Smart Under Pressure – reset your focus and inner peace of mind when you’re under pressure

20. March 2018 - Claus Juel Madsen, Market Director and manager at Mannaz Share this page

Your state of mind is guiding the quality of your results. Therefore, you should focus on developing your inner leadership qualities such as empathy, focus and presence. Techniques for resetting your state of mind have been used for centuries – so why not use them in your leadership? Read along and be inspired to find your focus and achieve inner peace in pressured situations.

Leaders are, by definition, busy people with many different demands on their time and energy. It is natural for them to sometimes become stressed, irritable and lose focus. When this happens it’s easy to react in ways that aren’t ideal. As a leader, however, your ability to maintain focus and balance under pressure is a critical success factor. The key is to work on your personal leadership, says management consultant Claus Juel Madsen. And doing so means looking inside yourself and understanding your reaction patterns, eventually learning to master the techniques for resetting self-control.

“The ability to focus and be present is an important quality to possess as a leader. The numbers speak clearly: studies show that we spend 47 percent of our working time thinking of things other than the task at hand, and 70 percent of leaders struggle to maintain focus in meetings. Therefore it is so important to work with aspects other than traditional leadership development and look inward as well: On what foundation am I building my leadership? What are my personal leadership qualities? How can I avoid losing focus, thus making sure that my own assumptions and patterns of reaction will not stand in the way of strategic thinking and ensuring a positive  working environment for my team? It’s about maintaining focus and staying calm, thereby achieving greater clarity and better performance,” he says.

Mind training is gaining its footing

The work of resetting and maintaining one’s balance under pressure uses techniques that have been known for centuries, coupled with the latest developments in neuroscience and brain research. It contains elements of mindfulness and meditation training that enable us to re-focus and re-balance when the mind starts wandering and we lose our mental footing. There are good reasons why top athletes use mental training and meditation and why it’s gathering steam in the world of business.

“Our state of mind is crucial to the quality of our results,” says Claus Juel Madsen. “The good news is that we can train the big muscle up top: the brain. When leaders train and practice mindfulness and meditation techniques and work on themselves and their leadership in this way, efficiency, productivity, and a healthy collaborative culture improves. What we’re seeing is that the leaders who work with these things experience both stress reduction and a higher level of focus and mental equilibrium.”

“In today’s complex global leadership context, it isn’t enough to be results-oriented as a leader. Other qualities are in equal demand such as empathy, creativity, focus, integrity, robustness, emotional intelligence and presence – inner qualities of leadership.”

Lose the automated reactions

Both as an employee and as a leader, Claus Juel Madsen has often experienced how working on your attention, focus and inner peace of mind is important when leading others. An example: one day, a colleague came by and slammed a report on his desk with an angry look on his face and a comment that sounded like an accusation.

“I immediately felt myself involuntarily become upset and defensive. Because of my efforts at training my inner processes under external pressure and stress I was able to create a “space” between my colleague’s aggressive behaviour and my subsequent reaction. Rather than responding instinctively (which would have been defensive) I was able to act differently, and to my colleague’s surprise I asked for a little break before responding to his criticism. I used the break to reset myself and regain balance and, in this calmer state examined the problem, after which I returned to him with a constructive answer. Away went the automated (and destructive) tension between us! I could act instead of react, and thereby avoid reinforcing a negative spiral of unconstructive communication,” he says.

Paradigm shift in the leadership of the future

It is not only top athletes who have discovered the strength of working with mindfulness and meditation. In leadership context, too, the techniques are gaining steam within the executive ranks of many global companies including LinkedIn, Ford, Google and Twitter. According to Claus Juel Madsen, it’s a paradigm shift and a new way of looking at leadership.

“Some years ago, coaching as a concept was viewed as a bit soft and fluffy, or as a way to “fix” leaders who had developed derailing behaviours – and that’s no longer the case at all. Today it is becoming a well-accepted belief that leaders must work on their people skills and not just their competencies. In today’s complex global leadership context, it isn’t enough to be results-oriented as a leader. Other qualities are in equal demand such as empathy, creativity, focus, integrity, robustness, emotional intelligence and presence – inner qualities of leadership. It’s not just about moving faster, but more about being able to navigate complexity and keeping your eye on the bigger picture. This requires for you as a leader to add an extra layer of development by being able to reset yourself to a focused and calm state of mind,” he says.

4 tips to resetting your leadership:

1. Practice being present

Most of us spend a great deal of our working hours in meetings, but everyone has probably experienced our minds wandering off. Perhaps we are already preparing mentally for our next meeting or checking our emails. If you train your ability to focus your attention, it helps you to be fully present and have more effective meetings.

2. Avoid interferences and multitasking

Research has clearly shown that multitasking both lowers overall efficiency and causes us to make several mistakes. Nevertheless, it is not unusual for us to try and read on our phones while having a conversation or switching between different tasks when sitting in front of the computer. Training our attention skills provides us with better impulse control, which helps us detect when we get disturbed or sucked into another task. By discovering the impulse we can stop it and bring our attention back to the task that is most important.

3. Remember your break!

A short break to reset yourself to a quiet state of mind before starting the next task can improve efficiency and reduce errors. Stop – take three quiet, deep breaths. For example, some surgeons demand a brief, focused break before an important surgery so that everyone can gather their thoughts, achieve an inner peace of mind, and focus on the task in front of them – because errors typically occur where staff, due to stress, forget simple and basic things. You can give yourself a break – or maybe experiment with this method at meetings to make sure everyone is mentally present when the meeting starts.

4. Know your reactions

Once you have gained insight into your own patterns of reaction, you can identify and stop unwanted reactions before they catch you off guard. Try this exercise:

  • Think of three difficult situations that occurred last week: a colleague who was angry with you, a feedback that was difficult to accept, a sudden fire emerging that you then had to put out.
  • Write down: What was my first reaction? What feelings did I experience when the situation occurred? What thoughts did I have? How did I choose to act, consciously or unconsciously?
  • Practice your ability to stop when the situation arrives and feel your own emotional and rational reaction. Breathe, and calm down.
  • Then consider: What would be the most appropriate response right here?

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About Claus Juel Madsen

Claus Juel Madsen is Market Director and manager at Mannaz with over 20 years of experience in meditation training. He is also a mindfulness instructor and leadership coach. In addition, Claus has many years of experience with strategic processes and business development as both a process consultant and a leader.

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