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I pretty much did it again.

My teenage daughter had concocted a grand plan to visit our son in Florida that was bound to cost me a lot of money, put her life in jeopardy, or both.

At least that must have been what my mouth thought. Because it sure doled out some meaty parent-by-mouth routines designed to help her see the folly in her plans.

Only thing is, my ears and brain were not in the room, resulting in a misunderstanding that escalated to the point I was ready to Fedex her to Florida by the time it was over.

When things calmed down I realized I had “done it again”. 

Ever have those “I did it again” moments? Most of us have experienced letting our mouths take charge before our brain shows up.

Mouths will do that. 

I think they get up earlier than the brain and sneak into the office because they secretly love to be in charge by themselves. Fortunately for my mouth, (who happens to have a close partnership with my keyboard-craving fingers) my brain has a reasonably faithful attendance record. 

But sometimes my brain shows up late.

What results are words spoken or sent that work at cross purposes with our intention of being an effective leader. And this happens at home as well as at work. As a result we find our leadership ensnared by the words of our mouths.

Bad words flow through us when we have faulty thinking. They also flow through us when we have no thinking. And that happens more than you might realize. 

We tend to react when our buttons get pushed. Its a fear based impulse that has not been moderated by rational thought. It is literally thoughtless. It is particularly heightened during times of stress, tense moments, and amid challenging issues.

Intentional leadership is thoughtful. Reactive leadership is thoughtless. 

One line of thinking merely suggests the remedy for reactive leadership is to be proactive. I disagree. To me that is just a play on words. Rather the only helpful remedy to reactive leadership is to train continually in the discipline of mindfulness. 

Reactivity is not unique to any particular personality type, behavioral style or temperament. We all react, but in different ways. For example:

  • Driving entrepreneur’s can react by being abrasive and controlling and in the process shoot holes in their own boats.
  • People pleasers can react by being so talkative they don’t listen to the very people they wish to please.
  • Loyal administrators can react by being stubborn and detached, inhibiting meaningful change in an organization.
  • Compliant, diplomatic managers can react by becoming strict and impossible to please pouring cold water on vital creativity.

We all are capable of reacting. It takes no small amount of mindfulness to lead life and work intentionally instead of reactively. But it is possible. Thoughtful, intentional leadership can be cultivated and practiced as any other discipline.

If my mouth can learn this, so can yours.

Here are five leadership disciplines every mouth (and finger) needs to become an intentional leader.

Be mindful of the buttons
Become aware of how you most typically react when under stress? Those are your ‘hot buttons’ or simply buttons for short. Though others may press them, they belong to you. So responsibility belongs to you in what you do once they are pressed. 

Be mindful of the moment
There is more going on in the room than just what’s inside your head or on the tip of your tongue. Refuse the temptation to make it all about you. Taking a posture of objectivity and curiosity can transform your reaction into a more thoughtful, responsive conversation in that moment.

Be mindful of the people
The ones you are talking with. Talking ‘with’ not ‘to’. That is a helpful mindset adjustment in itself. Just as an email is best sent with the receiver in mind, words are best spoken with the listener in mind. Learning the appropriate filters to use based on the role and relationship you have with the other person is an important leadership skill. Which leads us to…

Be mindful of the words
Word choice does matter – which ones to say and which ones to not say. Most thoughts need not be spoken in words, beginning quite often with the first thoughts we have in a stressful situation. Reactive words are usually never good words. Better to say nothing than to toss words to satisfy your need for emotional release.

Be mindful of the destination
Remember the big picture in all of this – your vision, values and mission. A thoughtful, mindful sense of who you are (as a person, a family, a business, a team) and where you are going is essential to an intentional mindset. The bigger picture always pulls us up out of the mire of the moment. And allows our brains to show up when most needed.

As with any discipline these require persistence and practice before they become second nature. But the payoff makes it well worth it.

We can train our brains to show up on time, and our mouths to wait until it gets there.

Make Life Count