Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mastering Our Attention is Key to Integrating Vision

Buddhism states the nature of mind has three main qualities: it is conscious, cognizant and aware. Buddhism also states that the nature of mind is the nature of everything. So this is a pretty big deal. What are the implications of this on our leadership?

For me, the container of “conscious, cognizant and aware” is the word attention. Where is it focused? What’s the quality of it? How aligned is it with the vision we are aspiring to?

All spiritual traditions, as well as science, medicine and philosophy, tell us that our mind is tremendously powerful. Far more powerful than we can comprehend. Whether we support it with the data of using only 7% of our brain, or that “intelligence” also resides within our body, or use a term like “transcendence” to describe what language can never describe, all schools of thought seem to acknowledge the power of the mind.

As leaders, we are responsible for the application of this power. As Vision Integrators, we are responsible for applying it to the vision, in service of the vision and those who will be impacted by it.

Mastering our attention and aligning it with our core values and vision is a practice and a discipline. It’s not easy, simple or straight-forward. And it’s not necessarily “fun,” in the traditional sense of the word. However, as one cultivates the ability to “tame the mind,” one experiences more and more Fun (capital “F” fun) on a regular and more reliable basis. Imagine how much Fun it would be to know that no matter what life throws at you today, you will still be able to direct your mind and its attention wherever you want it to go. To simply bring it back, whenever it gets thrown off-centre, and place your attention on whatever is most meaningful for you: what could be more Fun than that?

When you’re a leader wanting to make a difference—either in the world, your life or the lives you are effecting—your capacity to remain “conscious, cognizant and aware” in the depths of complexity and challenge becomes paramount to your ability to responsibly integrate a vision into the system you are leading (i.e., your life, group or organization). It’s not paramount because of some lofty ideal one might hold for so-called great leadership; it’s paramount because it’s physics—the simple correlation between cause and effect. As it is.

So, how do you do it?

The top-leaders I’ve worked with around vision—the Master Vision Integrators, as I like to call them—find the discipline to direct their attention towards the vision continually through cultivating Awareness, Discipline and Courage. The mastery comes from the cultivation, not the mastery itself. They actually care enough to become better and better and better at it.

But how can you care if you don’t care?

This is the fundamental question. The answer, as I have observed in working with leaders of varying capacity to integrate vision, is at the heart of what makes a vision magnificent or mediocre. It distinguishes the manager from the leader. The answer is: to truly care you must trust the investment in your core values! With even the slightest discipline around aligning your actions with core values, a natural and energized form of “caring” emerges.

Specifically, “investing” means to direct your attention, your mind, to better (and better and better) identify, understand, articulate and integrate your core-values and vision through uncommon levels of self-awareness and personal accountability.

Identify: There are virtually countless ways to help uncover and identify your core-values and vision; however, you need to be looking. The first step comes from you heart—to care enough to find out. Without this, you will not be able to progress.

Understand: Once you identify your core-values and vision, you need to really understand the true meaning as it pertains to you, not some generic dictionary-defined version of that value. You need to connect on a visceral level with its importance in your life or your group.

Articulate: This is the first step in converting the wisdom, insight and strategy embedded in our values into the outer-world. Words are important (if not the only) place-holders for what we want and need to communicate to others or ourselves to get the job done, to manifest our vision. The written version of our core-values, purpose and vision provide something concrete for us to take to others and figure out how to actualize them.

Integrate: This is where the rubber hits the road, and requires increasing levels of awareness, discipline and courage to find the appropriate form, function and venue for the values and vision to take-hold. This is filled with uncertainty and challenge at almost every step. And for that very reason, it becomes ever so important to develop the “certainty” of controlling our attention to come back again and again to what matters most. To what we value most.

The mind is a powerful thing. It is worth becoming allies with it. Invest in whatever method, support or structure you are comfortable with to better understand your mind and how to control the quality and placement of its attention. Many ways will work. The Buddha, himself, taught in 84,000 different ways to address the different perceptions and needs of various audiences. But the Buddha also warned, repeatedly, even if he sat by your side and taught directly to you all day, he cannot make you enlightened. You have to do the work. You have to care enough to want to get better. That’s the first place your attention must go.