Are You Living in a Leadership Bubble?


Interview with Rasmus Hougaard

Are you a good leader? If you were to rate your leadership style and your ability to inspire and motivate others how would you score? Would the people you lead agree?

Unfortunately, research suggests that you’re likely to overestimate your leadership and motivation skills to be higher than what your people say they are. Nor may you be as effective as you think you are at engaging your people, with seventy percent of employees indicating that they are not engaged in their jobs and feel undervalued, and seventy-five percent quitting their jobs because of their manager. Could you be wearing rose-coloredglasses when it comes to your leadership style?

“As a leader, you can lose touch with reality and be in a leadership bubble,” explained Rasmus Hougaard author of The Mind of the Leader when I interviewed him recently. “Because when you’re a leader your people may agree more with you, praise you more, tell you that you’re actually doing well, even though they don’t actually really feel this way about you.”

So how can you avoid living in a leadership bubble?

Rasmus suggests that you need to start with understanding your own mind. Without a healthy sense of self-awareness and self-management, you can’t understand and lead yourself well, and in turn you can’t understand and lead others, or understand and lead the culture of your organization. His research has found that there are three essential mental qualities twenty-first century leaders need — mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion.

When you bring a mindful awareness to what you do you are able to choose where you put your focus, rather than get caught up in distractions. For example, Rasmus has found that ninety-six percent of leaders wished they could enhance their focus rather than jumping from interruptions from others (emails, demands of others, competing priorities) or from within (rehashing a meeting, rehearsing an appraisal). A mindfulness practice can help you be more aware of where your attention goes so you can decide what to concentrate on and what to let go of.

And while it can be easy to feel you need to meet your ego’s need for attention and recognition, when you are more concerned about your own needs and agenda it can make you more sensitive to criticism and manipulation from others, and harder to take responsibility for your people and organization. However, when you let go of self-importance you enable others to shine and work towards the greater good. Leading with selflessness doesn’t mean you’re a pushover, it’s a combination of self-confidence and a humble intention to be of service.

Finally, studies have found that when you bring compassion to your leadership your people feel supported and valued, are more engaged and committed in their work, and there are higher levels of trust and collaboration throughout your workplace. When you show compassion you’re able to put yourself in other’s shoes, and then use this experience to take action to alleviate the situation. Far from being soft or always requiring you to do the ‘nice thing’, Rasmus explained that compassion also enables you to have difficult conversations when needed and to make hard decisions for the good of your organization, when this is the respectful and ultimately kindest action to be taken.

“Compassionate leadership is not soft, it’s actually really hard,” said Rasmus. “It takes combining wisdom and compassion, so you give the tough feedback with the intention that you want to benefit people.”

So how can you develop the qualities of successful twenty-first century leaders?

Rasmus suggests trying:

  • Practice mindfulness — minimize your distractions and be as focused and present in what you do. Research has found that the strongest sense of focus is likely to be in the morning hours between eight to ten am, can dip to your lowest point between one and three pm, and then gradually rise until the evening hours. Try to do the most important things when your focus is at the highest — important meetings, strategizing, creating thinking, and leave lesser tasks, such as emails to the midday hours. As multi-taskingcan undermine your prefrontal cortex — which is the part of the brain that allows you to focus — and kill your attention span try to find ways to create as few distractions as possible in your organization.
  • Be selfless –find the right combination of self-confidence and humility. If you need a self-confidence boost, consider the part you played in your previous successes or get some feedback from colleagues that you trust on what you’re doing well. Develop a sense of humility by taking a few minutes before you go home each day to contemplate who contributed to your success today and send them a note to express your gratitude.

Your self-referencing language can also make a difference. Research has found that leaders who use the words “we”, “us” and “our” are perceived to be stronger and more inclusive than those who use self-referential terms — “I”, “me”, “my”, and “mine”. In the same way it can be important to celebrate team success and achievements, rather than promote individual employee of the month awards.

  • Show compassion –bring the intention of compassion into any engagement by asking yourself the questions: ‘How can I benefit this person?’ or ‘What can I do to make his or her life a little better?’ And know you need to be willing to show tough love when required for the greater benefit of the person or others. Some organizations are also showing compassion by giving their people real space to be at home by closing down their email servers from 5pm to 6am each day.

What can you do to pop your leadership bubble?