Matt Tenney is the author of a new book – The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule. Matt, along with his co-author Tim Gard, bring mindfulness to life for leaders. Mindfulness has grabbed the attention of many individuals as a way to find center and meaning in their work and life. Organizations are looking at mindful practices as a way to foster a better culture and place to work. Both are good developments, but the danger is mindfulness becomes more hype than real change.
What Matt does through his book is bring a practical element to mindfulness by applying principles and actions to enable us to be leaders centered in purpose and integrity while building a more thoughtful leadership presence. I am grateful to Matt for his time in this interview. From his insights, I have learned more about what it takes to be a mindful leader and what mindfulness can mean for the next generation of leaders.
An Interview with Matt Tenney, Author of The Mindfulness Edge
Jon: Leadership presence is discussed in your book. How can mindfulness enhance your presence, especially as a new leader in a new situation?
Matt: In a general sense, mindfulness training enhances leadership presence in two key ways. First, the practice helps us to be less reactive, and more calm and collected when we’re under pressure. This inspires other to have confidence in us.
Second, the practice helps us develop the ability to be fully present with people and give them our undivided attention. This is one of the greatest gifts we can offer others, and is a powerful yet very simple way to ensure that people feel that we really care about them. When people feel truly valued and cared for, they tend to be much more engaged and go the extra mile for the team.
It is an aspect of this ability to be fully present with others that I think is most important for leaders who are new to their roles: listening skills. Mindfulness training helps us to be less caught up in our thinking and what we want to say, and better able to listen deeply to others.
It’s natural to think that because we have a leadership position we need to have more good ideas and give more direction to others. However, leaders are judged by what the team produces. Teams tend to produce more when leaders do less talking and more listening. This allows leaders to better empower team members, to help team members feel valued, and to take advantage of the many great ideas team members often have.
What links exist between mindfulness and integrity?
Matt: If we define integrity as living our values instead of following our whims or reactive thoughts and emotions, then mindfulness is essentially synonymous with integrity.
Being mindful means that we have made a subtle inner shift from being our thinking — operating as though we are the voice in our heads — to being aware of our thinking. In any moment that we are being mindful, we can observe both our thoughts and emotions with complete objectivity, almost as though they are on a heads-up display. This means that we don’t have to follow any of them.
This is the “freedom” that neurologist Victor Frankl spoke of that exists when there is some space between stimulus and response. With mindfulness, we don’t become the victims of the reactive thoughts and emotions that arise in the heat of the moment. Rather, we are able to choose a response that is aligned with our values. We are able to live with integrity.
Mindfulness and stillness go together. When much of our work is based on actions, stillness is counter-intuitive. What helps? Why is it important?
Matt: This is actually a common misperception about mindfulness. The practice is often thought of as sitting still and watching the breath go in and out. Although when done correctly that certainly can be a mindfulness training exercise, mindfulness is actually something we can (and should) realize during any moment of our lives, even during motion. The more often we are able to operate from the perspective of mindful self-awareness, the more effective our actions tend to be and, as we discussed earlier, the more aligned our actions are with our values.
That being said, there is great benefit that comes from taking time be still each day. When we practice sustaining mindful self-awareness while sitting still, we see our inner world with much greater clarity. This allows us to develop very refined levels of self-awareness. Self-awareness is perhaps the most important leadership skill we can develop.
Self-awareness is what allows us to have a more accurate knowledge of our strengths and weaknesses, which is essential for personal development and building effective teams. Self-awareness is essential for making sound decisions that aren’t adversely affected by our biases. And, self-awareness is the foundational competency of emotional intelligence and social intelligence, which the research of Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis suggests accounts for as much as 90% of what separates stellar leaders from average leaders.
You link mindfulness to working with greater purpose. What advice do you offer Millennials in using mindfulness to lead with purpose and stay on purpose as their careers unfold?
Matt: There are several ways that mindfulness training helps us lead with purpose.
First, as we touched on earlier, the practice helps prevent us from getting swept away by reactive thoughts and emotions, or by short-term goals or problems that seem urgent, but really aren’t that important. In other words, the practice helps us to more consistently act according to our deepest values and aspirations.
Mindfulness training can also help us to refine our values. Over time the practice helps us to be less ego-centric. It becomes increasingly clear that we are all quite interconnected in this world, and the division between our needs and the needs of others gets pretty fuzzy. This helps us to see the value in living a meaningful life that serves the greater good, and not just our own self-interest.
On a more refined level, mindfulness training helps us to find purpose in even the most ordinary, everyday activities. Each moment of practice, even while walking to the bathroom during a break at work, is changing the brain in ways that help us to be happier, kinder, and more compassionate. Developing these qualities improves our own lives, as well as the lives of others. In fact, developing these qualities may be the most important action we can take to make our communities, and even the world, a better place.
What excites you about the role of mindfulness in today’s leadership practices and in organizational culture development?
Matt: Most exciting to me is the incredible win-win that is created when mindfulness training is utilized for leadership and culture development.
Because so many of the benefits of mindfulness training have been validated by science, people can have a lot of confidence that if they practice correctly, they’ll be changing both the function and the structure of their brains in ways that are critical for both personal and professional effectiveness. So, organizations that integrate mindfulness training have an evidence-based approach to improving the results of the organization.
At the same time, mindfulness training helps us to develop the qualities that make life truly rich and make our world a better place, qualities like happiness, kindness, compassion, and generosity. This is why I do the work that I do. I envision a world where poverty, violence, and other unnecessary suffering no longer exist.
A huge step for moving in the direction of such a world is to help organizations see the connection between mindfulness training and better business outcomes. This means more and more organizations are likely to offer mindfulness training to team members. As a wonderful side effect, this means that our world will be inhabited by increasing numbers of awesome human beings who are effective professionally and have also realized high levels of happiness, kindness, compassion, and generosity.
Mindful Leadership and Better Outcomes
Thank you, Matt Tenney, for your perspective and call to embrace mindful practices to enhance our leadership abilities and create a better workspace, personal space, and community space. Your work is vital, and the next generation of leaders seem ready to engage mindfulness to empower a better way of leading and living.
Matt Tenney is the author of The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule. Through keynote speeches and training programs, he works to develop highly effective leaders who achieve extraordinary, long-term business outcomes — and live more fulfilling lives — as a result of realizing high levels of self-mastery and more effectively serving and inspiring greatness in the people around them. Matt’s clients include Wells Fargo, Marriott, Keller Williams, The Four Seasons, and many other companies, associations, and universities.
© 2016 Matt Tenney, author of The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule