Until you make the unconscious conscious it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
– Carl Jung
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness (or what used to be called “consciousness”) implies that you are awake to and aware of and in, the moment. You are “present”.
But it can be a little more than this “here and now”; being mindful of the context of the situation.
The natural enemy of mindfulness, then, is the place where we tend to operate mindlessly; the management comfort zone. And yes, it’s a place that we seem to naturally gravitate to.
Why is Mindfulness Important?
The upside to mindlessness is that our bodies save energy when doing the more routine tasks.
The downside was described by Peter Drucker as the Cult of Efficiency; once we decide that a task or process is valuable and likely to be recurring, we naturally drift into doing it as quickly as possible, expending as little energy as possible.
Here’s the thing.
Once you find yourself focussing on efficiency you’ve actually stopped questioning its validity. Or as Perter said, “there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.
Or to paraphrase Alfie Kohn, the situation develops like this:
It’s highly motivating when we see and hear an influential idea. An idea that we are certain will move you, your team, and the company forward. Here the energy and power is palpable.
It’s followed by a flurry of conscious business activity; a combination of on-purpose tasks and passion that’s followed by SUCCESS, back slapping, and even maybe an adjustment in the incentive scheme.
The time to be aware, and concerned, is when that idea and its suite of activity becomes so widely shared, as a part of the culture of the team or company, that it’s no longer noticed.
It’s embedded so deeply into the business culture that it seems common sense; “don’t be silly! It’s what we always do here”. It’s a given.
It’s at this point that the validity of the idea, task, or process is no longer questioned. We’ve stopped asking “why?” and we’ve actually lost some control.
Mindfulness has slid into mindlessness. The idea and its activities now exist in our collective sub or un-conscious comfort zone.
We no longer have the idea. It has us.
By now you’re managing and leading your team in autopilot mode. Your preferred options are a number of “default settings” (like your computer). You’re predictable and boring. You’re in a rut.
As a young boy I loved visiting my Uncle Harry and Aunty Belle’s dairy farm. It was located in a lush green valley where the air smelt fresh and the water was crystal clear. “Picture postcard” is how most people would describe the setting.
I still have vivid memories of sitting under the massive shade tree that dominated the front yard of the farmhouse. It was here that Bellesy would serve morning tea; fresh scones, home-made jam, lamingtons, and cups of tea.
I can still hear her calling “Harry. Smoko!” as he put the last of the Holstein Friesian cows back into the pasture. And often we shared that smoko with friends and local farmers who, I realised later, were trusted advisors.
The massive table under the shade tree was a special place. It was much more than a cool, picturesque, and convenient spot to eat; it was where the most important conversations happened. Here opinions were sought, arguments worked through, and decisions made.
I remember animated discussions about whether they needed more or less cows, the events at the local Dairy Farmers’ Co-Operative, upgrading machinery, and designing a new milking shed.
Uncle Harry always talked about separating the farm’s “doing” from its “thinking and planning”. He often told me that thinking straight about important things was impossible at 5am surrounded by burping and farting cows keen to get an empty udder.
All the farm-related business; thinking, planning, discussions, decisions and coaching happened under the shade tree, not in the milking shed.
Or as Harry’s mate, Bruce the carpenter, said, “It’s hard to think about business with your tool belt on”.
The Moral of the Milking Shed has direct and special relevance to your coaching conversations.
To be truly mindful you need to devote time and energy to reflect on your team member’s business before your coaching visits; what needs to be done and what’s right for their slice of the business?
It’s when you haven’t pre-planned/ stepped back and done some thinking that you slip into the management autopilot (mindless) mode. It’s difficult to be thinking “big picture” when a team member is arguing about the validity of the latest performance data.
Go out, then, and find your own shade tree before you get to work in the milking shed.
And that’s the second thing Uncle Harry taught me.
After the thinking is done and decisions made, action needs to be taken. Otherwise, things don’t change. Installing a new milking machine meant some adjustment and changes in habits AND expectations of results.
Once he had those things clear in his head and had faith in the system, he went to work. It was Harry that taught me to “think, plan, then do” and the frailty of “do, then think, then create a plan”.
When I’m under stress or undecided, I think back to these 3 words. It draws me out of the moment and allows me to think with mindful clarity.
And I encourage you to do the same; find your own shade tree and think and plan. Then do.