Hard driving and toxic are not the same.

by | Aug 24, 2015 | What We Think

Mindfulness is not just a buzzword. It’s the way in which you act toward others that drives success.

Mindful leadership? It drives productivity and profitability. Attrition rates soar when leaders do not embody these principles. Mindfulness among staff is key to an organization’s success when mindful leadership is lacking.

This is a true story of one toxic boss and two employee experiences.

Once upon a time, there was a boss who treated everyone equally. He let each person know that his or her work never reached the level of perfection he demanded; no one worked long enough, hard enough or smart enough, and his tendency to dive into projects at the last moment was disruptive. Meetings with him were dreaded and dreadful; conversations with him felt threatening, and always felt demeaning.

Elizabeth* and Carol* were two employees who interacted with this boss equally, yet their ability to mindfully manage this toxic individual was a critical difference in their experiences.

Elizabeth was passionate about her work. She cared deeply about the success of her projects, and like many others in the firm, she worked late nights and weekends to keep pace with the boss. Meetings with the boss left her angry and frustrated. She worked longer and harder and felt increasingly like she was failing. As a result, she reverted to emotional responses which were swift, public and exhausting.

Carol had similar meetings with the boss during which he often expressed his exasperation with her work. But Carol used several key mindfulness techniques that enabled her to maintain her sense of self worth and joy.

  • Boundaries – Carol’s personal boundaries were firm. She heard what was said, but she didn’t allow it to penetrate her being. When she felt that her boundaries were being challenged, she sought support from others. Carol rarely worked late; she behaved as she thought appropriate and right for her, not in response to the environment. Because she never apologized for her actions, her behavior was just accepted.
  • Entrainment – When people are together, the mood or manner of one often infiltrates and overtakes others. We respond in kind. When children are out of control, parents often start to scream in response. That’s called entrainment. And the loud or overbearing individual often is the one to whom others entrain. Strong boundaries help to shift that dynamic. Carol always responded calmly to her excited boss. By holding her space, sometimes for 30 or 45 minutes, the boss would begin to entrain with her.
  • Awareness – Mindfulness is about being aware without judgment, and Carol kept a broad awareness. She recognized the toxicity of the boss, but she also recognized her achievements and the good relationships she had with other staff. She didn’t focus on the toxic person.

Both left the firm within a short period of time, one traumatized by her experience, the other still smiling.

When mindful leadership is not present, mindfulness among the staff becomes even more important.

*names have been changed for the purposes of this article

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