G U E S T A R T I C L E
Self Mastery and Great Leadership
[sm_smlts_dropcap type=”rounded-with-ring” color=”orange”]A[/sm_smlts_dropcap]lightening speed of change, high expectations, changing priorities, and doing more with less in today’s organizations requires super human capabilities. If that is not complex enough, leaders have to manage a diversity of people and their expectations – let alone the emotions that could dominate in a high stress environment. If we are to manage other people’s emotions, we have to manage our own emotions first. This is self mastery. Self mastery is a balance between our cognitive skills, mental acuity and emotional intelligence – by far the last is the most challenging.
Exemplary leaders are what Jim Collins (Author of Good to Great) called the Level 5 Leader.
The Level 5 leader builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. This ability to be humble most of the time – respect others, listen, appreciate, give credit where credit is due, become vulnerable in difficult situations by saying “I don’t know” or make amends – inspires others when it is balanced with a will to take advantage of opportunities, make bold decisions manage threats and move forward with a shared vision based on a set of core values.
For most of us, this balance requires an inward gaze (know thyself) and a discipline for some internal work. Mindfulness is a way to get there.
Mindfulness does not mean getting rid of emotions, as that is not possible. It is to acknowledge and accept that emotions are feelings that arise when a need is met or not met; and sometimes, if we are unaware, our subconscious may drive decisions based on certain emotional biases.
We do have our own biases, prejudices and fears that we bring to the table that manifest emotionally. Through mindfulness we can become aware of our thoughts, feelings and action as we are present to the here and now. This way, we acknowledge and park our emotions in order to become rational and logical to get the work done.
Mindfulness does not mean getting rid of emotions, as that is not possible. It is to acknowledge and accept that emotions are feelings that arise when a need is met or not met; and sometimes, if we are unaware, our subconscious may drive decisions based on certain emotional biases. This is self preservation. Naturally, we will look after our own self interest first, before we think of others. As a leader, we cannot afford to indulge in this. Mindfulness brings the mental discipline to discern these biases, differentiate real threats from those superficial ones, so we can have the clarity necessary to think critically and make decisions.
I use a simple tool on a day-to-day basis to quiet my mind, which races along from thought to thought at 750 words per minute, mostly thinking about the past or plotting the future. I
call it the 4 questions for clarity. I take a deep breath and then ask these 4 questions to myself:
1. What am I observing? – this helps quiet my mind’s chatter to notice the blue sky, people’s faces, body language of others….just as they are.
2. What am I feeling? – my mind is now clear to focus on my feelings – is it happiness, anxiety, fear that is percolating in my mind?… and I ask why am I feeling like this? – asking Why, Why, Why several times to get to the root cause, then I ask…
3. What am I needing? – as I realize it is a need that has not been met – a need for acceptance, appreciation, safety – perhaps, that has got me anxious. When I unpack these, I can move to action….
4. What am I requesting myself to do? – now that I can think clearly and rationally.
With this method, I gain personal mastery and better understand my own emotional triggers. I take control of those thoughts that may hinder my perception of others, which is important for better interpersonal relationships.
By practicing mindfulness, I have checked out my emotions so that I can be logical and rational.
This simple tool requires practice – first learning to focus on my breathing and then simply asking these questions at least 4 times a day, when I am relaxed and not on the spot. This practice helps me when it is really needed – when I am under threat, dealing with a difficult situation, a challenging negotiation. It helps me to become calm, focused and to listen and perceive what is going on – understand the nuances, the power plays – so I can respond with skill and control.
By practicing mindfulness, I have checked out my emotions so that I can be logical and rational. I have got it to a level now where I just say “observing” at the heat of the moment to stop me from getting dragged into the dominant emotion that is being played out.
Through self mastery, I hope to move deliberately through the 5 levels to become an exemplary leader that inspires others to greatness.
Lalith Ananda Gunaratne is an avid student of human behaviour. His educational background covers diverse disciplines including Engineering, Marketing, Leadership and Responsible Business (CSR) and is complemented by his personal research and inquiry into the humanities covering religion, spirituality, psychology psychotherapy, biology, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience and history. Read more: Who is Lalith Gunaratne? or email: firstname.lastname@example.org