Successful leaders are mindful leaders. Whether they’re leading others, or simply leading themselves throughout the day. Mindful leadership is centered in the competencies of Emotional Intelligence (self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management skills). These competencies emerge from our pre-frontal cortex, what Dr. Daniel Goleman refers to as the executive center of our brain. Research from neuroscience demonstrates that our brains have plasticity. We can actually change our neural networking by mindfully choosing how we choose to think.
Through our leadership development and team building work with horses, we’ve learned some very meaningful lessons that relate to how we connect, engage, and motivate those around us. In order for a horse to join up with a human, which is a voluntary response from the horse, one must first be fully present, engaged in themselves, engaged with the horse, and fully attentive in that very moment. You can’t be thinking about what you have to do later in the day, what you should have done yesterday, or engaged with our rooftop chatter, the stream of verbal thoughts that continuously flows through our heads. You also must express authentic intention. You have to want to be in relationship and feel the joy that relationship will represent deeply within your heart.
You see, you must engage the horse in their world, where they live and operate from every moment. Time is a human concept. Our thoughts about time can be consuming to a leader and pull our emotional, cognitive, and creative energies out of the moment…the only place we can really act…the only time that actually exists. In the moment lies eternity, for the moment is continuously present while simultaneously moving us into the next moment. This is where horses live…in the moment. In addition, as prey animals, horses are hyper-sensitive to their environment, lest they be lunch for some predator surreptitiously stalking them, downwind and in the high grass. They can quite literally sense intention and require congruency in order to relax and join up with us. When we are emotionally congruent and holding the space for positive intention to emerge, people will join up with us as well! Neuroscience research into the function of mirror neurons and the state of entrainment have proven that a biochemical cascade of hormones emerges when this occurs. The pleasure center of the brain is activated, and we feel good and want to be led by people in this state, just like the horses.
So, as I awake every morning, I ask myself two simple questions:
How do I wish to show up today…how do I wish to be?
How long can I make it through the day without having a negative, judgmental thought?
This frames my entire outlook before I crawl out of bed. I walk with a smile and great everyone I meet with positive intention and a sense of grace. It is amazing how wonderfully they respond to this simple act of presence and intention. Regarding the other question, well, that’s a bit more of a challenge! We’ve been socially conditioned to see ourselves as individuals, separate beings from one another. Separate from nature itself. Separate, even from God…in Western religious traditions God is up there and we are down here. In the Eastern religious traditions, the idea of Divine Spirit, of God, is present in all things. There is a perception of Oneness with the Creator and all of creation. Two very different perspectives of how we see the world and ourselves.
Seeing ourselves as separated from each other opens the door for judgment towards those not like us or those less fortunate than us to pop into our thoughts. It closes the door for compassion, empathy, and inclusion to emerge. But we truly are all connected. Research form quantum physics reveals this through verifiable and reproducible experiments that have proven the non-locality of consciousness. Two electrons that were once in the same location, then separated and isolated, without any chance for a signal pathway to occur, will continue to mirror the spin of the other. Change the direction of one electron’s orbit and the other, even if it a thousand miles away, will match the new orbit of the other electron, and do so immediately…the shift and match in orbit occurs faster than the speed of light.
Letting go of judgmental thoughts is difficult (please don’t confuse this with discernment, and important attribute for every leader). I find if I am selective with my neural inputs I can hold this space of being longer into each day. If I have to go out into traffic, if I choose to turn on the media, or if I’m at an airport, this really requires mindfulness not to react to my conditioned perspective and behaviors. But that’s the world we live in, right? We must engage the world if we are to succeed as leaders. But here’s the payoff of letting go of judgmental thought patterns…it redirects your physical, psychological, and creative energy to be fully engaged and present with everyone you lead and in everything you do! Judging is exhausting. The more I let this go, the more energy I find myself having to get more accomplished. The more energy I have to engage, motivate, and inspire those around me.
Try these two simple, little questions for a few days in a row and see what begins to happen. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Photo courtesy of Precision Photography of Honolulu.
© 2012, Terry Murray