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What makes a motivating leader?

Rasmus Hougaard dives deep into the minds of successful leaders at OWP
June 2018

On Monday IMD President Jean-François Manzoni kicked off the first evening keynote of IMD’s signature program Orchestrating Winning Performance. In his opening remarks, he said leadership development has evolved in recent years and has begun taking into account that a number of factors outside of the workplace affect performance. “We know that we have to sleep well and take care of our health, but what is now becoming clearer is that we have to pay more attention to our brains. Our speaker this evening has played a key role in making a number of the Fortune 500 companies more mindful,” said President Manzoni introducing Rasmus Hougaard.

Rasmus Hougaard is the founder of Potential Project, a leadership and research firm specialized in mindfulness. Rasmus is the author of the best-selling HBR published book, “The Mind of the Leader” and “One Second Ahead – Enhancing Your Performance at Work”. He is based in Copenhagen and New York.

What behaviors by leaders have motivated or demotivated you?

After the silence, Hougaard began by asking this very question to the more than 450 executives from around the world attending OWP. “Selflessness. Compassion. Passion. Walking the talk. Empowering.” These are just a few of the responses Hougaard received from the audience. “Micromanagement. Rudeness. Not being transparent.” These were a few attributes the audience said were demotivating.

“There’s a leadership crisis in our times,” said Hougaard. “Performance reviews. Telling people what they suck at. Giving numbers as a way of measuring success. These are not working.”

Hougaard cited companies like Accenture for leading the way and abandoning practices like those that are making the workplace unhappy and unproductive.

“More and more what we’re learning is that to be a leader is to be a human being. The role of leaders within organizations is to provide the conditions for workers to have satisfaction, meaning, purpose and happiness,” Hougaard said. Citing a number of studies carried out by Gallup, he said this is important because much of today’s workforce is disengaged.

What’s distracting us?

“Most of us have tons of random and repetitive thoughts going through our head even when we’re supposed to be focused on a specific task. Our mind is so preoccupied with what already happened, what hasn’t happened, and what will happen. The only thing we really have is now, this present moment, and in leadership we are really missing out on this.”

We can learn from the past but we must be in the present moment and not be distracted, Hougaard clarified.

To get the participants into the spirit of the evening’s talk, the speaker succeeded in getting the audience to be completely silent for 45 seconds. One participant said that moment of the session was simple but very powerful and something she had never experienced before with so many people in one space.

What does it mean for leaders?

For many of the reasons Hougaard previously highlighted, mindfulness is becoming increasingly interesting for leaders and organizations.

“Whatever we do, we should do it 100% and not try to multitask. Only then can we be our most effective and fulfilled.”

“Leadership is about unlearning management and relearning being a good human being; compassion is a must.”

Closing the first OWP keynote of the week, Rasmus Hougaard offered some final advice about how executives can bring mindfulness into their everyday busy lives telling them that even practicing mindfulness for 10 minutes each day would already help them increase their attention markedly. He also said a number of apps exist that can help executives become more mindful, including some developed by his company.

Summing up the session, President Manzoni put mindfulness into perspective. “Each of us can start putting at least one of these suggestions into action now. And remember: If you’re not mindful, if you’re not present here-and-now, the habit wins!”

A key takeaway from the evening: Multitasking is ruining our concentration and being able to concentrate better could help us all improve our performance at work and our lives.

OWP is IMD’s signature program and features 30+ hot topics and trends including: disruption, transformation, digital strategy, change leadership, agile organizations and much more. Other keynote speakers in 2018 are IMD Professor Arturo Bris; Amira Yahyoui, Tunisian human rights advocate; Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé; Jacques van den Broek, CEO and chairman of the Executive Board of Randstad Holding; and Bertrand Piccard is the initiator and visionary behind Solar Impulse.

The next edition of OWP takes place in Singapore in 19-23 November.