Great Leadership: Mindful = Radical


Have you ever met someone new and immediately felt a strong connection? I had one of those experiences recently.

In my work, I have the honor of collaborating with truly amazing people. One of my networks centers around mindfulness, and a leader of the IBM Canada local practice group introduced me to Maria Gonzalez, bestselling author of Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others. From the moment I first interacted with Maria, I knew she was special. I love how she embodies what she writes and talks about. Just being with her invites calm, focus, presence, intentionality…she gives her undivided attention, brings an open heart, and follows the energy of the conversation. Before long the possibility of her joining as a guest for our 2nd annual Mindfulness@IBM Summit became a reality. (Learn more about Mindfulness@IBM)

I had the honor of interviewing Maria live last week on April 26th with over 3,00 IBMers enrolled in our 90-minute session about Mindful Leadership. I realized that many of tenets of her leadership philosophy directly aligned with mine, mine being rooted in Radical Leadership, which I learned from an amazing Master Certified Coach, Therese Kienast. I thought it would be fun to explore some of the unifying themes of these to incredible leader’s philosophies.

“A leader is anyone who is in a position to influence another person.” – Maria Gonzalez

 Everyone is a leader.

Leadership is about how we show up, not about a particular title or role. Maria defines a leader as anyone who is in a position to influence another person. Therese’s view focuses on the impact we have as individuals. I can hear her voice echoing in my ear: “We always have an impact, even when we do nothing.”

Even the smallest child can be a leader, any individual in any size organization can be a leader. And, the reverse is true, even the most senior executive in an organization might not be a strong leader.

Leadership is grounded in awareness.

Awareness comes from noticing what is happening in the moment – being present in the here and now. Maria defines mindfulness as ‘simply noticing the way things are’, and Therese defines a leader, in part, as someone who is ‘aware and awake to what it is’.

“A radical leader is aware and awake to what is, while completely responsible and at choice for creating what she wants.” – Therese Kienast

Leaders pay attention at multiple levels.

Therese taught me SOS – paying attention to Self, Others, Surroundings. I can place my attention and awareness on any one of these, and, on rare occasion, lightly hold all three in my field. Maria, too, speaks about the power of mindfulness at several levels – how it starts with understanding ourselves and expands out to others and all that’s happening. Our ability to pay attention to others, and to what’s happening in the larger context, starts with our ability to pay attention to what’s happening within us.

Leaders choose their narrative.

I left Therese’s Radical Leadership workshops with this question squarely in front of me: “What story am I making up?” It’s a great test of reality – so much of what happens in our lives is just the habitual pattern of stories moving through our minds all day. Maria, as a 30-some year meditator, speaks to how meditation helps us see more clearly the constant activity of our minds. As we become familiar with this constant chatter, we recognize when it shows up in our thoughts at work or with our relationships.

The power is in noticing. From this place of awareness, we become at choice. At choice for reframing our story, setting intentions for what we want, and taking aligned action that creates what we want (instead of more of what we don’t want).

“Mindfulness is not a technique, it’s a skill — one that you can learn. Mindfulness meditation helps to train your mind to become more aware and to stay in the present moment.” – Maria Gonzalez

Leadership develops by practicing, consistently and over time.

Maria presents a wide variety of mindfulness practices in her book. She believes that meditation practice is of no value unless it shows up in the way we engage with the world around us. So, her book is filled with practical activities that you can integrate into your life and work, such as doing one thing at a time and really noticing your experience of it, like walking and feeling your legs move and feet touch the ground, or visualizing your best performance.

One of the most powerful things I learned in Radical Leadership from Therese is to notice when I’m on the Trickster’s Triangle. That is, to notice when I am feeling like a victim, villain or hero, and with that as a trigger, pausing and taking a cleansing breath – and in that space, making a choice to either stay on course or take responsibility for my experience. Doing this repeatedly, day after day, I strengthen the muscle for reframing my experience, for being intentional and being at choice.

What I’ve learned from both amazing women is that, it IS as simple as taking a deep breath, or pausing to notice my breath, to bring myself squarely in the present moment…and from there comes an opportunity to clarify my intention, ground myself in what I want, and center on what makes me feel alive.

How do you define leadership? Whose leadership philosophy do you live by? What is it about their ideas that resonates for you?

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Other posts I’ve written that you might be interested in:


* I took this photo in San Agustinillo, Mexico

Author: Vicki L Flaherty

I am most alive when I am creating, whether through writing, photography, gardening, cooking, crafting, sewing, yoga. I enjoy traveling because it opens me to greater awareness and new possibilities. I find a special joy when I’ve helped someone see their brilliance and express their full potential. As I've focused on living more mindfully, I've found special joy in expressing myself through poetry and photography, and in truly being in relationship with those I meet along my journey.

4 thoughts on “Great Leadership: Mindful = Radical”

  1. Great post, Vicki! I agree – everyone can be a leader regardless of their age or job title. In my opinion a leader is someone whose vision or behavior (ideally both!) inspires me and makes me want to bring my best.
    A true leader inspires the full potential of my own leadership. I’m grateful I’ve worked with a few, you being one of the most inspirational I’ve met.
    Thanks for being!

    1. Jana, fantastic definition of leadership. Makes me think of another definition I’ve heard – a leader is someone that others want to follow. And, when we inspire others, they want to follow. Maria made the point that being inspiring is not a skill, it’s the result of being authentic and in tune with who you are. That feels right to me, too. YOU are a role model of an authentic leader – it’s been amazing to watch your vision come to life and to see your actions align with it. Thank YOU for being.

  2. Thanks Vicki – this beautifully names how presence is the foundational of radical and creative leadership. This is a quality I’ve often noticed in the leaders I most admire – and in myself when I feel I’m being a good leader – but it has often seemed something hard to quantify or put on a resume. So I really enjoyed how your article clearly draws the links.

    1. Duncan, I am so glad that you enjoyed the way I tied some things together. So many threads and such a complex tapestry! Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

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