Did you find that maybe you’re tired? That you perhaps felt tension or stress somewhere in your body? Or that you have a lot on your mind? What did you discover?


The One-Second Metal Gap

One second can be the difference between making a good or bad decision. It’s the difference between saying the words that motivate an employee and the words that disengage him or her. A second is the difference between lashing out at someone for an error or turning an unintentional mistake into a learning moment. A second matters. Especially for you as a leader.

Take a moment to consider which automatic behaviors you have that sometimes hinder your leadership. What interferes with your team member’s feelings of engagement? What decreases the willingness of others to take your lead? What makes people feel insecure or disregarded? Ask yourself these questions from time to time to gradually increase your self-awareness and spur changes in your automatic reactions and responses.


Training for Mindful Awareness

Set a timer for ten minutes.

Sit in your chair, comfortably, with a straight back and relaxed neck, shoulders, and arms. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose.

For a minute, direct your full attention toward your breathing. Simply observe your breath neutrally. Don’t try to control it. Allow your mind to stabilize and settle.

Now, let go of your attention on your breath and open your awareness to whatever arises. Whatever arises—a sound, a thought, a physical sensation, or anything else—just be aware of it.

Observe it neutrally. Don’t think about it. Don’t engage it. Don’t try to make it stay or go away. Simply observe it.

New experiences will arise, change, or fade away. Whatever occurs in your awareness, just be aware of it.

If you find it challenging to observe without engaging your experiences, give the experience a label—for example, thought, email, task—and let it go.

If you find you get caught up in thinking about and analyzing your experiences, return your focus to your breath. Then open your awareness again.

When the timer sounds, let go of the training.

This practice, and the rest of the practices in this book


II. Selfless Leadership

Ego equals problems. This could be the short conclusion based on various studies conducted on the role of the ego. One study from the University of California found that the more people use the pronouns I, me, my, and mine, the higher the correlation to coronary heart disease incidence and mortality

Another study found that individuals with depression and anxiety have a higher-than-average use of first-person pronouns.

In contrast, a study published in Psychological Science found that when we actively start to use other pronouns, such as we, he, she, and you, and make less use of self-referencing pronouns like I, me, and my, our health improves.

Let’s look at this through a leadership lens. A study from the University of Texas found a clear correlation between leadership positions and the use of pronouns. People with higher leadership positions use significantly more first-person plural pronouns like we, as well as second-person pronouns like you and your. In contrast, people with lower or no leadership status overwhelmingly tend to use the first-person singular pronoun I when they speak.

  • Ego Makes You Vulnerable to Criticism
  • Ego Makes You Susceptible to Manipulation
  • Ego Narrows Your Field of Vision
  • Ego Corrupts Your Behavior and Causes You to Act against Your Values


Humility Trumps Ego

Great leaders are generally not the types of people who publicly pat themselves on the back and trumpet their accomplishments. On the contrary, great leaders exude a strong sense of humility. Humility and selflessness are closely linked. You cannot be selfless without humility, and humility without selflessness is false humility.

Humility is not just a noble attitude; it’s a realistic perspective on individual worth. Because of the delusion of success, we as leaders can create unrealistic perspectives on how much we really matter in the bigger picture. In the scheme of things, even the best CEO is only one out of thousands of individuals contributing to a company’s success. Furthermore, the company’s success is heavily determined by market trends and large-scale global forces. Any company is merely the result of an interconnected string of events, actions, and intentions.


Training for Selflessness

Selflessness can be realized and cultivated with training. It’s a realization and attitude that we can enhance due to neuroplasticity—our ability to shape our neural makeup. As a result, the more we experience life from a selfless perspective, the more selfless our mind becomes. The goal is to train our mind so that selflessness becomes our default mode.

Set a timer for five minutes.

Sit on a chair, comfortably, with a straight back and relaxed neck, shoulders, and arms. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose.

For a minute, direct your full attention toward your breathing. Simply observe your breath neutrally. Don’t try to control it. Allow your mind to stabilize and settle.

Now, let go of the focus on the breath and instead focus on identifying the observer.

Who is observing the breath? Where is this sense of “I”? Can you find it? Is it solid? Is it changing? Is it static and in the same place all the time?

Continue to search for the observer until the timer goes off.

When the timer sounds, let go of the training.

Take a moment to reflect on your experience.


III. Compassionate Leadership

The airline industry has got it right: when there are pressure issues in the cabin, they instruct us to put on our own oxygen mask first—to help ourselves—before helping others. This wisdom is equally important in leadership. In shouldering the responsibility of leadership, we take on a great deal of pressure. Self-compassion helps us lead ourselves in a way that mitigates this pressure and increases our leadership performance.

However, many leaders are rather tough on themselves. Their minds can go into a mode of negative self-talk and self-judgment. On average, higher-ranking leaders have greater levels of compassion for themselves than midlevel managers. It appears that they’ve had the discipline of caring for themselves and sustaining high performance throughout their career progressions.

The bottom line is this. Leading yourself with compassion is a vital enabler for successful leadership.

Still, many people dismiss self-compassion, because they think it conflicts with their ambition or hard-driving attitude, which are qualities that they believe have made them successful. But being self-compassionate doesn’t imply that you shouldn’t be ambitious or push yourself to succeed. Self-compassion is about how you care for yourself to better succeed.

  • Get Enough Quality Sleep
  • Practice Disciplined Disconnectedness
  • Take Time for Mental Breaks


Mistakes Are Inevitable

We all make them. None of us are perfect. But what separates average leaders from exceptional leaders is the ability to quickly move on from life’s inevitable missteps.

But the benefits of kindness don’t end with defeating your inner critic. Once you commit to caring about yourself, you gain greater capacity to care for the people you lead. And according to research, being kind to others is one of the most effective ways to become happier yourself.

Self-compassion is something you can practice and enhance. Do it at the end of any mindfulness practice session you do. It only takes an additional minute.


Training For Self-Compassion

At the end of a mindfulness practice session, for the last minute do the following:

Recall an experience you have had, where you felt deeply cared for and loved.

Hold this experience in your mind, without analyzing or thinking about it. Simply sit with the experience that you are cared for.

If useful, visualize that you are filled with the love and warmth from anyone that cares for you.

To end the practice, repeat these words for yourself: May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I bring happiness to the ones I meet today.

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