How Mindful Action Trumps Empty Self-Confidence



So…how’s it going?

Life just clicking along as you imagined? Working hard and overcoming obstacles? Boss and customers loving you? Feeling good about yourself and your value to others?

Awesome! I’m going to give you the gift of time. This post isn’t for you so use this gift wisely. For example, enjoy this bird ballet.

For the rest of you…


Actions Prove Who Someone Is. Words Prove Who They Want To Be.

If I ask you what you’re succeeding at as a leader, what would you say? Being a nice person to your employees? Being ethical and honest? What about things you’ve actually achieved as opposed to what you think you are?

Because isn’t that how we’re judged at work? “His team’s quarterly sales were awful but he was a nice guy” doesn’t get you too far in this world, right?

Oftentimes, mindful leadership skills are defined by the effect they have on the ability to manage stress.

“She doesn’t yell at us when she’s angry like our last boss did.”

That’s nice but it doesn’t address the results we need to achieve if we’re going to stay employed. For example, does mindfully managing one’s anger automatically tie to increased revenue?

Of course not. At least, not directly. But it’s how we’re judged.

So let’s try again. Tell me how you are being a successful leader.

Is that a tougher question when the focus shifts to what you’ve accomplished rather than your perception of yourself?


Self-Confidence vs. Self-Esteem

Let’s break it down further. How confident are you that you can be successful as a leader? What value do you bring to your organization?

The former question is obviously about your confidence while the latter is about your self-esteem because it focuses on your value.

Confidence is great when you don’t suck at what you do

but is there anyone more annoying than someone with tons of confidence but no actual accomplishments to support that confidence? Paging Ron Burgundy

Assessing your value to an organization focuses more on your actions than your words.

Self-esteem is built on those actions, not on your perception of your abilities.

If someone walking down the street suddenly has a heart attack, you may feel confident that you can save her life but I’m betting the victim prefers someone who has the necessary skills to help her.


Sorry, But I Prefer the Cardiologist Jerk

Today’s business culture demands better results with fewer available resources. Our customers, direct reports and bosses are like the person having the heart attack. While our customers may appreciate your confidence, they want someone with the necessary skills and successful track record and, like the heart attack victim, they want it RIGHT NOW.

One of the unique challenges of being a good leader is recognizing that everybody is coming at you from all directions with their own unique needs that require your attention. And it seems like everyone’s needs take priority over everyone else’s, including yours, right?

So possessing the qualities of a mindful, emotionally-intelligent leader are appreciated insofar as they are a means to an end.

An empathic, self-aware, deep listener is uniquely qualified to lead unless results don’t follow.

In business, it’s all about what you do, not who you are. It’s a troublesome truth, to be sure, but it’s what keeps the marketplace churning.


Mindful Solutions

So what does this mean in terms of how to cultivate and utilize mindful leadership skills?

First and foremost, mindful leaders must recognize the troublesome truth. Don’t waste time pissing and moaning about how “nice guys finish last”. Accept the reality that successful action trumps being a nice guy EVERY TIME and you’ll be ahead of the game.


take a look at how each of your actions is tied to providing value to your internal and external customers.

Maybe you’ve improved your listening skills and gotten kudos from your direct reports for behaving more compassionately but how has that affected your organization’s productivity and/or quality of service?

After all, if your division or team isn’t producing as expected, defending yourself to a customer or your boss with, “but hey, I’m a much better listener than I used to be!” will never fly. Bye, Felicia.

Instead, dig deeper into why, in this example, the link between being more compassionate and productivity results isn’t as strong as you had imagined it would be.

[Important Reminder: If you cannot find a link between the practice of mindful leadership skills and more positive outcomes for your organization, do not revert to an authoritative, top-down leadership style unless absolutely necessary. That will only make the situation worse. Keep digging and invite the feedback of others who will be honest with you.]

Perhaps, you’ve mistakenly confused being a compassionate listener with never saying “no”.

Maybe you’re not correcting critical mistakes and behavior because it feels good to now be recognized as a “nice guy” and you don’t want to screw that up.

You’ve effectively established the two ends of the leadership continuum: one is Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross and the other is the warm, fuzzy person who maintains eye contact and “feels your pain” while not achieving anything.

The wonderful thing about looking at leadership skills on a continuum is that it provides an infinite number of options between the two extremes.

There is no one answer that works for every organization but, as the continuum model suggests, your choices are limitless.

For comprehensive training modules on leadership development topics such as this, please visit our Solutions page.

Your workplace is unique and so are your colleagues. You must transparently assess how your skills are adding value to the mission of the organization and, where there is a deficit, action plan ways to tweak those skills.

On that continuum, there are lots of leadership methods that utilize action-taking mindfulness skills and produce expected results. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are complementary.

Your job is to find out what works best for your unique business with your unique customers, internal and external.


Mindful Follow-Up Questions

  1. How can you better track the effect of your use of mindful leadership skills on your team’s outcomes?
  2. As you assess your use of mindful leadership skills (e.g., deep listening, empathy, self-awareness, growing patience, embracing change), which ones tie more directly to enhanced productivity and service quality?
  3. What unique conditions exist in your workplace that present barriers to melding mindful leadership and accountability? What is your plan to overcome them?
  4. When working with your direct reports, what opportunities exist to adjust your style so that your mindful approach to leadership supports accountability?
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