Being Present: Why Mindfulness Will Make You a Better Leader and Parent

Ah yes.

To be present, or not to be present. That is the question.

When I surveyed over 100 entrepreneur parents to ask them “What is the biggest pain point in managing a business and your family,” the top two responses were always 1) Feelings of guilt, 2) lack of being present.

[Psst -- if you haven’t yet read my other post about mom guilt, you should check it out after.]

So, I became ever more curious about this whole being present thing. Was I present? Was I demonstrating mindfulness to my kids and team? Was I even listening when my husband spoke?

Gosh - I thought that I had that base covered, but I realized not (The #1 reason for creating the Be Present Box!)

Humans cannot multitask. Sure some supermoms claim they can, but they can’t. They have done studies on this (and why this is important will matter in just a moment.) and found that multitasking with electronic media causes a more significant decrease in IQ than smoking weed or losing a night’s sleep. May as well be stoned most of the day then, right? ;)

Why this matters. When you’re on your phone or refreshing emails, and you’re trying to do something else, like parenting or leading a team meeting, you may as well just not have shown up. You aren’t actually there, you’re not paying attention, your forgetfulness increases, your productivity, and efficiency go down the shitter, and you are most certainly not bring present.

That’s why when I used to run my team standups, we weren't allowed our computers; only I could have mine to run off the agenda. We followed a tight structure, with set time limits. Yes, we often went over, but not by much. At the end of the meeting, we all had our to-do’s for the day/week covered and were ready to get to work. We were super focused and VERY present.

The way we lead our high performing team in business is also the way we should lead our family. - Click to tweet

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

We need to be living our lives in the moment and not worrying about what could happen or who is judging us. As a parent, you should know by now, that people will, and always will, form an opinion of how you do things. Some will be vocal about it, and others will remain silent. The same can be said about your leadership skills outside of the house, (but you’d be lucky to have a team member who provides constructive criticism about your leadership ability.)

These things are tough to navigate, but when you practice mindfulness, their sting isn’t as bad, and you can eventually learn to let it all go.

So how does mindfulness make you a better leader and/or parent? Here are five ways I’ve discovered work for us:

1 - It will teach you empathy

As a CEO (or parent) when you’re more mindful, you tend to lead from a place of curiosity and acceptance over judgment. You are more patient, kind and go through your day with an open mind. You end up setting an example, you instill confidence and inspire those around you, whether that be your team or your kids.

Mindfulness encourages empathy.

Studies show that some of the top CEO’s of fortune 500 companies are more empathetic than those of not so successful organizations. A 2018 State of the Workplace Empathy study explains that 87% of CEOs see a direct link between workplace empathy and business performance, productivity, retention, and general business health.

Microsofts CEO Satya Nadela explains that empathy is a crucial source of innovation since innovation comes from one’s ability to grasp customers’ unmet and unarticulated needs. So, if parents and leaders develop a sense to be more mindful, they then become more empathetic which means they lead from a place of understanding. And when a leader understands, more people felt heard. And when your team or kids feel heard, they perform better and are better behaved.

It’s time you start leading your tribe(s) (team and kids) from a place of empathy.

2 - You will learn to pay more attention

The best gift you can give someone is your undivided attention.

Think about this. When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who looked you right in the eye and listened to every word you said? It was with your therapist I bet, right? You felt heard and seen, right? Therapist (the good ones anyway) will remember the most mundane details of your life’s sh*t because they pay attention. It is their job, sure, but it’s still a remarkable task given the nature of their work.

If you are solely focused on the conversation or event at hand, you will have a greater likelihood of remembering the details and, perhaps more importantly, you will be able to come to a solution quicker, understand the other’s perspective and even build a deeper connection with that person/team/community.

The best leaders pay attention.

The best CEO’s pay attention.

The best politicians pay attention.

The best parents pay attention.

As a parent, paying full attention to your kids can provide more insight into their behavior, feelings, and emotions. When we started using my Family Conversation Deck at dinner time, we learned a lot about things that were happening at school with the boys. One question, in particular, stopped us in our tracks. We pulled the card “What frustrated you the most today?” and when it was Max’s turn to answer, we learned that he was being bullied and that there was so much transition happening at his daycare that it was upsetting him. At the time, he was exhibiting more aggressive behavior, and we were trying to understand why. Paying attention to his emotions and his story at the table that evening was the crucial piece of the puzzle we needed to start making his days more enjoyable, and in helping him navigate his emotions.

3 - You will hold space

Holding space is all about allowing a person or group to feel how they feel, to let them to vocalize their feelings and to support them, whether or not you agree with them

“Mindfulness is simply paying attention on purpose,

in the present moment. “ - Gretchen Steidle

When holding space, you end up cultivating an openness for others which is the most selfless thing you can do. This ‘space consciousness’ as Eckhart Tolle explains, is “who you are in your essence. In other words, the form of little things leaves room for inner space. And it is from inner space, the unconditioned consciousness itself, that true happiness, the joy of Being, emanates.”

At dinner that night, we all held space for Max. We gave him all the time he needed to explain himself and his behavior at school. He felt safe and comfortable because we opened up the discussion to be all about him and his needs. Our kitchen table has since become that sacred ground where we can all share our stories and issues knowing that we will be heard because it’s where we hold space.

When I was running my agency, I had an open door policy. Which meant call, text, email or come to my office at any time to discuss whatever my team needed. My office was a place where I could hold space for my employees. Conversations ranged from asking for extra time off, help in navigating bullying (yes, that sh*t still happens as adults), to requesting a raise. I made sure my team felt comfortable chatting about anything they needed to - I always held space for them. And as a CEO, it was not only an honor to have those conversations with some incredible people, but it was as rewarding for them as it was for me.

4 - You will have happier employees and kids

Did you know that a good employee will walk away from their job, regardless of pay and benefits, if they are working for an-always-stressed-boss?

Did you know that a parent who is chronically stressed can severely impact a child’s development? And when a pregnant mother is always stressed it increases the chance of her child developing anxiety and ADHD, according to a study done on prenatal stress and risk for autism.

Mindfulness ≄ Stress.

A mindful CEO and a conscious parent have lower levels of stress because they are trained in living in the now (being present) and not worrying (rumination) about the future. They don’t sit and think about a stressful situation they just encountered or worry about all the tasks they have to check off before the day’s end. They just do. And while they are just doing, they are happier, more forgiving, and are better leaders/parents.

As a leader:

When a leader actively engages in mindfulness practices, the ROI or ‘psychological capital’ of their company goes up; hope, optimism, self-efficacy, and resilience.

  • Hope: “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful agency (goal-directed energy) and pathways (planning to meet goals)” - Rick Snyder.

  • Optimism: “reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability.” – Martin Seligman.

  • Self-efficacy: “the belief in one’s ability to influence events that affect one’s life and control over the way these events are experienced" - Albert Bandura

  • Resilience: The ability to adapt to new experiences and challenging circumstances. - Ann Masten.

To become a mindful leader begins with practicing self-awareness. Observe how you show up for others on your team. Journal your experiences and pay attention to your daily habits. Ask for feedback and tweak your mindfulness practice as you evolve.

As a parent:

We all know that growing mountain of laundry stresses us out (it used to piss me off). We get away from ourselves always dreading doing it. Well, not sure if you’ve noticed, but that mound is and will always be there. It doesn't matter how much you think about it, hate it, worry about it -- it isn't going anywhere. So the best thing you can do for yourself and your family is to be happy about it. Silly right? Stop stressing. Be grateful that you GET to do laundry, it means you have people who dirty clothes and you HAVE A WASHING MACHINE to clean your clothes. Flip the mindset.

So how can you apply hope, optimism, self-, and resilience to your parenting skills? Here are some ideas:

  • Hope: use systems (like a reward system) to encourage positive behavior with your kids. It needs to be goal-oriented, so they know the desired outcome (reward) and has to be planned so that they know what behavior is expected of them.

  • Optimism: Expecting good behavior as an example in implementing a reward system. React to unearned points with confidence and positive feedback.

  • Self-efficacy: Believe in your parenting methods and ability to raise well-rounded children.

  • Resilience: Use those ‘tough days’ as a stepping stone in better parenting. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but there is always a pot of gold on the other side. Pick yourself back up after shit-hits-the-fan and get on with your day. Be the example.

5 - It will help you understand and create change

Dangling a carrot and stick is a great motivator, to get a task/job done. But it does little in creating long term change. By forcing people, without understanding them or the situation to follow the carrot, you leave out all the important details of the goal, or worse, you lead them towards the wrong goal.

To create change within your team or family, you need to understand change from the inside out. What are the internal motivating factors for your team? What solution is your family seeking (not one you are actively imposing on them)?

By digging deeper and without implying that your way is the only way, you will get more clarity into how things operate, what motivates and what goal everyone wants to achieve. Change can only happen when the leader (you) makes a conscious effort to effectively interpret the dreams and aspirations of their employees and family. When we make assumptions, we fail to make the right moves because we ignore or overlook the deep desires of those we are trying to effect. As a mindful leader or parent, creating change can only come from being empathetic, paying attention, holding space, and being happier.

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