When was the last time you read an article about leading in the current business climate that advocated ‘softness’ as a leadership attribute? Not often I would guess, even in pieces about mindful leadership. Instead there are countless articles telling us leaders and organizations need resilience and agility to thrive in a volatile and unpredictable world.
It’s hard to argue against. Even before the seismic shifts of Brexit and Trump the old military acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) cropped up again and again to describe business conditions. Add the spectre of automation, financial crisis and climate change and it’s true: we do need to be able to pivot at a moment’s notice to find the right step in the dark.
We need to be resilient to withstand the inevitable slings and arrows coming our way. And resilient (for some) is synonymous with tough. With being hard in the face of adversity.
A Soft Touch Leader?
Soft, on the other hand, gets a bad rap. It doesn’t sit well in conversations about leadership.
Soft is fluffy. Softness belongs in the patronising land of outdated marketing to women. Soft is about comfort, or so the advertising industry would have you think. And it’s true the comfort zone isn’t where you’ll find your leadership mindset.
But let’s take a closer look. Does toughness equal resilience? Well, you’d be forgiven for answering in the affirmative.
But to be truly resilient you need to be soft.
Mindful Leadership Starts With A Soft Front
Why do I say that? Well, it comes down to mindfulness (and its sister practice, meditation). The ability to be mindful is a key attribute of a leadership mindset. As well as mental clarity mindfulness gives us the agility and resilience our organizations need. I’ve practised meditation and mindfulness for many years, and one of the foundation concepts is called ‘soft front, hard back’.
To be mindful, leaders need to be open to the world. We need soft fronts. What’s a soft front? It’s being welcoming and understanding of different points of view. It’s about letting the world in. About creating a space where debate can happen. Where we adjust our ideas and plans if there’s a good reason to, instead of stubbornly holding onto cherished concepts. A soft front is a space where we let go of defensiveness and allow ourselves to be wrong.
With mindfulness practice, we develop a soft front (and a hard back, but I’ll get to that) and gain clarity. We become aware of the agendas or even wishful thinking that get in the way of us seeing events unfolding in front of us for what they truly are.
Soft Front, Hard Back = Mindful Resilience
And the hard back?
If a soft front lets the world in, a hard back keeps the world from bowling us over. A hard back keeps us grounded and is a healthy boundary rather than a line of defence. A hard back without the soft front ultimately leaves us brittle rather than strong.
And that’s the opposite of the kind of leadership our world needs today.
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