Inner Work. Outer Impact. A Leadership Journey for the Modern Workplace

By Michelle Maldonado

When I was seven years old, something unexpected happened. Something that changed how I showed up, perceived others and experienced life through a lens that was ever evolving as I traversed childhood and adulthood …. and even now, as I prepare to enter elderhood in the years to come.

I spent a magical summer with an aunt in Wyoming learning about traditions from local indigenous communities, swimming in the hot summer sun and getting my first exposure to rodeos. While there, my aunt extended a curious invitation one afternoon: “Would you like to sit quietly with me?”

At first, my seven-year old mind thought that sounded pretty boring. After all, there were swimming holes to be found, dirt to be dug, people to see and things to do. But then, I remembered that she was my favorite aunt and began to consider that if she were asking this, there must be something to it. So, I agreed, climbed up into her big, blue-fabric arm chair and tucked my legs underneath me. I trusted. She began by gently placing her hands on my head softly saying, “quiet here,” as she slowly moved her hands down to my heart and continued, “so you can be here.” That was it. No more, no less. No words, no fancy terminology. Just simple, sweet silence.

This became a regular practice that summer. Each time our sit concluded, I remember jumping up with a surprisingly renewed sense of joy, energy and clarity of mind. I was ready for the rest of the day. I could not quite place my finger (or my mind) on it, but somehow, I just felt better, stronger and more centered.

I share this story because, in hindsight, I realize it was the beginning of the foundation that helped me move through and into adulthood as well as navigate some pretty challenging leadership roles and personal experiences. It helped plant the seeds for how I showed up as well as my capacity for heartfulness and compassionate leadership – each served up with clear and healthy boundaries. Janice Marturano, Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, summed it up beautifully several years ago when I experienced my first retreat with her at the Garrison Institute. During one of the group shares, she said to me, “It is not what you do, it is how you do it.” In her own wisdom and insight, she knew that this work, this practice of what I later learned was called mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, is not something to put on a “to do” or other check list. Rather, it is a way of being that informs how you do what you do.That was a lightbulb moment for me.

Taking this philosophy forward, after entering the legal world and then later transitioning to the business world leading business development, strategy & operations, data metrics & reporting and client services functions, I realized as people leading others through dynamic and uncertain times, we were all experiencing a few things like never before. Just some of these include:

  • A more distributed and global workforce with diverse language, culture and customs
  • Up to five generations in the workplace (from Traditionalists to Gen Z)
  • A fourth industrial revolution and the growth of artificial intelligence
  • Rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements
  • Increased recognition and accountability for gender and racial inequity across leadership ranks and boardrooms
  • Increasing questioning of what re-imagined leadership looks like in modern times
  • Discovering and understanding the presence and impact of unconscious bias

Amidst all of this, I noticed that there also were some simple truths that made this landscape even more challenging for us to skillfully navigate. As leaders, in the frenzy of technology and competing demands, we are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain attention to tasks at hand. In fact, we learned a few years ago that, for the first time in recent research history, the human attention span is at about eight seconds. Why is this important? Because the attention span of a goldfish is only nine seconds!

With diminishing attentional capacity, we often find ourselves struggling with how to be fully present in the midst of conflict or how to skillfully engage in civil discourse, both of which may be exacerbated by, or rooted in, fear-based leadership. As a result, we can experience conditions where trust and psychological safety are absent; causing a cascading absence of sustainable and scalable creativity, innovation and collaboration based on a felt sense of belonging and unity. We also are learning that the days of command and control or authoritarian leadership styles are fading quickly and what is emerging is a more human-centric, purpose-driven, whole-person approach to what it means to lead and serve others at work and in life. We are shifting from a singular focus on the “what” to a broader and more integrated focus on “how” we do what we do to engage and develop our people as well as create sustainable, high performing and inclusive organizations. In effect, we are moving from “me” to “we.”

So, where does that leave us as leaders? I would dare to say, perfectly positioned to usher in a new normal for ways of being, leading and influencing at work. They are the power, presence and impact dimensions that weave through daily work life and all that comes with it.

The good news is that there is a powerful intersection between the practice of mindfulness meditation I shared above and the critical elements of Emotional Intelligence, authenticity and compassion. Together, they weave a flexible foundation that gifts us as leaders with a robust tool kit to draw from as we cultivate mental clarity, focused attention, strategic performance and more. In fact, each day we make new discoveries about how these ingredients help inform the nature of our presence, how we wield our leadership power and inspire others as well as the quality of our leadership impact. To lead with intention and awareness of our power, presence and impact (each infused with insight and compassion) is the bridge to creating more human workplaces that not only serve within, but generate positive ripples across the internal and external ecosystems that it touches. The transformation is simple, but not easy. The work is simple, but not easy. Yet, so many feel the call and the courage to lean in to co-create with others what is emerging as re-imagined leadership and organizations.

There are many paths one can take to establish this new normal for business and leadership. While it is unfolding for many in a way that is laced with uncertainty, there are a few things we, collectively, know for sure: People are changing. The world of work is changing. And, with it, we are being asked to transcend old leadership paradigms and behaviors so we can create a new leadership normal that better inspires deeper connection and collaboration, enhanced creativity and innovation, and positive impact and sustainability across the entirety of our organizations. To put it simply, we are being asked to do inner work for outer impact. Are you ready?

Michelle Maldonado is the Founder and CEO of Lucenscia, a human potential and mindful business transformation firm dedicated to helping leaders and organizations create positive and sustainable impact in the world. She is a former corporate attorney turned business development professional with more than 20 years of leadership experience and over 35 years of secular, contemplative practice. Michelle now dedicates her time to helping leaders and their teams do their inner work to create outer impact. She is a Search Inside Yourself (SIY) Level 2 Certified Teacher® with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), a Certified Mindfulness Teacher-Professional Level (CMT-P) with the International Mindfulness Teachers Association (IMTA), and a Founding Board Member of the Institute for Organizational Mindfulness. Michelle also serves as a faculty member and Meta-Coach for Daniel Goleman’s inaugural Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification program, Leadership Faculty for 1440 Multiversity and a Bill George True North Leadership Teaching Fellow.

Please join Michelle October 6 – October 9, 2019, at the Garrison Institute for Lucenscia and Pause i/O’s “Power, Presence & Impact: A Mindful Path to Mastering Self & Leading Others” program for busy executives and senior leaders. To register, please click here.

Photo by Myles Tan on Unsplash

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