When our hearts are closed, a sense of separateness governs our perceptions and behaviours.
With that disconnectedness comes a tendency to view ourselves and others as objects that we use to achieve our goals.
If people get in the way of our goals, we can very quickly close our hearts and go into avoidant, compliant or aggressive behaviour.
We may then further dehumanise each other with labels like “idiot” or “selfish.” This habit of seeing and treating each other as objects is a cause of tremendous suffering, both at work and at home.
When we are mere objects to each other, we can’t see the hurt and confusion underlying poor behavioural choices, and neither can we see the light and beauty that is the essence of who we are. And our actions follow from that delusion.
One of the most extreme examples of this is the atrocity of genocide. In 1994 in Rwanda, Africa, for example, the Hutu majority slaughtered an estimated one million tribal Tutsis in one hundred days.
The term the Hutus used for the Tutsis was “cockroaches.”
On a plaque at the Rwandan Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda, is a profound quote: “If you knew me and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.”
All physical and emotional violence is based on seeing “the other” as unreal, inhuman objects and enemies who are different and separate from us.
In the corporate world, we’re certainly not killing each other, but the subtle violence that comes from dehumanising one another is an ever-present problem nonetheless.
I have never met a client who does not have an enemy image of at least one person or group of people, whether suppliers, clients, colleagues, direct reports or a boss.
Dehumanising is natural in business because so much of what we do is task-driven, and we often view others as getting in the way of our completing of tasks.
But mindful leaders can never forget that underlying our tasks are relationships. And whether we like it or not, healthy relationships are central to long-term organisational success, effective leadership and our own happiness.
Mindful leaders create more connection
If we were to stop seeing each other as the enemy, we could help each other. In the light of compassion, our insecurities would dissolve and we would hold nothing back from each other.
Getting to that place isn’t easy, but it is possible and it’s something that must happen in order for effective work to take place and to become a mindful leader.
Mindfulness is the key that unlocks the door to this kind of openness, trust and collaboration.
Neil, a client of mine and former CEO of a large airline company, shared with me how his mindfulness practice has helped him to be a more mindful leader.
His job required that he work with people from a wide range of ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds to create trusting relationships.
“Mindfulness has created a natural openness and natural empathy in me, which I think is the basis of compassion. I’ve learned to really understand where people are coming from, to really see and connect with them.
“Being mindful of their personal motivations and circumstances leads to incredible loyalty and trust, which in turn creates enduring relationships. It also helps me to resolve conflicts, because you can’t do that unless you understand both sides equally well.”
This type of collaboration by mindful leaders is desperately needed in organizations, and not just as a method to avoid conflict.
In July 2014 the professional services firm Deloitte Australia did a study on workplace collaboration. They discovered, among other things that companies that prioritise collaboration are:
- five times more likely to experience a considerable increase in employment
- twice as likely to be profitable
- twice as likely to outgrow competitors.
Collaboration is essential for business success and growth, but many, many businesses have no collaboration strategy. As a result they are missing out on significant benefits.
Part of the reason they’re missing out on that cooperation it that, while it is aided by technological tools, cooperation primarily requires trust. Trust in and of itself is also extremely valuable in organisations. A separate study showed that high-trust organisations outperform low-trust organisations by 286 per cent.
Mindful leaders are key to fostering a heart-connectedness with all stakeholders that allows for trust and collaboration to take place. As a mindful leader, one of your greatest sources of power is your ability to influence the way your people feel.
Rather than seeing others as objects you and those you lead will see each other as worthwhile human beings, worthy of love and consideration. The trust and collaboration that result will be a clear indicator of success.