Leading mindfully for a positive culture

Personal development is more crucial than ever before. Jeremy Hunter, founding director of the Executive Mind Leadership Institute, says we have three choices when facing an existential threat: transform, cope or collapse. In this crucial decade to 2030, positive leaders can engage the transformative potential of climate change for their people and organizations. A positive organizational culture contributes to solutions. Here’s how to lead mindfully.

When Jeremy was 20 years old he was diagnosed with incurable auto-immune system that affected his kidneys. The doctor announced he had a 90% chance of dying within five years. Jeremy said to his dad: “That is good news, because someone has to be the 10%”.
Jeremy shared this story during the Great Leadership Reset conference. “I went back to school, talked to my professor and he gave me a Zen book. It was a warrior’s religion in Japan and it helps the mind to gain clarity in the face of mortality. It helped me deal with fear, rage, anxiety.”

Your inner game

We are now all facing an existential threat and rationality hasn’t helped us. Just the knowledge hasn’t helped us shift behaviors. We need something else, too. We all have a blind spot: we focus on what’s outside of us: technology, policies, and results. But our inner game is crucial: think of your self-awareness, self-mastery and self-transformation.

What is the mind you bring to the situation and how does that affect the outer situation? What if you’re irritated, anxious or angry? The sympathetic nervous system is sensitive to triggers in our environment, but also in our own minds. The sympathetic nervous system is the accelerator that accounts for our ability to “get up and go.” When overstimulated it leads to the fight–flight–freeze response. We need the parasympathetic nervous system to act as a brake, slowing the nervous system down when it has become overstimulated. Only then can you see what is happening in the moment and what is needed to create positive results. For instance, moving from conflict to a flowing dialogue again.

Hunter shares the story of Christiane Figueres, the lead negotiator of the Paris 2015 agreement, working with 159 governments and suffering a personal blow. She’d just found out that her husband had another life during their 25 years of marriage. She was beyond shock and felt almost suicidal. Then she decided to build a ladder for herself. She had kids and was working toward these global goals. That mattered. She used what she learned from Buddhism during the negotiations. Christiane says in a video: “Critical to the process was: who was I being? What was the light I was shining on this? What were the thoughts that I was entertaining? I could see them play out in that situation – the reality that emerged in front of us.”

How do you create your situations?

The inner game influenced the outer game. How do you create your situations? You are contagious: What are you putting into your network? One hospital department leader realized it were her assumptions about the nurses that influenced people around here – and that caused conflict.
This is raising the game: Is your mental/emotional state creating options?

Hunter repeats what most of us know: We are on autopilot 90% of the time. We have to challenge our default reactions. As Harvard University psychology professor Ellen Langer demonstrated, human beings—including leaders—think 95% of the same thoughts as yesterday. 46.9% of the time your attention is wandering. Less than a third of people can explain what emotion they’re experiencing. Without self-awareness you have a 4% of managing yourself…

The green zone is positive

Hunter: Self-mastery starts with how we manage our survival responses. Our nervous system has a green, flourishing zone. When stimulus or threat is overwhelming we move into the red zone: we attack, defend, avoid, escape. In the black zone: we freeze, shut-down, burnout.
Black and red aren’t permanent zones, just temporary if you cope with situations. However, if you’re in the red zone for too long, you end up in the black zone; discouraged, with apathy.

The question for positive leaders to develop a positive culture is: How do I get myself in the flourishing zone? That’s where you need to be to perform and flourish. Centered, with inner calm. How do you help your people work in the green zone as much as possible?
If you think: “I have to do it all myself” you might not be in the green zone much of the time. What matters, is the quality of your relationships. First with yourself, then with others.

  • Here’s an exercise to get into the green zone. Get comfortable, close your eyes and imagine:
    Who has helped you? Think about them, see their face, listen to their voice saying your name. Imagine what they do, say, feel their presence.
    Notice what happens in your body.
    Imagine that person standing behind you still supporting you.
    Bring to mind another person and feel the impact of their presence.
    And a third person, joining you.
    Now you have three people supporting you – how does that feel?

Next, ask yourself: who can I support? You can do the same for someone else. If you experienced this more – would your team perform better, would your quality of life be higher?

© Marcella Bremer, 2021. All rights reserved.

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