Photo by Andrew McAlpine

What strikes me almost every day in my coaching practice, is how heavily the following traits are valued in organisations:

Action
Doing
Competitive drive
Goal focus
Intellectual fortitude
The logic. The linear. The analytical.

And this is a good thing. After all, these activities do contribute to productivity and results.

But, I’m starting to get a bit worried. As my five-year old would say, it’s “all a bit wonky”

Something’s missing. Or rather, some things are missing from this picture.

Here are the 9 missing ingredients of successful leadership:

1. Reflection
2. Feeling
3. Sensing
4. Silence
5. Intuition
6. Pausing
7. Soul
8. Listening
9. Stillness

You might like to refer it as a balance – between yin and yang, masculine and feminine, or eastern and western philosophies.

We have, by and large, forgotten these more reflective practices in business.

When are these gems present?

  • When the CFO listens (intently and with his full attention) to his direct report, rather than thinking about his response, his next meeting, or checking his phone.
  • When the Marketing Director lets go of her need to jump immediately into ‘problem solving mode’ when her brand manager comes to her with a problem. Instead, she slows herself down enough to fully understand the exact nature of the problem, then moves into a coaching conversation with her brand manager to encourage learning.
  • When we are prepared to just sit and listen to a colleague’s concerns about a given situation, without jumping in to offer solutions.
  • When the CEO says, “I’m not sure.”
  • When a manager stops in the middle of a meeting and says, “I’m sensing some disagreement to this idea here”, names the ‘elephant in the room’ and, in a non-judgemental way, seeks to uncover what’s not being said.
  • When intuitive gut feeling is seen as a valuable mechanism, at least in part, for decision-making.
  • When we practice mindfulness.

We need to reclaim these lost ‘arts’ if we are truly to reach our potential – as organisations, teams and individuals.

Who does it well?

Indigenous cultures are just one example. In Maori and Pacific Island cultures, there are countless practices centred around the importance of acknowledgement and listening to one another. Powhiri (formal welcome), mihi (speaking structure) and karanga (formal call) are all integral to Maori tikanga (Maori customs and traditions).

In Native American culture, being a good listener is highly valued and a well-developed skill, because much of the culture was passed down orally. Storytelling and oral recantation were an important means of teaching lessons.

Organisations are also beginning to value the importance of these traits.

At E-Bay, there are two meditation rooms at the company’s San Jose office, set up to encourage mindfulness, reflection and to help employees better manage stress.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) provides a Mindfulness Centre, where employees can partake in workshops and retreats.  GMCR returned roughly 3,400% in the stock market in the last decade, making it one of the best performing stock
during that period.

Click here for more examples of companies which promote meditative practices.

Or buy the brilliant book Wild Courage by Elle Harrison, which brings the worlds of business and spirituality together, helping those in crisis towards soulful leadership.

When an organisation is dominated by either masculine or feminine approaches, it’s likely the downsides of that approach will emerge. With more of a balance of action oriented and reflective practices, we get more of the strengths and less of the downsides of each.

What can you do to bring more balance to your organisational culture? And what is getting in the way?

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