Self-awareness and meditation are the key to successful leadership, experts say
If all character traits could be ranked as in terms of their hindrance to professional success, at the very top would be personal ego. As a consequence, this ego not only stands in the way of the leader, but of the company as a whole, considering the amount of influence leaders have on their respective companies’ futures. According to a study on what makes businesses sustainable great, conducted by leadership expert, Jim Collins, “the presence of a gargantuan ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company.” But this doesn’t mean that the companies are doomed if they have a leader who seems egotistic. There are methods that can help them overcome this unfavorable character trait.
As in any methodology to overcoming one’s own problems, the first step is to realize that there is one. Ego-driven reactions tend to cause positive-feedback loops, resulting in defensive behavior for when the ego is attacked. When confronted with negative feedback from customers or teams, the leader who can’t control his or her ego tends to find far-fetched explanations or maintain their position on principle. In other words, they get emotional at a time when rationality should be the driving force behind decisions.
The founder so the world’s largest hedge fund, Ray Dalio, refers to this phenomenon as the “ego barrier” in his book, Principles: Life and Work and describes it as the “subliminal defense mechanisms that make it hard for you to accept your mistakes and weaknesses.” Mr. Dalio goes on to say meditation was the most influential role in his success.
This may actually be not as surprising as it sounds at first, given that meditation leads to self-awareness and mindfulness. Neuroscience researchers believe that meditation creates something called “self-transcendent” experiences, where the person who is meditating starts to realize that he or she is part of a whole rather than being controlling everything on their own. According to Collins, these experiences can have major benefits to leaders and allow them to see things more objectively while simultaneously forming deeper relationships.
A person’s ego wants that person to be “right” at all times and interprets any sign of failure as a threat. While practicing meditation, the preoccupation with ego fades away and the impulse to take things personally along with it. As an example, Scott Shute, former VP of Customer Operations at LinkedIn, explains that throughout the day he “will apply mindfulness practices when I find myself anxious to make a decision or feel defensive about criticism. I will breathe and contemplate for a few minutes and something that was formerly frustrating becomes almost playful. I can pay attention to details and may see things I had not seen before”.
After some time, the experiences that are created by meditation also fundamentally change leaders’ relationships which allows them to lead with deeper empathy and connection. The practice of meditation can also affect the way we perceive “difficult” co-workers by disrupting the negative narrative constructed by our mind allowing us to take action that leads to productive behavior.
Self-reflection and meditation aren’t the only ways to promote your, even if they are the more direct approaches. Our constraining ego can fade away while running, cooking, playing an instrument, or doing some other action that completely draws us in.