Dawa Tarchin PhillipsI believe that mindful leadership is perhaps the most important skill we can develop today – for our communities, our planet, and ourselves. We live in tumultuous times don’t we? But each of us has the capacity to take a stand in our own lives for what really matters. That’s being a mindful leader, and the world really needs mindful leaders right now.

To me, to be a mindful leader means to connect with, and live from, a deeper sense of peace and purpose. It means taking empowered and kind actions each day that nourish and uplift the world around us. Would you agree?

Because we believe this is so important right now, myself and my dear friend Dawa Tarchin Phillips created this video below to give you some guidance and support on how to become a mindful leader. In it we share three key principles each on mindful leadership.

May this video support you in being your fullest and truest self.

Click on the video below to watch. I have also included the transcript of the interview below the video. If you want to learn more about being a mindful leader be sure to go and check out Mindful Leadership Online Training Conference which is on right now and is a free online event with some of the worlds most respected thought leaders and mindfulness teachers. Make sure to tune in on May 8th for my own interview in the conference. In it I speak about ‘leading yourself first’ – the art of living your truth. I hope you enjoy it.

Melli: I’m Melli O’Brien, co-founder and host of The Mindfulness Summit and a mindfulness teacher. And I am here having a conversation today with my dear friend, Dawa Tarchin Phillips.

Dawa: Hi everyone. My name is Dawa Tarchin Phillips. I am the co-founder of the Mindful Leadership Online Training Conference and also I write on mindful leadership and I’m a long-term practitioner and teacher of mindfulness and meditation. Hi Melli. Great to see you.

Melli: So Dawa. It’s so wonderful and it’s always wonderful to hang out with you. So we wanted to have a conversation with you all, with both of our communities, around mindful leadership – both on the individual level and also, you know, when it comes to leading others.  And it’s such an important topic these days because I think what the world needs most these days are mindful leaders.

So we’re going to have a conversation, Dawa’s going to share three principles on leading others. And I’m just going to have a chat about three of the principles that I think are the most important when it comes to mindful leadership on the individual level. You know, leading ourselves first is the most important step, I think, before we lead others. It’s also so important in this capacity to living our truth, like being our fullest and true to ourselves.

So the first principle that I think is really important when it comes to mindful leadership on the individual level is taking responsibility. So if you look at the word ‘responsibility,’ it’s really split into two parts – response and ability. So taking responsibility, in a way that I’m speaking about it, is just meaning that we take seriously our ability to respond to the world around us. Because the thing that’s happened, I think, is that many of us have kind of thrown our hands up in the air with the state of the world. It feels like the problems of the world are too big and we feel like we’re just one person and we can’t possibly make a difference. And because of that, what many of us fall into, I think, is this habit of what I sometimes call being a productive consumer. You know, we’re doing stuff and we’re getting stuff and we’re doing stuff and we’re getting stuff, but a lot of it isn’t imbued with a sense of meaning and purpose. We don’t think our actions matter and they don’t feel meaningful to us. So the invitation with taking responsibility with this first principle is to move, it’s actually like a seismic shift where you move from being a productive consumer where you think your actions don’t matter to being a custodian of the planet. A custodian of your own body and mind. And the realization here is that everything we do matters. Everything that we do does make a difference and does impact the world around us. So it’s imbued with this kind of wise understanding that even the smallest actions that we take everyday – you know like putting the recycling, putting a bottle in the recycling, being kind to a stranger, maybe calling someone we care about to check in on them – that all of these little things can be a reflection of who we really are and what matters to the world, what our values are.

So a custodian of the planet believes that all of their actions make a difference. And they realize that we’re part of an interconnected world and that they’re empowered to take wise action towards what really matters. So that’s the first principle, to take responsibility.

Dawa: What’s really beautiful about what you just said, I think, is this desire that we all have to feel like we’re in our own power. And I think there is a lot of, you can say, maybe a state of victimhood that we retreat to in these times. And so I do think, I do agree that when we do take greater responsibility at the degree somehow we do surrender our victim identity. But in return, we receive empowerment. We receive actually a reconnection with the power that as individuals we hold to influence and shape our world. So that’s quite beautiful.

Melli: It’s a so much more empowering way to live.

Dawa: Yes.

Melli: The second principle that I think is really important with mindful leadership on the individual level is to always stay in touch with our outcome. I think it’s really, really easy, especially these days, we have such a modern, fast-paced busy world and it’s really easy to get lost in just doing what needs to be done for the day. Kind of going through the motions. And sometimes when we do that, we lose sight of the bigger picture –  of what we actually want, who we actually are, what really matters most to us. And sometimes we have moments that are triggering, moments where we’re challenged, moments of uncertainty and confusion. And in those moments as well, we can get really lost from what really matters.

So there’s a little tool that I often use that I want to share and it’s really simple. We can take a pause whenever we get triggered, whenever we find ourselves lost and confused, or whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed because we just got lost in doing and we just have those moments where you just get exhausted and you go, “Ahhh. What am I even doing these for?” So you can take a kind of mindful check-in and just take a breath and then ask yourself one simple question – I must ask myself this question ten times a day at least – and that question is this: What is it that really matters here? What do I really want?

So let’s say if we play this out. Let’s just say if you have a difficult conversation at work. Somebody says something that really offends you  and you notice that you’re getting reactive. In that moment, you might be prone to being angry with that person or belittling them or whatever. But if you just take a mindful pause and ask yourself: “What is it that I really want here? What is it that really matters?” Maybe the answer to that is what you really want is connection and what you really want is a win-win situation where you both are empowered. So instead of reacting you might even find yourself saying that to somebody. “You know I just felt a moment of reactivity. But then I realized what I really want is to connect with you and for us to both thrive in this situation. How can we do that?”

I think one the greatest regrets of the dying is apparently, according to a palliative care nurse, Bernie Weir, who worked with the dying for years and collected the top ten regrets – the top regret is “I wish I had lived a life that is true to me instead of the life expected of me.” And so I think what this question can do is, over and over and over and over, again invite us back to reflecting what we really want, what really matters and acting from that.
So know your outcome, that’s the second principle.

Dawa: Fantastic. It reminds me of something that I’ve learned from one of my teachers one day and that was: Live a life so that at the end of your life, you can leave without regret. And just contemplating that or thinking of that has had a tremendous transformative effect on me and on my work.

Melli: And sometimes it just takes a little, sometimes it’s redirecting your focus with a simple question like that that can just lead you back to yourself. It’s a little extra tool for mindful leaders.

The third principle that I just wanted to share was vulnerability and authenticity. Vulnerability and authenticity. And the reason that that’s the third principle that I want to share is because I know that a lot of people think about the word, leadership and they think about like this heroic leader who has it all together and is kind of perfect and they always do the right thing. But mindful leadership is really, it’s not a perfection project. It’s not about being a flawless, heroic human being with no cracks and who never does anything wrong. It’s more about having the courage, we don’t have to be a persona, a persona of a leader. We can just be our full selves and hold that intention to do the best we can to show up fully as our full selves. And it’s not about perfection. It’s about, despite our imperfections, still holding the intention to be a custodian of the planet and ourselves and to do the very best we can.
I don’t know if you have this saying Dawa in the States, but in Australia we say, “You just get back on the horse.” So if you fall of the horse, there’re moments where you’re not going to be living your deepest truth. We all have those moments. Every single one has those moments. And the key is to have compassion and gentleness with yourself but still hold that strong intention that your actions matter, that you want to be your fullest self in the world and to serve others. And you just find yourself struggling and falling over sometimes, just get back on the horse with gentleness, with kindness and courage.

Dawa: Wonderful. It’s actually a nice lead over. You know, Guru Beasley did a study to identify the most required or needed leadership skill for successful organizations and what they boiled that down to was trust. The simple presence or absence of trust, and I think part of what you’re describing too is how do you build a deeper trust with yourself. How do you nurture that trusting relationship with yourself and from that, how does that extend to then also become part of your trusting relationship with other people and trusting relationship with life or a more trusting relationship with the world.

And so the first principle that I wanted to mention from a mindful leadership perspective in organizations is invest trust. Because generally we look at trust as something that other people have to earn from us or the world has to earn it by being predictable or certain. And yet that never is the case. The world is a changing place. It’s constantly transforming. And so if we wait for that certainty, we might find that we never have enough certainty to actually feel enough trust to venture out to live our purpose.

And so to turn that around, we want to think about trust as something that we invest, that we’re actually the originator of, that we’re the author of. And that we have the choice to build as much trust as we think is needed in order to live the life that we want to live. And even though the world is uncertain, and even though there is change and we can’t predict what will happen, by choosing to trust, we’re actually in a better place for ourselves. And we’re better equipped to respond to the uncertainty and to the change. We’re more present for ourselves. We’re more present for our loved ones. We’re more present for our colleagues or our employees just because we choose to practice trust as an investment rather than as something that others have to earn.

Melli: So would you say, if I were to say so being trustworthy is the way that you invest in trust?

Dawa: Both. Being trustworthy but also rebuilding trust constantly so that you realize that it’s not a one-time deal and you build it once and then it falls apart and you don’t build it again. But rather you see that you are not just the recipient of this. You are the originator of the amount of trust is there in your world, the amount of trust that’s in your relationships. So that by bringing more trust into your world and into your relationships, you actually are able to transform them. And you’re able to create an environment in which other as well feel like they to step up, they want to open up more, they want to be more vulnerable. And so together you are beginning to transform the culture, whether that’s the culture between two people or between many people, or the culture within an organisation. And what researchers found is that when mindfulness practice is introduced into a culture, that trust in that culture goes up just from that fact that people are practicing together.

Melli: Wow. It’s really inspiring to think, because a lot of the times we think of trust as being something that has to be gotten from outside, like somebody has to be a certain way, you have to go out to get trust. All the circumstances of things have to line up a certain way before there can be trust. So I find that really inspiring to think of creating trust from the inside out and letting it permeate  the world around you. That’s really inspiring. I love that.

Dawa: And then the second one would be learn how to live outside of your comfort zone. I think we’re particularly in the moment living in a world that’s very diverse and that’s really struggling with people opening up to diverse viewpoints and to diverse lifestyles and to diverse races, genders, orientations, political views, etc. It’s a very, very diverse world. And everyone is tempted to withdraw from the kitchen table and to say, “Well, this is just too uncomfortable for me to be engaged in a world that is more complex, so unpredictable, so diverse. And so for mindful leaders, especially, the important thing is to be willing to live outside of our comfort zone. And to know that the presence of others in our teams in the world, in our companies actually deserves us to step outside of our comfort zones. And if that we are willing to spend more time outside of our comfort zones, actually growth happens, learning occurs. There’s a code of somebody much, much more wiser than me that once said, “The comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.” And I think everyone is aware that humanity has to grow in order to meet the challenges of our time. And so that growth will happen outside of our comfort zone.

Melli: Beautiful.

Dawa: And the third principle that I wanted to talk about is about going beyond habits. And the understanding of how habits function and how we can most skilfully break them and also replace them with more practical or more suitable habits. We know from research that people, in general, know what’s good for them but they have a hard time implementing it. Studies were done with heart patients who were clearly told that if they didn’t change their behavior, their life or the trajectory of their disease will be terminal. And yet even knowing that information, the majority of the patients, I believe that number was somewhere north of 70%, failed to implement the habit change because of how deeply these habits are ingrained. I think people get how practical and how valuable it is to live a more mindful and compassionate life but we come up against strong habits. And so as a mindful leader, I think, informing yourself how habits come about, how they are most skilfully broken and how they are most skilfully transformed is one of the vital skills.

A habit generally consists of three parts: the trigger, the behavior and the reward. And what research shows is that if we develop just a little bit of curiosity about what our triggers are, about what the true rewards are, and about our own behavior, then already that curiosity which constitutes a sense of awareness, an open-minded interest and awareness in this mechanism begins to transform the behavior. So it’s not that complicated. It literally is something that a lot of children have, this really fresh, new mind that is really curious, that is willing to investigate or to learn and grow. When we, as adults, take that curiosity and we apply it to our own habits, we’re are actually  most skilfully able to break them and transform them and build new habits.

Melli: It reminds me of my chat with Judson Brewer recently where he was sharing his research into how mindfulness breaks even the strongest of addictions. And I think what he was saying was that now mindfulness, the urge-surfing techniques that they have that teach people how to break habits and addictions that is doubly as effective as the previous gold standard treatment for smoking, which is  pretty impressive when you think smoking, according to Judson, is the hardest addiction to give up in the world. Harder to give up than heroin or cocaine. So mindfulness is such a powerful way to break those habits and live a more authentic life and be a better leader.

Dawa: And I think underneath the addiction to cigarettes or alcohol or any other vice, you can say, really lies the addiction to drama and our addiction to not really find peace and contentment or know ourselves without there being a lot of drama. So I think that’s also where this research that Jud is doing and this understanding that comes into habit transformation through the mindfulness movement will be very helpful, is in uprooting our addiction to drama and thereby really creating lifestyles that are still exciting and enthusiastic and vibrant and alive but actually less afflicted with strong negative emotions or just the daily confusion that we see so prevalent at the moment in the world, in politics and in other things.

Melli: Yeah. So what I’m hearing is this is offering us a way to live a life that is true to us, to live a life that is authentic and meaningful and rich. A life that when we get to the end and look back after, where we don’t have regrets. Instead of being kind of caught up and entangled in the habits that cause drama and kind of lead us away from what really matters.

Dawa: Exactly. And also in the way that others respond to us because everyone is a leader. You are a leader in your own life, in your family, in your community. And everyone that is listening to this is showing up as a leader in some context and oftentimes drama interferes with  even us understanding one another. Even just being able to communicate one-on-one or communicate with our children or communicate with our spouse or communicate with our colleagues. And so I think any in-ways that leaders can make in understanding that relationship and bringing mindfulness, compassion, curiosity, open-mindedness to their process is a transformative influence.

Melli: And you’re right. We are all leaders, whether we want to think that or not, we influence everybody around us, people, especially if we are parents. But all of us we influence the people in our lives for better or for worse.
So I hope, this conversation has been such an enjoyable conversation, I hope these tips have been really valuable for everybody listening and watching. And  there  is more though. This is, this journey into mindful leadership, for those who are curious, can go further. Dawa, can you tell us about the Mindful Leadership Conference that’s going to be on, I think it’s going to be a week from when this video goes live.

Dawa: That’s right. Yes, we’re launching  the first ever global mindful leadership online training conference. And you mentioned Jud also. He’s one of the presenters. Dr. Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Congressman Ryan, Angel Kyodo Williams, and other amazing, beautiful experts and speakers and researchers and entrepreneurs. You also will be speaking and people will get to hear you share about mindful culture and how to stay true to yourself as a mindful leader. This is an event that has about, I think, close to 40 different speakers and presenters presenting and talking and sharing about mindful leadership in organizations, in businesses in communities and in families. And it goes live from March 1st to March 10th. It’s completely free. So you can join this online event and it runs for ten days and learn from really some of the world’s best mindful leaders, mindful teachers and mindful entrepreneurs in the world about how to apply these principles to everyday organizational development and everyday community building.

Melli: And I’m really, really looking forward to this. I’m going to be following along every single day because I  really do believe what the world needs right now, more than anything, is mindful leaders, both on the individual level and in corporations and business. So thanks for sharing your time and for putting that amazing conference together and I will be following along.

Learn the Art of Mindful Living with Melli O'Brien: