Parallel paths to great leadership

Peter Koestenbaum writes a lot about leadership being the sum of two vectors: competence and authenticity. When organizations come up against obstacles, they tend to apply more competence – usually more of the same know-how that got them into trouble in the first place. They might hire consultants to do more of the same, just harder.
When you’re stuck, Koestenbaum suggests that instead of trying harder with the same competencies, you dedicate yourself to understanding yourself better. That means giving energy to that second vector, authenticity. He recommends that you get into your beliefs about the meaning of life, your thinking habits, your values, how you manage frustration. Making changes in those areas, he says, means moving from a non-leadership mind to a leadership mind.
All of this takes reflection. I’ve found many busy people are strangers to reflection. Some have told me they are afraid of being quiet and alone, afraid of looking deep inside to learn more about who they are. I don’t know what they fear they’ll find or if quietude, period, makes them anxious. Some clients have said as much, that they are afraid of being still, of being out of the action; they think they might lose their decisiveness as a leader.
Actually, the opposite is true. I agree with Koestenbaum’s statement: "Reflection generates the inner toughness that you need to be an effective person of action – to be a leader." It is only when your mind is quiet, when the usual mental clutter is stilled, that you can get in touch with your deep-seated beliefs. Those beliefs are powerful gears that drive your actions – so you better be conscious of what they’re saying.
Some of my clients have discovered some alarming statements, beliefs that are etched into the stone of their beings – and beliefs that severely limit their potential. "I’m faking it – they’ll find out soon." "The rug will be pulled out from under me any second." "Everyone’s out to get me so I can’t trust anyone." "If women get power they’ll just take over." "I’m nothing more than a paycheck to my employees (or wife and kids)." You get the idea. Such deep-set beliefs, irrational as they are, drive the choices we make and how we feel.
In order to truly live our own lives, those beliefs have to be brought into awareness and excavated from that deep place inside. They have to be examined and eliminated — or shrunk considerably. New, rational beliefs must be constructed from our adult hearts and minds.
It’s a tough sell, but the way I help clients get into that level of reflection is to introduce them to meditation. The very word makes some of them cringe. I guess they start envisioning sitting around on pillows reciting a mantra or something. Actually nothing wrong with that, but learning to meditate can be much simpler. It’s really learning to concentrate those busy chattering minds of ours, to learn to focus on one thing — which can just be the breath. You don’t even need a teacher; you can just start to sit quietly for a few minutes daily and focus all your senses on one thing. Whatever happens is OK — and whatever happens will encourage reflection more than watching the morning news.
If you like more formal instruction, there are workshops available everywhere. Jon Kabot-Zinn has written excellent books on meditation and has audiotapes available as well. Some people like music while they meditate. It doesn’t really matter.
Don’t be discouraged if persistent thoughts keep sneaking back into your mind. You can slide them away gently (I use the metaphor of pushing away a helium-filled balloon). Some people like to label the thought and then evaporate it. They label it "thinking" or "planning" or "reminding" — whatever.
If you already meditate regularly, I’m sure you are realizing the benefits. If you don’t, I recommend you give it a try. In addition to building authenticity, there are amazing benefits to our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, is doing remarkable research on the effects of regular meditation on our immune systems and even our world-views.
This is a simple practice that can make a profound difference. Be bold.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay, and can be reached at 414-332-0300, or jo@hawkinsdonovan.com. The firm’s Web site is www.hawkinsdonovan.com.

March 19, 2004 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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