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Mindful Leader Interview - Steve Ware

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Patrick Kozakiewicz

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I recently held a 6 question mindful leader interview with Steve Ware. Steve has over 28 years of experience in Information Technology, is a Mindfulness Teacher and Workplace Advisor for the University of Oxford’s Mindfulness Centre.

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You can listen to the full interview via our podcast or you can read the main conversation highlights below.

What are the biggest problems we face as leaders today?

We have to assume that not all leaders are aware. If you know Cesar Millan the dog whisperer. He works with the psychology of dogs and he rehabilitates dogs. He says humans are the only species that will follow an unstable pack leader.

What are some of the problems that leaders face, well first of all we're in unprecedented times. There are huge challenges for everybody. I think the world's anxiety is up. I think I sense fear, uncertainty and for a lot of people it's palpable. Not just in the elderly, not just in the most vulnerable groups but everybody and everybody's everybody's life has been turned upside down and I think this is one of the biggest challenges in this moment.

How are we going to stay calm? How are we gonna settle the collective anxiety and how we're going to have stable leaders take us through this?

 

Your favorite quote, credo or mantra?

Two:

  1. We are what we practice. And we're always practicing something.
  2. "Honor where you are." - Chris Cullen, a Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher and trainer for the OMC. He also teachs Insight Meditation retreats in the UK, US and mainland Europe, and have a psychotherapy practice in Oxford


What is mindful leadership and why is it important

A mindful leader is something that is palpable. Something that you can sense. A mindful leader doesn't have a big ego to start. There's no sense of superiority, there's no difference between them and the people they're teaching people, they're leading effectively. So, the humility is natural, the beginner's mind is natural, and the willingness to be in the present moment to not know to allow things to unfold is their turn, and that's great leadership.

 

 

Steve WareIf you could be alive in any period of time, when would you want to be alive.

Here and now.

I think we're a really exciting tipping point for this kind of stuff. I mean, people starting to just look after the mental health a bit better. Just taking some time to ground themselves every now, just taking some time to to step out of that continual incessant stream of thinking to just learn ways to center yourself and to just be present and when you are present.

 

How does one become a more mindful leader?

Mindfulness needs to become, not something separate from your life, but something that punctuates your life. So we talk in the course about difference maybe between meditation and mindfulness. Meditation, being this form of practice of retraining our attention to be where we want it to be. So not constantly lost in thinking and how do we not get so absorbed in thinking that we just don't know we're thinking and we're constantly caught up in it. We retrain our attention to step out now and then we focus on something to do that we place our attention, either on the breath. Or maybe on an anchor point in the body or you can even just really tune it to sound there's lots of anchors that you can rest your attention with.

I think if I was to describe mindfulness, my definition of mindfulness would be simply a different way of doing what you're already doing. So bringing an awareness to what you're doing already. And so what does that mean, maybe tonight. Or if it's early in the morning. When you next brush your teeth. Just notice where your attention is just not just where your mind is just notice how much thinking we're doing, just notice how distracted you are. Maybe you'll have your phone in your other hand. I'm guilty of this. The first step can just be noticing, not saying even do anything about it, just notice it. Notice where your attention is, notice how, in autopilot mode you are as you move through the day.

Transformational changes happen when people can incorporate mindfulness into their normal days, now. It doesn't need to be this monumental effort, we don't  need to suddenly find huge amounts of time, extra time that we don't have. And how do we do that?

There's lots of ways to punctuate your day with mindfulness and it can be as simple as taking a conscious breath. It means you just drop your attention down into the sensations of breathing right in this moment. Just notice the sensations of breathing so what's going on for you. Where can you notice your breath in the body?

Then, if you're able to fully be with your breath, fully have your attention on the physical sensations of breathing, then you wouldn't have been thinking, you would have stepped out of this autopilot mode, you have been present in that moment. That's mindfulness, that's something you could do. You could take two breaths an hour for the rest of the day or the next time your phone rings just before you pick it up or answer that WhatsApp message. Just drop the attention to breathing, just for a second, two breaths. And then do what you're gonna do anyway. And these things sound small, they sound silly. They sound insignificant, they sound like they're not gonna do anything, change anything. But the cumulative effect of them can be hugely powerful, if you manage to punctuate your day with small mindful moments. You'd be amazed how much difference that can make. In my experience, it can make a lot of difference.

 

1-2 suggestions of any materials/programs/projects

Steve Ware1

The first one, maybe the most important one.

1. If you are going to do this stuff. Try not to judge it over a short period of time. It's very enticing to see an incredible Facebook post and read an incredible review by someone saying, "I'm sleeping amazingly, my blood pressure's down, my immune system got boosted," you can read all these things and say I want some of that. Oh and 8 week program sounds like a great idea. And you get two weeks in and you're saying, "but am I less stressed out than I was? I don't think so... so I either don't know how to do it, I can't do it, or it doesn't work." And a lot of people will give up here.

So, in a world that's that's obsessed with quick fixes. If you can, do not bring so much of that attitude to your mindfulness practice, whether you're just listening to an app 10 minutes a day, whether you're following a, an eight week program. My recommendation would be to judge over a period of eight weeks weeks. That's probably why most courses are eight weeks, if you can do some practice, you can do 10 minutes a day. Just 10 minutes a day is not a huge amount, if you can do 10 minutes a day for eight weeks. Why 10 minutes or 8 weeks, well, that's scientifically the tipping point at which they can measure on the body, and in the brain, the effects of mindfulness. So tip number one would be judge it in the long term.

2. Be kind to yourself. Your mind's going to wander, you're going to get it "wrong". That is the practice, everybody's minds wander, maybe more so when they're starting out, but everybody's minds will wander. So you need to have a sense of kindness to this, if you come in with strict rules and strict targets and being unkind to yourself. You probably just end up with a huge headache every time you sit and meditate.

This is a constant practice for me, being kind to myself, I don't find it that natural, but it makes all the difference. It's so powerful. The most progress I've made in my meditation practice has been when I've been when I brought a sense of kindness and allowing to what's here, in this moment, whatever it is, good, bad or indifferent. And if you can do that, if you can bring an attitude of friendliness and curiosity and kindness to your practice and to life, then, I think that's a great starting point. It's not about gritting your teeth, not about controlling, it's about allowing and letting be as best you can and, and then things will probably settle for your mind. Your mind will start to settle for you, and that's when great things happen.

 

For more of Steve please find the links below:

Steve Ware Mindfulness