Leadership and Meditation

You Need A “Pause” Button As A Leader—This Is How You Get It

I’ve been working with salespeople, sales managers and sales leaders for most of my career. All of these years, I’ve helped them through training, coaching and other performance-based mechanisms. I probably don’t need to tell you about the efficacy of all of these wonderful interventions—it’s pretty dismal. Very few of these projects achieve intended results, and the reason is a lack of good leadership.

After so many years of this kind of work—which I love by the way—I’ve realized that it’s all about leadership. Not the title of “leader,” a noun that implies a hierarchy, but the verb that defines how people demonstrate good leadership in their work and personal lives.

I’ve developed a mantra: “Don’t leave leadership to the leaders.”

Every one of us needs to have some level of leadership capacity.

Good leadership has a foundation of both skill and intent. A skill is trainable. Intent is a practice of being mindful, patient and non-reactive. Several years ago, I concluded that the success or failure of most sales performance initiatives relies on the skill and intent of both the front line managers and the senior leadership to provide necessary sponsorship, reinforcement, and coaching. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t invest in effective sales leadership training.

Let’s look at a typical workplace interaction where patterns of reactive behavior on both sides prevent useful exchange. Mary Beth O’Neill, in her book, “Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart,” provides valuable perspectives on these co-created patterns. The manager over functions and the employee under functions. The more the manager over functions, the more the employee under functions. These patterns are fairly well entrenched and changing them requires a motivated manager or leader to choose a different approach beyond habitual reactivity.

As a leader, you can pause, take a deep breath, and chose a different approach that is not automatically reactive.

This change of behavior may also cause the employee also to stop and consider a different non-automatic reactive response. Leaders can change this automatic, unproductive pattern. Training the mind through a meditation practice can provide the pause that helps a manager reconsider automatic behavior.

What Does Meditation Have To Do With Leadership?

Meditation has a bad rap. Having spent the last couple of years practicing yoga and beginning to practice meditation, I know from personal experience that even simple meditation practice can be useful for leaders. However, ask most leaders if they practice (or understand) meditation, you most likely won’t find many that do. I am not an expert on meditation, but I’ve learned a few things that might be useful for leaders, or those interested in better exchanges with people.

The mind is trainable, no different than any other skill. Meditation is an exercise that can train the brain.

Why is training the mind critical to leaders, especially sales leaders? It can teach them not to react automatically and instead push the pause button to choose a better response.

Doug Silsbee, the author of “Presence Based Coaching,” writes prolifically about how people change. He believes that habits begin in the body, and shares research that shows how our nervous systems have a measurable impulse up to a half second before we consciously choose to initiate a movement. Our conscious choice follows the body’s initiation of the motion; the body initiates, and the cognitive mind follows. We experience a trigger, then we register it through our senses, and it evokes a response. Knowing this, we can have a conditioned reaction (not always wise), or we can pause and make a conscious choice of preferred response.

How Can You Begin A Meditation Experiment?

Training the mind through a meditation practice can help us as managers, leaders, and people, to be more thoughtful and deliberate in our interactions. If we want to be more effective, then it might be worth the time and effort to learn more about meditation and begin a simple practice. However, first, we have to rid ourselves of our biased beliefs about meditation and embrace how it can help us.

Dan Harris, the author of “10% Happier,” represents the new breed of meditation proponents. He suggests starting a new meditation habit one minute at a time, and doing it “daily-ish.” For example, focus the mind only on your breathing for one minute, then let it go. Come back later, and try it again for one minute, then let it go. Most of us can clear the mind to focus on our breathing for one minute. Repeat this one little practice until you have some cadence every day. Then learn more about the practice so that you can incorporate some additional techniques to extend the time to several minutes–then perhaps even longer.

I’ve been practicing yoga for several years, and have experimented with meditation along the way. It’s been a fascinating journey. I recently spent a weekend at a meditation retreat at Lake Tahoe. Here are a few observations I’d like to share with you.

  • The mind is trainable. However, we cannot train it if we aren’t familiar with its current state.
  • Habitual reactivity is not the best way to make thoughtful decisions.
  • We can make better decisions when we can quiet our mind – if only for a few minutes.
  • It’s important to observe our patterned responses and consider alternatives.
  • Change begins with our awareness and requires more than good intentions (ask a smoker who’s tried to quit). We need to replace automatic behaviors with new choices that help us achieve our goals.

If you are looking for ways to improve your well-being, to connect more effectively with others, and to potentially improve your leadership capacity, a simple meditation practice might worth the experiment. You really have nothing to lose, except perhaps your unconscious reactivity.