Future leaders? Mindful, selfless and compassionate

Rupert Cornford listens to a story of what leadership needs to look like in the 21st Century

There is a leadership crisis.

At a time of rapid global change, in politics, business and social cohesion, the age of heroic leadership is dead, and we need something different for the 21st Century.

Research from the Potential Project, which has interviewed 250 leaders from around the world and surveyed a further 35,000 people, has identified a lack of happiness, engagement and leadership in organisations.

They point to a growing movement of people-centric cultures, which encourage an understanding of self as a foundation to help others and lead organisations. These are people who understand that people drive performance, and in the right environments, they will work miracles.

Last week I joined a webinar with Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter from the Potential Project to listen to the story of this research and their vision for leadership.

Three words punctuate their predictions: mindfulness, selfless and compassion.

They believe a powerful combination of these three will provide organisations with a robust and people-centric focus, which will bring stability and growth.

Mindfulness – because it’s a good way to develop our attention when our brains are wired for distraction. In business, results are important, and they are driven by the actions and choices we make. The quality of our attention is directly related to how mindful we are – working on a screen or listening to a colleague, alike.

Selflessness – is about reducing our egotistical impulses that can rule us and prevent us seeing the bigger picture. Our ego makes us vulnerable to criticism, susceptible to manipulation and narrows our vision. If we are selfless and confident – then we can act as an enabler for our organisations.

Compassion – is the intention to be of benefit to others, bringing caring and kindness into our working lives. Compassion and wisdom together create benevolent leadership.

It is an interesting trilogy. On the outside critics might call it soft, but read between the lines: words like enabler, benefit (to others) and attention paint a picture of the common good – a group of people acting for each other and that bigger picture. If we are vulnerable to criticism and manipulation – with a narrow field of vision – then we’re not operating at our full potential.

The sands are constantly shifting around leadership and we all have a part to play. If everyone decided to do one thing differently – to try one thing – then collective change can happen.

To tips to develop…

…Mindfulness – be present, stop multi-tasking, develop a regular practice

…Selflessness – use fewer references to ‘I, me, my and mine’, consider the contribution of others, look for opportunities for gratitude

…Compassion – always check your intention, ask yourself: how can I be of benefit? Carry our random acts of kindness


These research findings have been turned into a book called the Mind of the Leader, which is being published in March 2018.