Recently asked to write for The CEO Institute, Repa contributed this timely article on how leaders can use mindfulness to lead authentically during uncertainty. Read the full article below, first published by the International Institute of Directors and Managers (IIDM) in April 2021.

Uncertainty is certain. The last 12 months have shown the world how unpredictable our future is; old ways of managing businesses and leading teams are no longer working.  What has made you successful in your career and life to date will not ensure your success in the future.  

The nature of an ever-changing world where the pace of change is accelerating means the agility to adapt is crucial.  We cannot predict or control the future.  So how do you ensure success?

The answer lies in how you define success.

How do you define success in an uncertain world?

I often see a default towards emphasising the monetary and career side of clients lives. Most people neglect to view success from all facets of their life. 

Whilst financial security is important, your physical, mental, and energetic thriving and resilience are all essential too.  They enable your financial and career success and ensure that you live a fulfilled life. 

There is another dimension of fulfilment beyond outward success: a deep, centred sense of alignment between who you are and how you show up in the world.  When you achieve this connection, you feel a strong sense of purpose.  It guides you through the oscillations of life.  This is mindful leadership and, as you’ve guessed, it starts with leading yourself.

Leading yourself consciously with courage & compassion

Growing scientific evidence supports what the yoga tradition has known for centuries, that all decision-making involves thinking (the mind), intuition (the gut) and emotion (the heart).  Each of these organs has a significant number of brain cells that connect directly with your brain.   The use of these holistic decision-making faculties is subtle, usually unconscious, even for those people who strongly believe intuition and emotion play no part in decision-making.

Mindful leadership is about integrating and utilising your “intelligence”, not just your intellect, by making consciously courageous decisions with compassion.  

Conscious decisions require the ability to see your thought patterns, understand your innate strengths and make decisions from a deeply centred perspective, rather than reacting to external circumstances.

From this centred space, you are able to make calculated decisions or take risks to navigate the uncertain, which is the space courage occupies in mindful leadership.

Compassion is the key component of change.  Both self-compassion and compassion for others underpin the ability to consciously make courageous decisions.  

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is the capacity to recognise you are suffering, physically or emotionally, and taking action with the intention to alleviate that suffering. Unlike self-esteem, which is dependent on the values of others, self-compassion is a way of relating to yourself with no judgements or comparisons.  I believe there are three critical elements of self-compassion:

  1. Mindfulness – consciously seeing and feeling what is truly happening and accepting your experience, without wishing it were different
  2. Loving-kindness – holding yourself with tender care, the way you would support a close friend who was experiencing emotional or physical pain
  3. Action – taking the steps to change, which are grounded in self-care and growing towards your vision of leadership, rather than a critical or comparison-based approach

Self-compassion allows you to remain centred and calm during periods of volatility, change and uncertainty.  It allows you to be grounded in the knowledge that even though you don’t have the answers, you can lead yourself, your team and your business through the winds of change.

Overcoming fear and denial

Research shows that when confronted with a threat such as COVID-19, we instinctively respond with fight, flight or freeze.  But there is another response: mindful leadership is the antidote to fear and denial.  

Mindful leadership is leading with authenticity, using your innate strengths to make a difference to this world and those around you that only you can make.  It enables you to accept and acknowledge what is really happening right now, in this moment, and it allows you to choose your response.  In that space between fear and hope, is the present moment.  In the present moment, you can choose your response.

Some organisations responded to COVID with fear and stopped all discretionary spending of any nature, effectively giving their leaders the message: “we don’t trust you to spend money where it’s required most, in making our business resilient and in future-proofing it”.  The businesses that stood out were the ones that made conscious choices about where to invest their discretionary budget, to elevate resilience.   These businesses prioritised resilience knowing their people were the key to unlock the door to recovery.

How did you respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and how did your business respond?  Did you respond with fear? Did you freeze, paralysed for a period of time? Or did you make consciously courageous decisions whilst self-compassionately managing your emotions and discomfort?

What will you change to lead yourself mindfully?  The pace of change is accelerating and disruption is constant.  If there was ever a time to elevate your leadership, it is now.

“If you change nothing, nothing will change” – Maya Angelou

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