“Mindfulness” is a popular term these days. I know I can’t get through a day without some social media post or article telling me that I need to be more “mindful.” But what in the world does it mean, and how do you apply it to your job as a leader?
Let’s use a totally Western, non-touchy-feely definition. Webster’s describes it as: “The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; such a state of awareness.”
Why is mindfulness so important? Because when we’re working, it’s easy to run on auto-pilot. We respond to things automatically. You’ve done it a hundred times. You answer an email in about 30 seconds without thinking about what you’re saying. Then spend two days unraveling the chaos it caused. Someone asks you a question, and you give an answer that only confuses the person more. Or, worse, you jump to conclusions and make all kinds of wrong assumptions about what your team is working on and how well (or poorly) they are performing. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by the day-to-day work that you don’t stop to really think about and process what’s going on.
When you manage remote employees, the risk is even higher. When you work at the same location with people, you receive cues that are hard to ignore. Without visual cues and context, it’s hard to really understand what’s happening. That’s why it is critical that you are mindful, especially in these situations:
- When people are talking. How often do you really listen to your remote workers? We all know that the words people use don’t necessarily tell the whole picture, even when they’re attempting to be truthful. How often have you asked someone to do a task, and received an “okay” without hearing the doubt and panic in their voice? If you’re really listening, you’re interpreting, clarifying and picking up subtle cues that belie the words. That means you can’t rely 100% on email, text and IM to communicate with remote employees. You need to actually talk to them on a regular basis, and you need to really hear what they are saying.
- When people ask a question. Offering up a simple response may deliver the requested information, but does it really help solve the problem or provide the person with everything he or she needs to move forward? Remember every question contains not only a request for data, but also context, support and confirmation. Ask yourself not just what people want to know, but why they want to know it, and what they’re going to do with the information. Being mindful of the questions behind the question can save a lot of time and tension.
- When you are engaged in a task. You can’t be mindful if you are doing two things at once. When you are talking to an employee, focus on the employee; don’t do anything else. When you must focus on an important project, clear all the other distractions. Stop multi-tasking. Be totally present and concentrate on the task at hand.
When you are in the moment, it’s amazing what happens. You hear and see signs of trouble before they occur, you are open to new ideas, and people get the impression that you care about what they’re doing and saying. So just for today, every time you’re engaged with your team verbally or in writing, ask yourself this: What is really going on at this moment? You might be amazed at the results.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
Photo Credit: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/thinking-1539757