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Lions Roar : March 2010
56 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 Then we can address our primary responsibility: seeing clearly At work we are all very interested in doing stuff—performing, achieving, executing, and accomplishing. Whether we are on a construction site, in a hospital setting, the corporate world, or aca- demia, we regularly confront standard questions: “What do you do for a living?” “What do I do next?” “Do they have enough to do?” Work is all about doing—meeting goals and getting stuff done. For mindfulness practitioners, though, doing our jobs well, while important, is not our primary responsibility at work. Mindfulness reveals that for us to accomplish goals, conduct ourselves ethically, and contribute to our world we must first see clearly. I’m often asked to work with executives to help them refine and improve their leadership abilities. At the beginning of each assignment, the executive is often eager to set goals, improve per- formance, and experiment with new techniques. But inevitably I have to slow them down and suggest a different approach. “You’re pretty good at doing things,” I typically remark to the executive. “You wouldn’t be where you are in your career if you weren’t good at getting stuff done. So, we are not as concerned about what you do for a living. Rather, we are interested in what you see for a living.” It is from that perspective that we refine leadership abilities. “What are the top three central challenges your employees face?” “What unspoken messages are you receiving from your team members, colleagues, or vendors?” “What are people afraid of in your organization? What inspires them?” These and dozens of other vital questions are not about doing anything at all. What’s required is to discern, recognize, and understand. For mindfulness practitioners, cultivating this ability to see clearly is at the very heart of the practice. The discipline trains us to step out from behind the curtain of our restless minds and touch reality directly—getting a full, authentic measure of our experience beyond self-deception and impulsiveness. And on the job, such a commitment to first seeing clearly becomes central in inspiring the very best from an organization. By appreciating our circumstances in such a way, we can more skillfully contribute to our world Typically, at work we want to do what is correct. We want to make the right decisions, we want to be accurate in our assess- ments, and we always want the facts on our side. Obviously, such an approach makes a lot of sense since trying to be inaccurate, incorrect, and fictional at work would be disastrous (unless of course you’re running a political campaign). But, in a sense, being correct at work is the easy part. Indeed, many of us know how to do this quite well. The hard part is being skillful. fascinating stuff. Why don’t you come over to my office for a cup of coffee so we can discuss this further?” So, here we are. For those who would like to explore this topic further, please read on. For all the others, thanks for listening—and this is your floor. Mindfulness at work starts with synchronizing with our experience Being mindful at work is not simply a matter of being alert to the present moment, as if we were intently sightseeing or inspecting our experience. Rather, mindfulness introduces us to the reality that we are fully immersed—utterly harmonized 360 degrees—in the circumstances we find ourselves in. We instinctively take a panoramic view and become emotionally and physically in tune with our experience. Let’s take a simple example. One of the classic missteps at work is firing off an email in response to a perceived insult or criticism. We’ve arrived at work a bit late and are rushing to make a meeting in fifteen minutes when we notice an email in our inbox from the IT department. The subject line says, “Project over budget, late, being reconsidered.” We know the author, we’ve received these broadsides before, and frankly we’re a bit fed up. We open the email, glance quickly over familiar criti- cisms: “...we have some concerns about your estimates...,” “...there has been no follow-up...,” “...meetings have been missed...” Heated up, we fire off a curt response in bold caps: “PLEASE STOP SENDING THESE EMAILS. IN THE FUTURE, JUST CALL.” We’re feeling pretty good as we leave for the meeting, when we pause. A little flutter in our stomach tells us we may have missed something, that we ought to check one last detail. Reopening the offending email, we find to our surprise that we are not the intended recipient. The email was addressed to a colleague, copied to several senior managers, and we were blind copied as a courtesy. Such missteps often cause lasting damage at work, and at times end careers. When we’re mindfully synchronized with our workplace, however, our instincts inhibit such missteps because we are naturally alert to the full picture. We know that the stage is as important as the actors. We recognize an organization to be a web of lively relationships, not a series of isolated transactions “about me.” When we train our minds in mindfulness, we become more and more aware that no matter what we do or say—whether in an email or in the boardroom; in the cafeteria or at a press briefing—there is always a greater context to consider. Narrowly focusing on our agenda, our insult, our needs, simply makes no sense when we are fully synchronized with our workplace. PHOTOBYLYNDAGOLAN