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Mindful Leader Interview - James Piecowye


Patrick Kozakiewicz

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I recently held a 6 question interview with James Piecowye, an award-winning communication professor, podcaster, and believer in the power of encoding ideas to be decoded as you intend them to be. You can listen to the full interview below or you can read the main conversation highlights below.

What are the biggest problems we face as leaders today?

I think one of the core problems that anyone in a leadership position faces today is the sad reality that their view of their organization, their view of the thing that they're leading, isn't necessarily the same view as the people who are part of it.

So me as that that that CEO, me as that entrepreneur, who's created this award winning app or this wonderful communication company. My view and my goal is one thing, but the people that I'm empowering to work with me, their views and their goals are a totally different thing and so often people will say, you know, “Why the people that work with me are not as invested as I am?

Because they're never going to be invested as you are!

And I think that the big challenge for that leader is understanding what motivates that person who's working for you.

Simply understanding the people you work with, and realizing that their motivations are different than yours is key.

Another big thing that that challenges us as leaders and leaders are challenged by, is simply being able to detach from what they do. And I think as much as so many people will say, you know, you got to be 100% in 100% of the time. I think you have to also be really mindful of the fact that you live in a holistic ecosystem, and that holistic ecosystem requires you to be working very hard on things but also requires you to have the time to reflect, the time to take a breather. Whether that's five minutes a day or 20 minutes a day or whatever, but I think we just really need to be able to take some time and I think. So many leaders, forget about that.

Thirdly, as leaders, we just don't listen very well. I found this with so many leaders, they just think they know everything. And, I think, as soon as people start to realize that, you know what?, I don't know everything. I'm not good at everything. But I'm good at finding the people that are good at those things, and I'm good at letting them do their job and I trust them to do their job. And when they realize that, then again, they've become a much better person and much more confident.

Finally, communicating is sort of the linchpin. Communicating with yourself and communicating with others. All of these, these issues are big challenges leaders face. And when you can sort of internalize all of these three different areas and be able to communicate with yourself and talk to yourself about how you absolutely feel and be honest with yourself and be honest with the people you work with. I think you'd become a really good leader at that point.


Your favorite quote, credo or mantra?

Something that I live by is, why not. 

So why don't we go for a walk, why not? why don't we try doing a podcast, why not? So why not becomes, you know, really, two words that are constantly in the back of my mind.

And sometimes they work really well and when they fail miserably and I love miserable fail. At least I learn from what that mistake was and I refine the approach to doing that and learn again from those mistakes.

So why not, why not :)


What is mindful leadership and why is it important

Well, you know, mindful leadership is much more thinking about yourself as thinking about others. And, I think, mindful leadership, really comes down to thinking about those people you're interacting with whether it be, you know, the assistant who's working the front desk of a building you're in, whether it be the research people, whether it be your direct colleagues.

I think so many of us spend so much time thinking of ourselves as the leader, and I'm the manager of this department and I do this thing and I have the accountant working for me I have the researcher and I have that. But we don't know the people.

And I think it's so important to get to know them and see what makes someone tick, “why is someone coming here to the office every day?” “What is their goal?” “What are you here for?” “What do you want to do?”

And I think when you understand that, and you realize, and this goes right back to the very start when I say you know that leaders don't empower employees.

That becomes sort of the core of the mindful leader, it is not just seeing people for what they do. But for who they are, doing what they do. And I think that creates a whole different dynamic. And so I think once you understand why people are doing things and you understand them as a leader, to me, that becomes a whole mindful purpose of it, and you can then start structuring everything you do, around satisfying the needs of everyone including yourself.

If you can satisfy those needs you have a happier workplace, you have a more engaged workplace.

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If you could go back or forward in time to any era, where would you go?

I would love to go back to 1455ish, to the Gutenberg printing press era. And I would love to be in that environment to be thinking about how this piece of equipment that essentially started off as a wine press, literally created the world we're in now of mass media fixation. And if I knew everything I knew now, I could go back and sit down with Gutenberg and have a chat, I might actually even say, “it’s great that you want to publish the Bible,” however, let's start with something else. Or let's get that out but let's also work on other things, and really start thinking about how that could all come together and the world we could create.

I think that would be a, an incredible an incredible moment.


How does one become a more mindful leader?

I don't think there's a rulebook, but I think the big one comes down to, watch, learn and observe as many as you can, and just start doing it. And you have to start being that leader, and I think that's the crazy thing, I think we're already all programmed to be leaders from the beginning, because if you take a look at any organization, your family right from the beginning is an organization, an organization of maybe two or three or four. That's where you're starting to learn and that's where you're starting to practice the basic skills of how to work through problems, how to negotiate, how to learn things, how to share things, how to put it all together and so I think it's sort of a three part thing:

  1. One observe, watch, listen and learn from as many people as you can. Realizing that they've got their own story, and I can't replicate exactly what they did or do, because they have a totally different story and experience. However, some of what they do is obviously gonna motivate me to start thinking differently.
    I think at the end, learn from those failures and learn from those mistakes, learn from those things that didn't work and assess them and own it, which I think a lot of people don't do they don't want to own their mistake, they don't want to own their awkward thinking, and I think you have to own it and I think as soon as you own it, it feels pretty good. It feels horrible at first, I mean no one likes to eat humble pie and say I screwed up. But man, do you feel good when you totally screwed and go, "Yeah, you know what, dude. It's okay. Let's move forward. And it's like okay."
  2. The other big piece that comes into play when we talk about being successful and leading, is at some stage you got to ignore people, and I don't mean, ignore the people you're working with, but ignore the critics, ignore the people that are saying that's not the way to do it.
    Who cares what people think? Just ignore them and get on with your business and I remember this, as Jimmy Wales, creator of Wikipedia was asked, “aren't you worried about what these other guys are doing?” And he responded something along the lines of, "I'm not even thinking about that, I'm thinking about what I'm doing. And I'm working on my thing, I don't have time to worry about what the competition's doing because they're not my competition. I'm going to do what I'm doing, super well, I'm going to make it work. I'm going to bring everything together. And I'm going to focus on, on my area and if we do that, then I think we ultimately succeed."
    And I think that's where the big challenge for leaders comes down to is focusing on what you're doing and not getting distracted.
  3. Trust yourself.


1-2 suggestions of any materials/programs/projects

There's a few books that that I just love.

1. Tom Peters, “In Search of Excellence.” For me, that book is that pivotal that seminal textbook on business life, and how to actually make things work, and it's, it's all about rethinking things.

2. The second book that I really think is pretty important, and one that I come back to over and over again in my academic career and I realize that it's just so important. The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution by Dudley Week.

3. The third set of books come from Nancy Duran.

Those three authors, those pieces. Beautiful.


For more of James please follow him on



James Piecowye, Associate Professor - Zayed University


Watch him here

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