How to Unlock Your Leader’s Potential
8 July 2014 at 11:44 am
Effective organisations need effective leaders. But what does it take to be a great leader in the for-purpose sector? Could the emerging study of mindfulness reveal some answers?
These are questions that will be explored by Westpac and the Australian Graduate School of Management at a leadership-for-purpose event in November for finalists in the 2014 Westpac Community Leaders Awards.
National Marketing Manager, Social Sector Banking, Lali Wiratunga explains: “We are eager to meet more unsung heroes from our sector, whose remarkable work is helping their communities prosper and grow. Importantly, Westpac wants to contribute to their leadership capabilities, so they can continue to help others.”
Elise Sernik is looking forward to contributing to the event. Sernik is the founder of Leadership Space, and an executive coach to managers in the for-purpose sector.
She talks with many smart and passionate mobilisers of social change and understands the unique challenges of managing a Not for Profit.
“In this sector, passions run high, the commitment is unrelenting, and the missions are critical. Leaders need a clear headspace and the leadership skills to help themselves, their team, and their organisation achieve high value outcomes,” says Sernik.
And leadership is not just the domain of those with a title to match, says Dominic Corbett, human resources consultant at Westpac: “You don’t need to be the CEO to be a leader; at Westpac, we use the term, ‘self-leader’. These are people who take responsibility for themselves and their decisions, and the influence they have on their environment.”
From small to large Not for Profits, from CEOs to volunteers, leadership skills matter.
So how do leaders unlock their potential and sustainably give their best selves time and again?
Sustaining oneself as a leader in the for-purpose sector is vital, asserts Sernik: “Often, you are working with disempowered people, in a disempowered environment; that can take a toll on your personal resources.”
Wiratunga adds, “We talk about work/life balance but the reality is they are not easily separated, so we are all constantly trying to sustain personal and professional ambitions while things around us flex and merge.”
Mindfulness and Leadership
The personal and professional benefits of developing mindfulness are receiving increasing attention from researchers in the education and clinical fields.
Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn has written and practised extensively on the subject and describes mindfulness as paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. He says it’s not about what a person is doing, but how a person is being.
This concept is a challenge for leaders that typically define success by what has been done or achieved. However, the for-purpose sector is well-placed to appreciate the value of re-defining success as including positive impact, not just outcomes.
“The quality of relationships between people and organisations in the community sector is a significant determinant of success,” advises Wiratunga. “Being available, being trustworthy, being responsible—these things matter in our sector.”
Paying attention, showing empathy, and managing emotions, are all strengthened through mindfulness training, says Professor Kabat-Zinn. And leaders who are aware and present are noteworthy, says Corbett.
“They are engaged and are deeply listening to you.”
Sernik says great leaders are good at “calming the noise” and have good resilience; they can steer themselves and others through adversity.
Sustaining oneself as a leader is not just about good self-care, says Sernik. “It’s about emotional health and personal growth.”
Sernik’s Checklist for Leaders:
- Allocate at least 10 per cent of your time to ‘big picture’ matters. This is the stuff that is ‘important but not urgent’. It is about elevating from day-to-day activities in order to get a wider perspective and longer horizon. Set aside 15 mins of self-reflection a week and ask a few key questions:
– Am I setting a clear direction?
– How am I allocating my time?
– Does it match the big picture priorities?
– Am I leading according to my values?
– What are my team and environment telling me that I need to hear?
- Take a few moments to shut down the background noise at key points in your day. Good times are just before you walk into the office, as you leave, and between appointments:
– Give a name to the things that are sitting like ‘open files’ in your head;
– Pick out the emotion that is attached to this (brain science research suggests that doing this helps to calm the body’s emotional state);
– Set yourself an intention—it may be something like ‘I am setting this aside so I can be fully present to what I am doing now and next’.
- Be present for others:
– Start by noticing your body—how your feet rest on the floor, your posture, your breathing. This exercise helps to orient you to your presence in the space of others;
– Remind yourself of your intention for this conversation or relationship;
– Set aside your phone, papers, or computer, so you’re looking at the person or people. Ensure your body posture reflects your intention: open and relaxed;
– Notice to what extent you are actively listening, and maintain an active focus.
- Invite your team to think about what they are doing and how they are doing it:
– If you like the exercise of ‘shutting things down’ in order to be present, try it with your team as a way to start meetings;
– Find small ways to introduce self-awareness and mindfulness into the workplace. Asking others what tricks and tips they find useful is a great way to open up the conversation.
Readers are invited to email Elise Sernik with their top three leadership challenges.
Common themes will be included in the leadership-for-purpose event. Nominations for the 2014 Westpac Community Leaders Awards opened on July 1.
For more information on the 2014 Westpac Community Leaders Awards, click here. Finalists will be invited to the leadership-for-purpose event with Westpac and AGSM.
Pro Bono Australia and Westpac are partners in promoting the For Purpose Economy.