The Mind of the Leader: A book review by Bob Morris

The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results
Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter
Harvard Business Review Press (March 2018)

“We have no neurological alarm system for slow change.” So what? A lot.

With Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts, Rasmus Hougaard introduces in One Second Ahead a thought-provoking concept, PAID, an acronym for Pressure, Always on Information Overload, and Distracted. This is a harsh but subtle reality as most of us struggle to cope with severe stress, whatever the nature and extent of it in our workplace environment may be. Are we doomed to remain under such stress, relentless distractions, and an ever-increasing abundance of information often characterized as a tsunami or blizzard?

“Thankfully, the answer is no. It is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness. Simply put, at its introductory level, mindfulness means trained attention. Based on thousands of practice, mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen their focus and clarity.”

And now in The Mind of the Leader, Hougaard and Carter note that in 2017, almost $50-billion was spent on leadership development and more than that will be spent this year. “That’s a lot of money for seemingly little return. What’s going wrong? In part, the system is broken…something more is needed: leadership that truly engages employees is truly hum, and addresses basic human needs any employee needs.” Hougaard and Carter conducted research that involved more than thirty thousand leaders from thousands of companies in more than one hundred countries, conducted in-depth interviews with hundreds of C-suite executives, and reviewed the results oif thousands of studies on leadership in the fields of neuroscience, leadership, organizational development, and psychology.

“Based on this research, we have conclusively found that three mental qualities stand out as being foundational for leaders today: mindfulness (M), selflessness (S), and compassion (C). Together, we call these foundational skills MSC leadership.” So those who lead and others who aspire to lead must first develop and then apply these three qualities to themselves, then to their people, and then to their organization.

As Hougaard and Carter explain, “Mindfulness refers to both a practice and a state of mind. The more you practice it, the more it becomes your state of mind…Selflessness is the wisdom of getting out of your own way, the way of your people, and the way of the organization to unleash the natural flow of energy that people bring to work. Selflessness combines strong self-confidence with a humble intention to be of service…Compassion is the quality if having positive intentions for others. It’s the intention of being of service to other people’s happiness and the desire to help alleviate their problems. It’s the ability to understand others’ perspectives and use that as a catalyst for supportive action.”

These are among dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also shared to indicate the scope of Hougaard and Carter’s coverage:

o Compassion (Pages 3-4, 8-9, ND 16-19)
o Self-confidence (13-16)
o Self-leadership (23-95)
o Happiness and meaning (37-42)
o Focus and executive function (48-49)
o Faculties of focus (49-54)
o Self-compassion and health (80-87)
o Unconscious biases (101-104)
o Understand Your People (101-114)
o Mindful leadership (115-126)
o Selfless leadership (!27-142)
o Grow Your People (133-134 and 136-138)
o Compassionate leadership (143-159)
o The People-Centered culture (165-170)
o Enable Organization Focus (175-179)
o Traits and Tips for a Selfless Culture (187-194)

As I continue to think about the foundational skills of MSC leadership — Mindfulness, Selflessnss, and Compassion — I am again reminded of this passage in Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

To a much greater extent than ever before, all organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. One challenge is to develop it or obtain it. Another is to retain it. And still another is to establish and then sustain a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. These challenges are even more daunting now when changes are occurring faster and with greater frequency as well as impact. Keep in mind that some changes occur slowly and then suddenly have great impact. The personal computer is but one example of that.

Hougaard and Carter: “We have no neurological alarm system for slow change. When it comes to slow change, the normal fight-or-flight reaction of the amygdala draws a blank…We can start now by building more mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion in our organizations and societies, so that trust and social cohesion are in place when things become more challenging. That is the responsibility we all have, and especially those in positions of power. And it starts with our our own minds.” These comments raise a question: “What did neuroscience reveal tio you about the mind oif effective or ineffective leaders?”

Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter’s response to that question provides an appropriate conclusion to this brief commentary: “Our research revealed that effective leaders had greater mental agility, greater focus, greater capacity for complexity and more mind space for creativity and innovation. So on the positive side, studies have found that you can train your mind to be more calm, clear and focused and this has tremendous benefits for leaders.

“On the downside, recent studies have found that holding the power if leadership can damage our brains in a way that gradually disables our ability to empathize with others. The part of our brain that enables us to recognize and empathized with other people’s emotions can be impaired as we rise up the leadership ranks and hold more power over others. This is a major issue because if we are not able to read the emotions of the people we lead we will not be able to engage or lead them effectively. Not being able to empathize can negatively impact other elements of our lives professionally and personally.”

I congratulate them on The Mind of the Leader, a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

 

 

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