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What It Means to Train Your Mind to be a Better Leader

by Kelly Scherer on

How are you doing today? Great? Pretty well? Just okay?

What if we asked you how you’ve experienced today? It’s a lot harder to answer this question in one or two words –  and, according to Russ Rausch, founding partner of Vision Pursue , the answer you give is both revealing and important to understanding something critical.

HOW YOUR MINDSET IMPACTS YOUR LEADERSHIP

Russ explained that when people were surveyed on how they experience a typical day, the average of over 2,000 responses revealed that about 80% of experiences were characterized by stress, annoyance, monotony, or consisted of “escape” activities like drinking, watching TV, or engaging in online distractions. What’s most illuminating about these responses is the mindset they reveal.

It turns out that our minds are actually biologically wired  to produce thoughts and emotional patterns that create this negative life experience. Russ and his partners explain that humans have evolved to react this way in order to survive. We’re programmed to recognize the worst-case scenario, and the resulting emotions are designed to instruct us how to act in self-preservation. For example, if I’m not sure whether an object is a stick or a snake, my mind will most likely tell me it’s a snake so that I fear the snake, run, and preserve my life.

The problem is that if you show up at work (and home) feeling that life is stressful, annoying, and a means to an end from which you need to escape, you’re not going to lead anywhere near your best. The good news, according to Russ, is that your mind can actually be trained to respond differently to these automatic thoughts and emotions. This allows you to experience the day from a more grounded and even positive perspective, while still recognizing the importance of “negative” emotions designed to help you  survive. Vision Pursue calls the outcome of this training a “Performance Mindset™.” It enables you to respond to challenges more effectively, increase your focus, improve sleep and resiliency, and results in a more enjoyable and productive life.

While leading a large corporate group in his previous role, Russ wasn’t aware of how the brain worked and how he could train it to improve his leadership. He didn’t pay attention to his automatic thoughts and emotional patterns – or how they distracted him from optimally performing (and enjoying) his job.  He is now convinced that with the right mental training to improve his internal perceptions,  he could have in turn improved his external experience, especially in regard to relationships.

When your mind is oriented to connect, contribute, and create, you’re able to authentically strengthen relationships at home and at work. After all, business and life are full of decisions and obstacles that involve other people. When our minds create a lot of repetitive drama around even every day, natural circumstances, we waste a lot of energy.  In Ray Dalio’s book Principles, the concepts of “blind spots” and “trying to be right” are two major shortcomings that, Russ believes, prevent many leaders from connecting better and making optimal decisions. Mental training can help leaders use others to shore up their blind spots and switch their focus from “being right” to “getting it right.”

LEADING WITH A QUIET MIND

Russ and his partners started their work on the Performance Mindset with professional athletes, like the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Mariners, and the San Francisco 49ers, and have subsequently expanded to training corporate clients. Russ sees a salient connection between athletes and leaders; both must consistently produce results in a highly competitive, transparent, and critical world – while a lot of things remain out of their control. Because top performers are “succeeding” in their field, they can be unaware of how poor their life experience is. It’s easy to confuse achievement and financial success for having an enjoyable life. Leaders in both sports and business experience the same hindrances to productivity: struggling to be present and listen, having trouble sleeping, and experiencing a hyper-critical voice in their heads that replays things over and over again. However, Russ argues that you can’t improve these things through sheer willpower: you have to train the mind.

Our world changes rapidly and is ever-increasing in complexity; there’s more distraction and noise. The more complicated your external circumstances become, the more you need to get your mind “right.” In other words, the more noise there is, the more important it is to quiet the mind. Effective leadership begins with the leader managing his or her internal behaviors (i.e., thought patterns, reactions to emotions) to come across as present, authentic, and connected in complex environment. Integrating Vison Pursue practices can enable leaders to enjoy – and be at their best in – the process of leadership.

ADVICE TO LEADERS

When asked to provide his top advice for leaders, Russ shared the following:

  • Expect the expected. Align your mind’s expectations for the way the world actually is versus the way it should be. For example, there will likely be a traffic jam at 4pm and someone will likely do something annoying during your commute. This should not provoke a sustained cloud of emotion because you know it will happen.
  • Learn to separate from and embrace your emotions instead of suppressing or getting lost in them. When traffic grinds to a halt, recognize your frustration at the situation, acknowledge it, and let it go. There’s nothing productive to be found there.
  • Focus on controlling the controllable. No matter how angry you get, you can’t exert influence on the traffic jam, but you can control your reaction to it.

If you do these three things, you’ll reduce mental noise, improve clarity, and focus on the things that are important.

Do you have any mindfulness practices you’ve found beneficial to your performance as a leader? Tell us in the comments below!

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