HeforShe: Andrew McNeill | Co-Founder & Director, LXLeaders

Andrew McNeill is an experienced leadership consultant, an accredited mindfulness teacher, speaker and author of Organisational Mindfulness – A How to Guide. 

Andrew is the co-founder of LXLeaders, a consultancy specialising in leadership training and coaching. They help leaders develop foundational skills to improve their capacity to lead and enable them to thrive under pressure.  These skills sit beneath the core capabilities they may have already established and the techniques taught help improve their ability to self-regulate, respond rather than react, communicate and make decisions. LXLeaders pragmatic approach has a real impact at a human and organisational level, helping to create a happier and more productive working environment.

What are the most common leadership challenges you encounter in your consultancy and how do you advise leaders to overcome them?

Workload is probably the most common. Leaders are routinely pulled in so many different directions and are often expected to deliver the impossible to unrealistic deadlines. This is frequently compounded by competing pressures from their personal lives and, of course, the guilt that comes from feeling that you are not doing justice to either your work or home life,  or, indeed both.

The big message we like to share is the importance of showing ourselves some kindness. When I first came across this concept, I thought it was indulgent and something I did anyway.   However, thinking about it properly made me realise that although I was showing kindness to my family, my team and very often to my employers I actually didn’t often show kindness to myself.

We advise our clients to consider what they need in a particular moment; be it simply pausing between meetings, recognising they did something brilliantly (whether it was acknowledged or not), going for a run, or sitting in a park for a bit. Whatever it is they need it emotionally or physically.  It’s not indulgent to be kind to oneself from time to time and it helps improve performance both at work and at home.  Practising acts of self-kindness is all about topping up our reservoir so we can cope with the myriad of demands that are placed on us.

So, whilst there are practical tools for prioritisation, delegation, communication and boundaries, we recommend leaders should start by being kind to themselves, which can be surprisingly tricky.

How can leaders integrate mindfulness practices into their daily routines to enhance decision-making and team dynamics?

A big misconception we often come across is that mindfulness always involves lots of time, being quiet, sitting in difficult postures, cushions and sometimes incense! Whilst we do encourage people to try longer practices, one of the things I love most about mindfulness is how portable it is. It is a matter of choosing where to place your attention. Now, that in itself can be incredibly challenging, but it does mean you can bring mindfulness into that moment just before a big meeting or presentation. Or, you can bring it into the meeting and be practising mindfulness and be fully present for the conversation. This will take some practice.  It is important to find mindfulness techniques that feel right for you in a work environment.

In terms of team dynamics, for me communication is key. We teach mindful communication techniques which are incredibly effective in helping to build up the capacity to respond to a situation, rather than instinctively react to it. This helps to remove any tension and improves relationships. By using these techniques people also find they can manage their emotions better and the empathy they have towards others increases.

From your experience, what are the tangible benefits of mindfulness practices for individuals in high-stress positions?

The capacity to better regulate ourselves.

Under stress our fear response can get the better of us, driving us to fight, run or freeze. The issue is that whilst these responses are in themselves brilliant and have served to enable us to survive as a species – they are the same on the savanna as they are in the boardroom – to my knowledge hitting someone, running out of the boardroom or sitting perfectly still in the hope you won’t be asked a question, has rarely served people well in their career progression.

Developing the skills to notice what is going on for us both emotionally and physically, and learning techniques that will help to manage these reactions, can be a game changer for our performance in high-stress positions and in specific high-stress moments; as well as improving our wellbeing.

As an author, how do you balance the demands of writing with your consulting and teaching responsibilities? What’s your typical writing process?

Writing is time-consuming and balancing it with my other work is tough. But the best tip I ever heard about writing was to just do it. Before I started, I asked a friend of mine who had written a book how he got published and his response was ‘Do you have something to publish’?  That was a great challenge! Although the thought of writing a whole book was enormously daunting, I found that once I had started and written something, it gave me the impetus to keep going.

Do you have any mindfulness tips when having a stressful day in the office?

Firstly, look out for the tell-tale signs of feeling stressed. You know your body best, but it could be having a dry mouth, breathing more rapidly than usual or experiencing tightness in the shoulders and neck.

Find a comfortable but alert posture (sitting or standing), and take a couple of deep breaths.  Afterwards, try and consciously move your attention to the sounds around you. Hold it there for around 30 seconds, then move your attention to the temperature in the room, again for about 30 seconds, before moving your attention to the contact points with the chair (if you’re sitting) and your feet on the floor. If your attention wanders, that’s fine, just bring it back to the contact points. After about a minute move your attention back to the temperature in the room and then to the sounds around you again. In total the whole process will only take a couple of minutes but it will make a massive difference.

What emerging trends do you see in leadership that are exciting or concerning for future leaders?

It feels to me that leadership is going in two contradictory directions, depending on where you are working.

Some people seem to be coming under ever greater pressure to ‘improve performance’ by working longer or hitting harder targets in aggressive environments. Other employers seem to recognise that this approach is very old-fashioned, unsustainable and counter-productive.

I think the more engaged leadership approach embedding psychological safety, inclusion and kindness will prevail for two reasons. Firstly, the evidence shows these approaches lead to higher-performing companies so that these organisations will beat the old-school ones. But also, the early careers people that I work with seem to be so much more aware of wellbeing and healthy ways of working than I was at that stage in my career.  This indicates to me that if businesses want to survive and attract the best people from the next generation they will have to take contemporary leadership approaches seriously and, if they don’t, they will be outperformed by those who do.

What personal or professional development practices do you regularly engage in to enhance your own mindfulness and leadership skills?

I attend courses on mindfulness, compassion or other leadership techniques and approaches run by other trainers in order to try and continuously learn as well as gain as much replenishment as I can derive from others’ teachings. Also, I practice mindfulness myself. It’s not been my experience that once you’ve practised mindfulness or leadership, you get to a point where you are sorted and can stop. I feel the need to keep learning simply because there is much to learn and it’s so, so important.

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become a leader who currently undervalues mindfulness?

Don’t – you will miss out on a secret weapon that can make all the difference to you and your team.

Having said that I would add that mindfulness is not for everyone. There are lots of tools that can help leaders and mindfulness is just one of them. I’ve found that good leadership requires many skills.  At LXLeaders we use mindfulness or awareness training as a foundational skill that supports many others.

Are there any new topics or areas you are exploring for your next book or project? What inspires you to keep creating and teaching?

I’d like my next book to be broader and explore the reasons why some leaders behave so badly and outline how they can and why they should stop. I think it would be really helpful not only for leaders but also for the folks who work for them.

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