Directly or indirectly, the common theme expressed in everything I write is that our traditional ways of leading people in the workplace are failing.
We’ve seen employee engagement fall precipitously over a generation, and now have irrefutable evidence that it cannot and will not recover until we collectively adopt leadership practices that intentionally support the higher needs of workers – human beings.
My goal for each new article has been to further explain why leadership must change, and how some enlightened organizations and visionaries already are contributing to the creation of an entirely new, and far more effective model.
As we approach the New Year, I see it filled with promise. It’s clear that our collective view on how best to inspire employee performance is fundamentally and irrevocably shifting. What’s stunning to me is that it’s happening so fast.
To give you a new glimpse into the future of leadership, I want to share three profound trends that are building wave-like momentum in business. A major transformation is underway and it’s largely being influenced by some noteworthy reversals in our thinking.
1. Leaders Are Using Basic Spiritual Practices To Grow Their Effectiveness
When some people think about meditation, they invoke images of Indian swamis sitting comatose in a lotus position (imagining a few snakes wrapped around their bodies only adds to the instinctive conclusion that meditation is weird and not at all for them).
But recent scientific understanding proves that brief daily meditation (15–20 minutes at a time, ideally first thing in the morning) has huge benefits for human well-being and effectiveness. Because of this, it’s becoming far more widely embraced in the corporate world. Uber-successful people like Rupert Murdoch, George Stephanopoulos, bond-guru, Bill Gross, – and the late Steve Jobs – are well known practitioners. Already, firms including EBay, Facebook and Google have constructed meditation rooms and made them available for all employees to use.
According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of “Mindsight: The New Science Of Personal Transformation, “mindfulness is a form of mental activity that helps calm and clear the mind.” It’s a state of focused attention, a means to observing the present moment experience and to actively directing one’s thoughts. Practiced in the east and west, in ancient and modern times, quiet meditation disciplines our often-wild minds allowing us to make better choices aligned with our true intentions.
The idea that business is now drawing on Buddhist tradition to improve performance is truly remarkable. But for leaders who want to feel centered during their workday’s most critical moments, mindfulness is becoming widely regarded as an essential tool.
It’s also especially significant that mindfulness training is anchored on spiritual principles that encourage practitioners to be kind and compassionate to themselves – and to others. Thus the greater long-term benefit of teaching leaders to become more self-aware may be that it also influences them to become more caring managers as well.
Google’s Chade-Meng Tan, who led the team which created the “Search Inside Yourself” meditation training now being taught in numerous organizations across the US, believes more “mentally fit” leaders will have a huge advantage in their careers and can be expected to bring entirely new values to the workplace. When I interviewed him for Fast Company last March, he told me, “The next generation of leaders – people in business schools who are up and coming and are already conscious of the practices of mindfulness, calmness of mind and kindness – they’ll be disproportionately successful, all things being equal, and will become our future CEOs.”
2. Business Schools Are Teaching Future Managers To Lead With Their Heads And Their Hearts
In a conversation I had 17 months ago with John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and the author of business classic, Leading Change, Kotter told me that “the curriculums at most MBA programs were almost exclusively focused on the rational aspects of management, and widely ignored teaching future leaders how to effectively influence and even inspire employee performance.”
Kotter said that no school was devoting any more than 5% of its time to teaching what he called “heart issues.” Convinced that feelings and emotions far more often motivate human behavior, he said having such a gap in the training the nation’s future leaders was nothing short of “frightening.”
Since that discussion, a major course correction has begun.
For the first time in over 20 years, the Wharton Business School has entirely redesigned its curriculum. Rather than choose a quant to lead the effort, the school picked a known humanist on the faculty, Richard Shell, (whom I wrote about this summer in Fast Company).
After hand-selecting eight other people to help him, Shell’s team spent two years crafting coursework that would best prepare MBA students to lead in the 21st Century. The end product eliminates none of the traditional rigor, but allows students to “make their own adventure” and experience a more personalized education. “We’re now treating our 28-year-old students in ways that honors their integrity, autonomy and individuality,” said Shell. “We want them to experience their own independence, and then to help others [their future employees] achieve theirs. This matches up to modern-day business which requires individual judgment versus taking orders of old.”
Shell, who is the recent author of Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search For Success, personally ensured that the new curriculum addressed the gap that John Kotter identified. “Wharton has heard the call for a right brain as well as a left brain approach to business loud and clear,” he told me.
And Wharton isn’t alone in taking steps to balance the mind and heart in its syllabus. Spiritualist author, Dr. Deepak Chopra, now teaches a class at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. One Minute Manager co-author, Ken Blanchard, initiated a values and self-discovery seminar at the University of San Diego’s School of Leadership. My own book, Lead From The Heart, is being taught to business students at Northern Arizona University and Embry-Riddle University. And mindfulness training, according to The Economist, has become standard fare at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Claremont-McKenna’s Drucker Management School – and Harvard.
3. A New Belief In The Greater Potential Of People
“With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.”
One reason so many people have become so disengaged in their jobs is because they have aspirations for personal growth (Maslow called it “self-actualization) that routinely go unmet. Twenty-first Century workers want to maximize their own human potential and often feel thwarted by leaders who invest too little in their development.
According to Carolyn Dweck, Stanford University psychologist and author of the groundbreaking book, Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success, an inclination to hold back on training, coaching, and mentoring employees is driven by the common conviction that most people cannot become much more effective than they already are.
A traditional and longstanding view in society is that human talents are fixed at birth, and that an IQ score tells the whole story about the capabilities of a person. But Dweck emphatically refutes this; her compelling 20-year research proves that a limited belief in human potential, a “fixed mindset,” profoundly restrains our success as leaders.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, the pervasiveness of a fixed mindset in our culture has influenced us to value instinctive, effortless accomplishment over achievement through determined action. “We revere the naturals,” he says. We judge and esteem people for their innate talent and overlook that the far majority of high achievers got there through hard work.
Tied to this limited belief system says Dweck, “fixed mindset” leaders, “live in a world where some people are deemed superior and some are inferior.” In my own career, I can recall many occasions where peer leaders sought to leverage their “stars” to meet important goals, rather than to challenge and teach all their other employees to achieve at the same high level.
According to Dweck, “a person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable. It’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil and training.” Consequently, she urges us to adopt a “growth mindset,” a belief that anyone’s basic qualities can be cultivated and improved upon through effort. Leaders with a growth mindset, therefore, thrive by intentionally stretching every person they manage.
Eminent educational researcher, Benjamin Bloom, studied 120 outstanding achievers including concert pianists, Olympic swimmers, world-class tennis players, sculptors, and mathematicians. He discovered that most of them displayed no clear talent until their training began in earnest. Only their continued motivation and commitment, along with a network of support, took them to the top.
Tied to Dweck’s work, we now know that wise leaders going forward will invest heavily in employee development, while personally encouraging and nurturing people to build their skill level and confidence over time. In the words of legendary coach, John Wooden, “By applying yourself each day to the task of becoming better, over a period of time you will become a lot better.”
Very clearly, the future of workplace leadership will never be what it used to be. And, because we’re now opening our minds as well as our hearts to what truly drives the human spirit, we’re finding far more enlightened ways of securing the highest level of employee performance possible. This can only be good news for business.
Happy New Year!
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