336: Building the Mind of a Leader with Jacqueline Carter

By August 22, 2018Podcasts

 

Jacqueline Carter reveals the three qualities of a good leader’s mind and how to build good foundations for those qualities in yourself.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What the American workforce looks for in a career and leader
  2. How to avoid power corrupting you as you rise
  3. The distinction between compassion and empathy–and which one is more helpful

About Jacqueline

With a Master of Science in Organizational Behavior and over 20 years of experience supporting organizations through large scale change, Jacqueline has held a wide range of leadership and consulting roles across a range of industries including transportation, oil and gas, insurance and government. Jacqueline has many years of personal experience with mind training and over the past 10 years has focused on embedding mindfulness practices into daily corporate life.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jacqueline Carter Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jacqueline, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Jacqueline Carter

Thank you so much, Pete. Great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’d love to get oriented a little bit to what you’re doing. The Potential Project is a really cool name. What’s it all about and what do you do there?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, thanks so much. So, The Potential Project is a global organization and our passion is helping leaders and organoizations enhance performance and creativity and resilience through understanding and training the mind.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, that sounds awesome. So then, what do you do in there?

Jacqueline Carter

I am a partner with the organization. So as I said it’s a global organization and I work internationally, as well as oversee our operations in North America.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, we’re talking about the mind – your latest book is called The Mind of the Leader. What’s the big idea here?

Jacqueline Carter

So, Potential Project – we’ve been in operations for over a decade, and we’ve been very much focused on helping organizations, as I said, enhance performance. And specifically a lot of our work has been on training mindfulness. And I can define what that means, but just really simply it’s training the mind to be able to be more here, now. Less distracted and more focused.
And what we found about two and half years ago is that we were seeing with a lot of the leaders that we were working with that mindfulness training alone wasn’t enough. And we were just seeing that so many leaders we were working with were experiencing such a degree of pressure, they were feeling overwhelmed, there just weren’t enough hours in the day for them to be able to be successful.
And in addition to that, as many of your listeners know, and as I’m sure you know and you’ve had other speakers talk about – but the changing nature of the workforce today. And what we really saw is what we came to call a “leadership crisis”. And we wanted to put our research hats and get into it and try to understand more about what are the challenges that are facing leaders today, and what do they need to be able to be successful, to create more healthy, happy, productive organizations? So that’s the big idea behind the book.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m intrigued. So the mindfulness trainings weren’t quite getting the job done. And what was the root behind that? You said there’s just the sheer volume of stressors, or what wasn’t clicking and connecting for folks?

Jacqueline Carter

So the mindfulness training – and for those of you who don’t know, as I said, I can define it just to make sure that we have a common language – but it really is about training the mind to be able to be present. So it’s about being here, now. And what we found was that was critical. If you I aren’t both here, then we might as well not be having this conversation. So, mindfulness is really table stakes, especially for any leader. And certainly for any employee – if you want to be effective you have to be able to be present.
But what we found was certainly with the changing nature of the workforce today is that workers today were looking for more meaning and for more purpose. They were looking for a place where they felt more connected. And when we started looking at the engagement scores, only 13% of the global workforce is engaged, 24% actively disengaged. There was a survey that said that 65% of employees would forgo a pay raise to see their leader fired. And we looked at things like that.
Another survey – a McKinsey study – looked at, 77% of leaders thought they were doing a great job as leaders, but 82% of their employees, not so much. So what we saw was that more than just mindfulness, leaders also needed to look at qualities of being more selfless, and I can also define that, and also brining more compassion into their leadership.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, so that’s intriguing, some of those figures there. So 65% – almost two thirds of people would not take their 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% annual bonus if they could have their leader fired.

Jacqueline Carter

Yes. I’m sure nobody listening was part of that study. But it’s very depressing.

Pete Mockaitis

Is it their immediate boss or the CEO?

Jacqueline Carter

Their immediate boss actually, which is really interesting. But when you talk about CEOs, that’s the other thing that we looked at. The trust index shows consistently that our faith in leaders, and specifically in CEOs, has gone significantly down over the past years. So it’s combining all these things and saying, “What’s going on? What’s happening?” And that’s really what we wanted to find out and that was what our research was all about.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So you’ve identified these three forces there – mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion. So let’s discuss a little bit, in terms of, how does one develop each of these, and what are the benefits and results of deploying them?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, absolutely. And maybe just for a little bit of context in terms of our research, just to give it some weight, as it’s not just me and us folks at Potential Project with some great ideas. We interviewed over 250 C-Suite executives, we surveyed over 35,000 leaders from 72 countries, we engaged with leading researchers and did field work with companies including Accenture and Marriott and Cisco. So I just wanted to give it a little bit of context before I dug into it, because some of these concepts may seem soft or flaky, they may not seem like hardcore business. But what we were really inspired by is how the leaders that we spoke to saw these as being absolutely critical to being successful as a leader today. So is that a good enough backdrop?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, thank you.

Jacqueline Carter

Okay. So, to start off, as I said, with mindfulness. Maybe just one other backdrop – you said how can they cultivate these? So I think the other starting place to look at that is what we know about the brain. And so we’re very much interested in looking at things from a scientific perspective. And what we know about our brain is that it is plastic, so we can actually develop new skills, because of something called neuroplasticity. And so I think that’s the really exciting thing. What we know is that for example even though we may feel distracted all the time, or we may feel stressed or overwhelmed, we can train ourselves to be able to be more relaxed, to be able to be more focused, to be able to be more calm. And there are specific training tools. And that’s really the starting point; that’s what mindfulness is about. And mindfulness training is training the mind to be able to manage your attention.
So one of the things that science tells us is that our mind basically wanders 47% of our waking hours. So what that looks like, just to make it practical for anybody that’s listening – during the time that Pete and I have already been talking, you might have found that you started thinking about what might happen next, or a meeting that you were just in. And basically that’s normal, that’s the way our mind naturally works.
And the key thing about mindfulness training is whether we can be aware that our mind has gone off on a little journey, and whether we have the mental fitness or attentional muscle to be able to say, “No, I really want to listen to this podcast. I’m going to manage my own attention. I’m going to be here, now.” So that’s mindfulness. It sounds simple. For anybody who’s practiced it, it’s simple. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s training the mind to be able to be more here, now.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so then, what are some of the best practices for building that muscle?

Jacqueline Carter

So you can go to the mental gyms, and that’s a lot of what we do at Potential Project, is we introduce 10 minutes of daily mindfulness training. Just like you would go to a physical gym to be able to develop better, strong physical muscles, you can go to the mental gym to be able to develop basically better attentional muscles. And 10 minutes a day has been shown from a research perspective to significantly help in terms of overcoming the mind’s natural tendency to wander.

Pete Mockaitis

So when we go to the mental gym, what does that consist of?

Jacqueline Carter

Well, in our work, the way we introduce mindfulness training is we like to keep it very, very, very simple and stripped down, because we know that most of us already have enough complexity in our lives. So actually our method is called ABCD – just as simple as you can get. And the A is basically to be able to look at your anatomy and make sure that you’re as relaxed as you can be. The B is about simply focusing on your breath. And again, that sounds simple but it’s not always easy. The C – we invite people to count. So they count their breaths 1 to 10, and then count backwards, 10 back down to 1. And the D is for distractions, and we know that our mind naturally wanders. And in mindfulness training when your mind wanders, it’s actually a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to flex that attentional muscle, to bring your mind back to the breath, and then just simply start counting from 1 again.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. And so, with that counting to 10 and then back – is that synchronized with breathing, in terms of one’s on the inhale, one’s on the exhale, or how does that go?

Jacqueline Carter

No. It’s simply you breathe in, you breathe out, count one; breathe in, out, two. Up to 10, and then count backwards. And one of the things that’s really key about the counting is, it’s not about… People, especially high potential, high achievers feel like, “I want to get to 10 and back down to 1”, and become almost competitive or put themselves under pressure. The key thing is the counting is just a way to make sure that your mind just isn’t wandering as you’re sitting there focusing on your breath and you start to daydream. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t get to 10.
They key thing is, how many times can you notice that your mind has wandered, and bring it back. Every time you do that, that’s really when you’re flexing your attentional muscle. And the cool thing about that is then when you’re sitting in that meeting and your mind starts to wander, because it does, you can bring it back, because you’ve got a stronger mental muscle. And so that’s the other thing that we look at, is not just the practice of mindfulness on its own and going to the mental gym, but how to apply it to practical things like being in a meeting and being effective, or apply it to emails, or apply it to priorities or to being more creative.

Pete Mockaitis

So, how might we apply it to email?

Jacqueline Carter

So, a couple of things. One of the things – such a simple tip, is to turn off all email notifications. And the reason for that is that we know that every time we get a pop-up on our computer or a pop-up on our device, it’s a distraction to us. And basically we know that from an efficiency perspective when we get distracted, it can take between a couple of seconds to a couple of minutes for us to bring our attention back to whatever we were doing. So we think that it’s helping us keep track of what’s going on in our day, and it’s really just losing you time, because you’re basically distracted throughout the day. So it’s such a simple little technique, but it can actually save you minutes, and those minutes add up. It can actually save you even an hour each day to just turn off those notifications. And only do emails when you want to do emails, as opposed to just being always on with them.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. So then, where does the “selflessness” piece come in?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, absolutely. So, selflessness – a simple definition is basically not letting our natural egoistic tendencies to get in the way of us being the best leader we can be, or even the best human we can be. And a fundamental way to look at it is that one of the things that we know is that – again, from a neurological perspective – we have a natural tendency to be self-referential. Everything that we are experiencing, we experience in terms of how I experience it. And that’s natural – like, “I am doing this right now” or, “I like this. I don’t like that.” And that is natural and normal.
But as a leader, if it’s all about me, it’s actually not very effective, it’s not very helpful. So, leadership is really about making sure that we’re looking at others and what is important to the team, and how can we actually support all of us be more successful? And it really is critically important. It’s trainable as well, but especially in leadership, and this goes back to what we found in the research. What was so important about cultivating selflessness is a lot of the research shows that as we rise in the ranks of leadership, our chances of becoming more rude, becoming more unkind, become more unethical, actually increase.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing.

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, exactly. It’s intriguing, and frightening. But it’s really interesting when you think about it. I’ll even say from my own personal experience – I do a lot of talks and presentations and I’m standing up in front of crowds of maybe hundreds of people. And I can feel that natural tendency of my ego wanting to say, “Jacqueline, aren’t you special?” And I need to constantly remind myself, no. I mean I’m not not special, but it’s not all about me. And so it’s just that natural tendency for us to start to get a big head as we rise in the ranks of power. And it’s so critical to bring that selflessness into our leadership.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, now I’m just so intrigued. I guess we could spend hours talking about the “Why”. But what do you think it is? Is it just because they are accustomed to being treated well, and then it’s like you think that you’re special and you deserve it maybe? It’s sort of natural pattern-putting together there?

Jacqueline Carter

Well, it can be that, but it’s also how people start to treat us. One of the great stories that we just loved… We had so many great stories from the interviews that we did, but one of the CEOs explained it to us like this. He said, “When I became CEO, what I noticed is that people started to laugh more at my jokes.” He said, “I don’t think I’m any funnier. I can assure you, I don’t think I’m any funnier.” But we are social beings, and we look at how’s in charge, who’s the leader, and we treat them differently. And especially the research on power and how power corrupts us as we rise up the ranks. But it’s even simple things, like a leader is more likely to not clean up after themselves when they’re leaving a room. It’s simple things like that, but they can really end up… And you think, “That’s okay. They don’t have time. They’re busy.” But it’s about, are we out for ourselves? And of course it can lead to the ultimate, which is real corrupt behaviors, which we saw a lot in the research.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, it’s funny. I remember back in the day, when I was in high school we had our congressman, our U.S. House of Representatives. I don’t want to name names, but you can do the research if you want to, from Danville, Illinois, back when I was in high school. He visited, and I don’t know I was sort of fascinated, like, “Okay, let’s take a close look at this guy. How is he operating? What’s his deal? What was the key to his rise to success and fame or whatever?”
And I remember he requested tea. Why do I remember this? He requested a tea, and he had a teabag and some hot water and a cup, and he was steeping while the conversations were happening. And there was a napkin right next to the cup, and I noticed he did not place the teabag onto the napkin, but rather onto directly the table. And I was like, “Why would you do that? Someone’s got to clean the table now. You’ve got a barrier between the table and the teabag inches away that you could’ve easily utilized and you opted not to.” [laugh] I guess it made an impression. So, there you go – rising to power and not cleaning up after yourself.

Jacqueline Carter

It’s a great story. But what was so interesting about the research, and I did not know this until we got into this research – is that it can happen without you being aware of it. So that leader may not have even been aware that that’s a power play. That’s like, “You know what? I’m so important, I can put garbage on the table. But this is the thing – it was that it may not be intentional. And I think that that’s the space of where looking at you may become a jerk and you don’t even mean to. That’s I think a key message that we found from the studies.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so you can get sloppier and not even notice that it’s happening to you as you rise to power. So, what are some best practices for cultivating selflessness?

Jacqueline Carter

I think the first thing, and that’s one of the things we did try to do with the book is to create awareness. I think all of us should know that power can corrupt our minds. I think that’s just critical for all of us to know. And once we know that, we have to make a choice. What kind of leader do we want to be? And one of the simple ways to overcome it is to really practice humility and gratitude. At the end of each day, just think about all of the people that helped you be successful today. And one of the key things that we encourage is to look for the people that are unseen. So it could be the things that didn’t go wrong because there was a team of people that helped make sure that you didn’t even notice that nothing went wrong.
So look for those and really make sure that you have that sense of gratitude and appreciation. And a simple thing, and it’s a great thing, and actually the neuroscience around this says that a simple gratitude practice of every day thinking of, is there one person you could send a little note to say, “Hey, thanks. I really appreciate whatever you did.” It’s actually self-serving, because not only it’s great for them, but it actually helps us to cultivate a more selfless mind. So there’s great benefit in it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. So let’s talk about compassion then, and how would you distinguish and define selflessness from compassion?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, absolutely. So compassion then is the intention to be of benefit to others. And this was also really exciting, and maybe just to give a context – when we originally set out to write the book, we talked to our publisher, who we love – Harvard Business Review Press – fantastic organization to work with. Originally it was just going to be on mindful leadership. And so I want to say one of the things that was really exciting to us is, through the journey of our research, it was really through that that we kept on hearing leaders talk about the importance of selflessness, talk about bringing more humility and gratitude, and also talking about compassion. And that was really exciting to us, because for years we had always known that compassion was beneficial and important, but often times you don’t hear a lot of leaders talking about it. Especially in hardcore, tough business-minded people compassion is often seen as soft.
And what we really saw and what we heard and what we experienced, and then we again pulled back the research on, was compassion isn’t about being nice to everyone. It’s really about bringing a true intention to be of benefit to others. So just to give you a story of what that looks like, let’s say you and I were colleagues and I walked into your office and I saw that you had a heap of paper and you were just drowning because you had so much. Or a help of emails; maybe most people don’t have paper anywhere. But just like you were really under a lot of pressure.
And if I was just being empathetic, I might sit down and be miserable right alongside of you. That wouldn’t be helpful to you and it wouldn’t be helpful to me. But a compassionate approach is, what can I actually do to help you? And there are a couple of things. What I could actually do to help you might be nothing at all, because you’ve got to figure this out for yourself, and that’s going to be the best way to help you. Or it could be to help you look at your priorities. Or maybe if I was in a leadership role, maybe it would be to make sure that I haven’t been creating too much stress and overload for you.
So it’s really having an ability to step back, look at the person, look at the situation, and ask that question: “How can I be of best benefit?”, and doing it with wisdom. So it includes things like giving really tough feedback, which can be challenging, but really beneficial. Or even letting somebody go, because they’re just not performing, they’re not a good fit for whatever reason. But doing it with compassion, doing it with a great deal of care.

Pete Mockaitis

Got it, thank you. Could you maybe share a story or a case study that kind of ties it all together, in terms of an organization that had not a whole lot of the mindfulness, not a whole lot of the selflessness, not a whole lot of compassion, and then things got turned around in a cool way?

Jacqueline Carter

I would love to say that there was one organization that brought it all together, and I can’t say that. I can certainly say that what we’ve really seen and the experience that we’ve had, organizations that focus on these qualities, really enables them to be more effective, more kind, and actually lead to bottom line success. So, just maybe to name a couple out – Accenture is an organization that has really embraced mindfulness; it’s become core to their leadership development and they’ve got a whole program that’s around helping them be more focused.
Organizations that we really admire in terms of selflessness – LinkedIn is a great example, where it’s really not about “me”, but really about, “How can we bring more of a global perspective?” And you can see that in some of the things that they do. An organization that we love working with around compassion is Marriott. They have a very simple business philosophy that they’ve had since they were a nine-stool pop shop in 1927. And that business philosophy is, “If we take care of our people, they will take care of our guests, and business will take care of itself.” And that’s been their model since the early days. Now they’re the largest hotel chain in the world, over 700,000 people worldwide. And when we spoke with CEO Arne Sorenson and CHRO David Rodriguez they said that whole idea of taking care of their people, bringing compassion, is still the cornerstone of their philosophy, which is great.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely. And we talked about a few things that we should start doing, in terms of going to the mental gym and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing how we can best be of service to them. But are there some things that we should stop doing right away in order to excel on these fronts?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah. I think that one of the things you should stop doing is stop multitasking. It’s just a really bad idea; it’s kind of the mother of all evil, in terms of being effective and having good relationships and being kind to others. There is just a ton of research and studies that shows it’s just a really bad idea. Another thing to stop doing is working late at night. One of things that we know is that most of us simply do not get enough sleep, and so we should all put a greater value on making sure that we get a good night’s sleep. And again, there’s lots of great research on that. I could go on, but I’ll let you see if those are good tips.

Pete Mockaitis

Good, thank you, yes. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jacqueline Carter

I think maybe one other thing that we found really inspiring and it was really important to us is just an idea of creating more people-centric cultures. It just came up again and again in our work, this idea of bringing more humanity, brining more of our true selves and being more authentic. So I think maybe one of the things that I would say is that a lot of these qualities are accessible to all of us; in some ways they just make good inherent sense. And what we’re really hoping and what we’re seeing is organizations and leaders that embrace them. It’s actually nice to be present with people; it’s nice for it all to not be about “me”; it’s nice to be able to bring more kindness and compassion into organization. And guess what? It also leads to better results. So yeah, that’s just the other thing I’d like to add.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jacqueline Carter

One of probably my favorite quotes is by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He says, “Compassion is my religion.” I think that’s a good universal one for me.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah. One of my favorite ones, because it was just so shocking – literally shocking – was research where they gave people a little electric shock and they said, “Does that hurt?” And people would say, “Yes, that hurts.” And then they put them in a room with no stimuli whatsoever – no phone, no technology, nothing – just white walls. And the only thing that they had in that room was that same little electric shock.
And what they were looking for was whether people were so uncomfortable being alone and so unable to just sit with themselves that they would actually shock themselves to entertain themselves. And they actually asked people, “Would you actually shock yourself on purpose?” People said, “No way.” Well, it turned out 67% of men and 25% of women would shock themselves, rather than just sitting there and being still and being alone. One guy shocked himself 190 times. That was really interesting and a little bit frightening about human behavior.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s wild. How long were they in there?

Jacqueline Carter

I can’t remember exactly. It was about five minutes, so it wasn’t a long period of time. Yeah, it’s really fascinating. One of the other things that I find so interesting is that all we have is our mind, basically. That’s how we perceive the world, that’s how we do great things. And if we’re that uncomfortable with sitting and just being alone with our thoughts that we would actually electrocute ourselves… I could look at it positively – there’s a lot of good work that we could do about making us more comfortable being alone with our own mind.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jacqueline Carter

That is such a tough question. There are so many that I love. I think from a business perspective one of the books that I really, really enjoyed was Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hanson. Just wonderful stories, great practical examples, and just very inspiring form an organizational and leadership perspective.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool?

Jacqueline Carter

Well, one … that I love is actually something that we introduced as part of helping people to remember to be more mindful in their communications. And it’s basically when you’re about to engage with somebody, just … and STOP, standing for – S is just to be silent, because you want to make sure that you listen. And not only not talking, but actually try to silence your mind so that you’re not playing over too many things in your mind. The T standing for tune in. The O standing for being open to really listen and to try to hear what the other person is saying. And then to be present. And then when you do speak we use the word ACT as an acronym. And to make sure that it is appropriate, the C is for compassionate, and that it’s well-timed – you don’t say too much or too little, and it’s at the right time. So those are tools that I love to use in all of my communication.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And how about a favorite habit?

Jacqueline Carter

Well, that is easy. It’s my daily mindfulness practice. I would not start my day with anything else.

Pete Mockaitis

And is that using those ABCDs, or you do something different?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, I do something different. I sit for longer than 10 minutes, but I do find that basic practice, I do basic breath awareness practices, focusing on my breath. But I also do specific practices around selflessness and compassion, which are also extremely beneficial, and again, just usually require taking a little bit longer time.

Pete Mockaitis

And as you think through your writing and speaking and working with folks, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they repeat it back to you frequently?

Jacqueline Carter

I think that probably the resonant nugget is around being more truly human. And this was one of the quotes from one of the leaders, senior executive with Audi-Volkswagen. He said that leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human. And I thought, “That’s a good nugget.”

Pete Mockaitis

And if folks want to learn  more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jacqueline Carter

So our website is www.PotentialProject.com. And you can find not only information about us and our work, but also we have information on the book. And as part of that as well we actually are creating a global leadership network. So if you’re at all interested in these practices of mindfulness, selflessness and compassion and brining them into your day-to-day work, your day-to-day leadership, there’s more information that you can find on the website.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jacqueline Carter

Yeah, I think it really is. Let’s all start a movement of being more present with each other, being less about us and being more kind. I think the world today needs it desperately and I think that not only will it help us be more awesome at our job, but I think we’ll be more awesome in our societies and have a more awesome world. So, that would be my call to action.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. Well, Jacqueline, this has been so much fun. I wish you tons of luck with The Mind of the Leader book and all that you’re up to!

Jacqueline Carter

Thank you so much. It was really great to talk to you today.

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