By Michael C. Aquilino
In a room filled with 1,000 people if I were to ask “what comes to mind when I say mindfulness?” most would say “an awareness” or “being aware.” Clearly, many know the “what” part of mindfulness. The challenge, as with most things, is in the “how” of mindfulness. Is it simply enough to say “an awareness” or “being aware” and therefore you are completely mindful at that point? Probably not. For a moment, consider if everyone around you is always “aware” or brings a consistency to “awareness.” The operative words are everyone and always. The reality is while most may have great intention and understanding of “what” mindfulness is, the “how” of it may not be as universally known or practiced. In my life’s work over the past 20 years, my focus has been on fostering self-discovery of the “how” and the “being” of mindfulness.
Let’s begin with one of the most important distinctions of Effective Leadership, Accountability. It is an interesting distinction. When truly considered, the word itself brings about a wide range of reactions within the mind. More specifically, in a conversation concerning leadership many will immediately go to the place of “oh no, what didn’t I do?” or “uh oh, what did I forget?” The reality is, however, that there is a side to accountability that is rarely considered, a very positive side where the primary focus is on what you did do or did accomplish. Funny how that rarely shows up as the first layer of thought within the conversation of accountability, isn’t it? Imagine what would be possible that isn’t possible now if that was the automatic place that most went to instead?
In my experience, I have seen that people’s relationships to “accountability” cover a wide range from those who get it and approach life by being nothing but accountable to those who are hardly ever accountable. I have witnessed that those who approach life with a “high degree of” accountability or “mindfulness for being” accountable are those who reach higher levels of effectiveness and results, which are natural outcomes. I submit to you that those outcomes stem from being in integrity or, put another way, being “whole” or pure. A great place to look for better results as a leader is within your relationship to being accountable. What does it mean to you? How good are you about it? What is it that you tell yourself that makes it okay at times? What changes in thinking and actions can you begin to make to improve on this most important competency of Effective Leadership?
When considering those questions one has to be mindful of what the “ego” may put forth in the moment. Of course, the ego is going to tell you that “you are masterful and that there is no one better” and so on. Interestingly enough, though, what the ego often tells us is anything but true. The purpose of calling your attention to this is that in the event that your ego does “say” that and you buy the “story” of that, you may not ever really know for sure. In fact, as a leader, you could be going at things in such a way that you think everything about you is grand and the reality is that those around you may think or feel quite the opposite. A highly effective way to truly find out is to approach those around you and ask them for their open and honest feedback concerning the level and degree of accountability they feel you bring as a leader to relationships, being open, or empowerment. A note of caution must be added here in that you must let them know that it is perfectly acceptable to you for them to be open and honest and that they should have no concerns.
Obviously, you can add to the list of key areas that you wish to measure overall effectiveness of if you are sincerely open to learning. Often times, if you are truly open to it, you will learn that the answer to better results may be hiding in plain sight.
The technique of going outside of yourself and learning the reality of how you show up in the listening to others is something that I have been sharing with clients for years. There are several benefits to this practice with the primary benefit being that it is a clear demonstration of “leadership by example,” which will set a cultural precedent to then be followed without having to say a word. In the purest sense, it is leadership in action. It is also an important practice of putting the “informed” into “informed mindfulness.” In doing so you will be viewed as authentic, appreciative, credible and accountable. Individuals are often inspired when those traits are sincere and being demonstrated by the actions of leadership. Be sure to thank your “ego” for the “input” by the way. After all, we don’t want to slight your magnificence!
In order to be viewed as an Effective Leader, another vital practice of “informed mindfulness” revolves around Consistency and the need for it. Let’s face it — in this day and age the demands on your time combined with the perpetual sense of “running at capacity” can cause you to be less than consistent in all that you must do. Right? I would say “if you say so” and would ask you to “please show where that is written?” The way I see it, you have a choice. When standing at the crossroads of “I have so much to do now and there is more being added” and “I have no more time or room” you can either buy that “story” and let the chips fall as they may, which can ultimately damage your credibility, or you can, as an accountable and Effective Leader, seek ways to bring consistency to those “to do’s” within the realm of your leadership and lead by example. Simply put, seek ways to place the accountability outside of yourself.
I am reminded of a recent interaction with a great client who is incredibly accountable and truly takes himself on in a remarkable way. We all know someone like him. He is the one who has not let anything go to his head and “does not read his own press clippings.” Selfless and being there genuinely for others as a leader. This is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that “life has a funny way of showing up” and even the best of the best can be derailed from time to time. It’s called being human. What one does about it though matters tremendously in the eyes of others as it is viewed as a further demonstration of a leader’s effectiveness.
In this case, the way that this individual “automatically” gets when he can’t put his finger on a solution right away is upset with himself in that “he should know better.” Holding it that way does not help him; it actually limits him. I see that often, to which I say “when you find perfection please call me first because we will make billions together!” The situation playing out was that of the 100% he had to handle in his day-to-day there was one thing that he just simply could not bring consistency to. It was driving him crazy because he knew full well that it was of the utmost importance for his team.
“Because” he was so busy doing everything else he was having extreme difficulty scheduling, holding and running regularly scheduled team meetings. Seems like such a simple thing. We had a long conversation about it. The very first step (I will share this with you for your benefit) was to get very clear about the conversation of “allowing yourself off the hook.” Logically he knew that the team meetings where vital to the team’s success and had to happen. On every level, he knew and understood the reasons, motivations, and purpose of it all. Yet it was so hard to do consistently. I see this all the time in my work. The very first consideration that truly must be identified in order to bring about change is to get very clear about what you “tell yourself” in these types of moments. May sound something like “I will get to it tomorrow instead” or “I don’t have time for that right now” or “that is not as important as everything else.” These are the conversations of “allowing yourself off the hook.” I want you to know that I understand that all of them may be true. I am not questioning that at all. The point is, though, that in not handling the issues or tasks and “allowing” it to be a future consideration there is a huge assumption being made. It is kind of like a “happy place” where everything is fine and some day you will get around to all of those things that each day, each week, each month keep piling up. Is that working for you?
Going back to the “informed” of “informed mindfulness,” an effective leader will work to put things in place in such a way that those things where consistency may be missing and damaging a leader’s credibility are then transformed into being consistently reliable.
As stated earlier, the answers are often hiding in plain sight. In the case of the leader I have been referencing, I asked him who the newest and youngest member of his team was. He gave me her name and told me she was brand new to the team. I then suggested that he meet with her that day and let her know that she was now empowered to take control of the “scheduling” of the team meeting from that day forward. She will have no “baggage” or “allowing” or what I call the Wizard of Oz song, “because, because, because.” She will simply do what she needs to do objectively and consistently. The meetings have been running like clockwork ever since.
If you have areas within your day to day that you are challenged by in terms of being consistent, make a list of what they are. Write them down. Think over what you may be able to put in place that is outside of your “story” of “the way it is” and assign someone else accountability for it. Clearly, you have to be selective. However, the nature of this conversation still holds true regardless.
In the recent publication “The Pebble In The Pond” my esteemed colleague, Dr. Adam Perlman, made mention of yet another important practice of developing the “informed” in “informed mindfulness.” He wrote “Executive coach and leadership development expert Michael Aquilino suggests that Integrative Leaders should assess their own strengths and weaknesses and, by identifying individuals who can help them in their development and growth, build a “personal board of advisors.”
The concept of creating your own personal Board of Directors is something that I began sharing with clients 20 years ago and it always proves to be quite effective in terms of personal growth and overall results. Here is the step-by-step guide to put this practice in place. The idea is to think about those individuals in your life that you would consider “centers of influence,” those who have a seemingly natural influence with others. You also want to be clear about the expertise of the individuals you would like to have on your board. I would suggest that you be very strategic about it. For example, if you have an area where you would like to grow your expertise, perhaps finance, then on the board you would want a CPA or a CFO. The very first step is to figure out the various levels of expertise you care to have on your board. Each spot should be chosen so that what each member brings will contribute to your mission, vision or sense of purpose. I would also suggest that you keep the number of individuals on your board manageable in terms of size, which is usually four to eight. The next step is to begin filling in the “org chart” per se or figure out the “who” within each area of functional expertise or growth on which you will be focusing. It is also very important to jot down why you feel each person you have chosen is being chosen.
The next step is to build your clear message of mission-vision, intention, direction and purpose in the form of a personal broadcast. It should be clear, moderate in length and concise. In essence, it should capture your sense of purpose, intentions and what you are working toward. It has to be compelling and enrolling all at the same time. The intent is to create and establish clarity and a vested interest in your ongoing success.
Once completed with all of the above and “you know that you know” you are then prepared to engage in meetings and conversations and it is time to begin connecting with the individuals you have selected to be on your personal Board of Directors. You want to invite each person individually to have coffee, tea, lunch, dinner, whatever works best and share with them very specifically everything you are working toward. This is when and where you would use the compelling personal broadcast and/or mission-vision to enroll them in the possibility of serving on your personal Board of Directors. You can set it up however you would like. Once they have agreed to be on the Board and to being supportive, I suggest you set individual meetings with them on a quarterly basis for about an hour.
The objective of these meetings is to share your goals, objectives and intentions at the onset with each member, gain agreement from them to help you and then to report in during the subsequent quarterly meetings. Their role is to provide insight, feedback, ideas and information to support you in your professional growth. In essence, you are asking them to hold you to account for being your word regarding your growth, commitments, intentions and objectives. You must be clear in letting them know this in order for the exercise to work.
Interestingly enough, inherent in most individuals is the desire to help others. Where things seem to breakdown is in the “asking” for the help. I often say “when preparation meets opportunity, success is the result.” The key is in the preparation and staying focused consistently on the mission, vision and sense of purpose or intention. Each year when planning your personal growth plan for the year you can reflect upon the work done, and if you find that there are those on your Board who are not as “helpful” as you had hoped, you can redesign your board. Another consideration is to reflect on the new areas or forms of growth you may want within the course of the new year and redesign the group accordingly. It is truly up to you. One note of caution is to be mindful that the meetings do not become “socializing” as they very easily could if the original purpose is forgotten. You may also find it helpful to create a simple form to use during the one-on-one meetings so you and your “director” can keep things on track and also track the discussion points, feedback, ideas, action items, and other forms of support offered by the board member.
When we are accountable to others, or when we delegate accountability outside of ourselves, there is less likelihood that the “allowing” conversations or “letting ourselves off the hook” will occur. As with anything we take on for ourselves, it all starts with practice and taking one step at a time.
Michael C. Aquilino is the President and CEO of Innovational Services and Core Faculty for The Leadership Program in Integrative Healthcare at Duke University.
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