Edelman’s annual trust barometer in 2015 revealed lowest levels of confidence in CEO’s, industry and government officials since 2008. It is clear that something has to change for leadership to win back the trust of its stakeholders. As Thupten Jinpa reminded us at the 5-college Compassionate Leadership Conference at UMass, “While strategy is important, good leadership has to do with character.” The work of mindfulness and emotional intelligence training affords leaders an opportunity to continue to build their inner strengths of clarity, compassion and wisdom to lead with integrity in the face of all challenges.

No matter what kind of leader you are – leading your life, your family, community, college or a team or organization – this is an invitation to create the space to use the vehicle of poetry, if you like, to explore what it means to lead with integrity and authenticity. I explore three specific qualities of compassion, courage and wisdom that are essential to trustworthy leadership. However, don’t be bound by this post. Instead dive into your own being to find insight that awakens you to your potential to lead a life of integrity and meaning.

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

— David Whyte
from Fire in the Earth
©1992 Many Rivers Press

What does this poem have to do with leadership? Words like despair, abandoned, and sure defeat are not typically used in the context of leadership. In fact, even in non-leadership contexts these are words we hope to not have to deal with in our lives.

Yet, it is in engaging with our raw emotions and vulnerabilities do we awaken the compassion, courage and wisdom to show up in the world with authenticity and integrity.

Compassion

In a culture that predisposes competition to be part of our intrinsic nature, compassion may not be an obvious quality for trustworthy leadership. However, there is growing evidence in neuroscience that we are hard-wired for compassion.

Compassion for others starts with the self. However, compassion is not about being nice and feeling good. In fact compassion involves getting in touch, very often, with discomfort and messy emotions in our selves and others.

“I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.”

How comfortable are you with being with your discomfort? How do you typically respond to difficult emotions in you? As human beings we tend to avoid discomfort and cling to what feels good. However, in this unwillingness to meet what we consider negative emotions like anger, despair, sadness and jealousy, we are losing the opportunity to explore the ways in which we are stuck. When we numb or distract ourselves from feeling the negative emotions we are also dulling our ability to feel the positive emotions. Our fear of discomfort also keeps us away from digging in deeper to discover our truth and the resources of wisdom and creativity to deal with the challenging emotions.

When we have not learned to recognize and work with our emotions, it is hard for us to recognize and work with difficult emotions in others. There is growing evidence that our behaviors are primarily driven by emotions. It is vital for leaders to attend to and acknowledge their own emotions and in their colleagues and employees. For example, are you able to see if your team members are energized by the work they do or if they are stressed out and bored?

In fact, you set the tone for how you and the people around you will work with emotions. How do you deal with difficult emotions in others? Do you tend to avoid a conversation involving difficult emotions? What are the norms for dealing with difficult emotions in your team?

But won’t listening to others negative emotions bring me down, you wonder? Yes, simply feeling what others are feeling can lead to empathic distress or empathy fatigue. This is where compassion comes in. Compassion involves feeling for others accompanied by a clear understanding of their perspective and the motivation to ease their suffering. In moving from feeling the emotions to doing something about it, compassion promotes a positive experience that avoids empathic burnout. You can read about other benefits of compassion here.

As a leader your ability to recognize signs of negative emotions in your team members and work toward genuinely addressing the root causes of those emotions, keeping their best interests in mind, will not only win their trust and loyalty but also go a long way toward building a compassionate culture that respects the emotions in self and others. A culture that promotes openness to difficult emotions and conversations is crucial to creativity and innovation.

Courage

There is a lot of pressure from our social and cultural institutions to be a certain way. Be it from parents, social connections or our educational institutions, there are expectations of what it means to be successful in this culture. It takes courage to look at what has heart and meaning beyond the path defined for us. For example, I would start my hundred-student undergrad class in marketing principles with the question, Why are you here? The answer was often a long period of silence followed by answers that had nothing to do with what the students really wanted to do. In fact many of them confessed that they had never been asked that question nor reflected on why they were taking the classes beyond preparing them for a successful career and making money.

It took me many careers in different countries and cultures before I came to see my gifts and what has heart and meaning for me. More importantly, it took and continues to take a lot of courage to let go of definitions of success passed on to me and discover my own meaning of success and pursue that in the face of all odds. What is it about your work that you love? What are you willing to throw yourself fully into regardless of the outcome?

I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward

the center of your longing.

It takes courage to speak your truth rather than conform to popular beliefs and the desire to fit in. Being an immigrant I understand this all too well. To complicate things further, very often the desire to be accepted and liked is so hidden that we are not even aware of the ways in which we compromise and act in non-alignment with our truth. And when you don’t act from a place of authenticity, you lose your power.

Especially as a leader if you want to bring out the best in people, you have to lead by example and be willing to do the hard work of finding your inspiration and true potential. It requires courage to see the dark places within you when you are tempted to look away.

This work asks of you to look at your inner workings and have the courage to act with integrity, even when it is easier to give in, just this one time.

 Wisdom

Thupten Jinpa emphasizes that compassion without wisdom is blind. In acting with compassion we may lose sight of our own boundaries and needs. In speaking our truth with courage we may become insensitive to others needs. It is wisdom that allows us to see with clarity what are our needs as well as maintain a keen understanding of our shared humanity. In seeing with clarity we can act from a place of natural intelligence that is respectful of our needs and compassionate to others.

When we stabilize our attention and cultivate equanimity, we gain insight into true nature of reality in our own bodies. We gain insight into impermanence, the sources of suffering and our own non-static nature of self. In seeing the bigger picture beyond the immediate situation and the interconnectedness of all beings we can act with wisdom considering the consequences for all involved.

I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

Many leaders are starting to see the significance of acting with compassion and wisdom and the courage it takes to lead with integrity. In the words of LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, “Wisdom without compassion is ruthless, compassion without wisdom is folly.” Wisdom as an outcome of mindfulness training is what allows us to act with compassion toward self and others while taking into consideration the bigger picture and long term consequences.

The good news is that with certain practices you can develop within you the trustworthy leadership qualities of compassion, courage and wisdom. Join our bi-monthly meditations and exploration using poetry to cultivate our highest human potential as compassionate, creative beings.

If you are curious about this work for yourself or your organization, you may choose to read the information about Search Inside Yourself, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence program, or The Reminding Programs, mindfulness-based programs for individual and collective wisdom and well-being or email me at Shalini@remindingproject.com.

What did this poem or post evoke for you?

Well hello there!  What do this pop-up
and your mind have in common?  You have little control over both of them.  Know Your Mind can help with that.

Well hello there!

What do this pop-up

and your mind have in common?

You have little control over both of them.

Know Your Mind can help with that.


Start here. Take the free assessment designed by leading experts, to know your mind in less than 5 minutes.


You have Successfully Subscribed!