In my work with leaders, I emphasize that our organizations have a climate not unlike our ecosystem. How we care for the climate we live in greatly influences the sustainability and welfare of life. Likewise, how leaders care for the organizational climate greatly influence the sustainability and welfare of people’s lives that work in it.
Thich Nhat Hanh, world renowned writer and Zen Buddhist monk, known for his teachings on mindfulness, says we are linked to all people and beings. Each action we take has an effect on everyone around us. Your happiness and good will is the happiness and good will of others.
Hanh uses the analogy of an oak tree to help us understand how we all benefit from its presence. A healthy oak tree draws birds to nest, provides shade, and adds to the goodness and happiness we feel in nature. An unhealthy oak tree draws burrowing insects that eat away at the tree. The tree will not draw birds nor provide shade and distracts from its goodness and happiness it emits in nature.
A mindful leader is deeply conscious of his or her presence and how it influences the mood of the work climate for everyone, just as we feel the presence of the oak tree in nature.
So, here are some questions to ask yourself about your leadership presence:
- Is my presence one of happiness, compassion, and attentiveness?
- Is my presence being infected by the insects of ego-centrism, anxiety or inattentiveness?
- How is my presence felt by others? How do I know?
- What presence do I want to bring to my work climate?
- What is the work climate I want to sustain?
- How do I sustain a healthy, happy and life-giving work climate?
These are challenging questions for leaders and are as important as the metrics used to measure a leader’s performance. Give yourself sufficient time for deep thought and reflection on these questions, possibly under an oak tree. A mindful leader knows the value of letting answers unfold on their own accord, just as an oak tree grows slowly to maturity.