Mindfulness And Trust: The Keys To Successful Leadership

“What keeps you fulfilled in your role?”


Whether we are navigating a busy sidewalk, or navigating through our career, when we lose perspective, we lose our bearing and risk faltering. Having perspective on our situation requires self-awareness; we need to be conscious of who we are, how we got wherever we are, who is around us and how our actions impact those around us.

Kevin Wijayawickrama of Deloitte Advisory keeps those concepts top-of-mind every day. Kevin wears two hats, as the leader of Deloitte’s Advisory Practice in the Western U.S., and the head of the healthcare group for Deloitte’s Western Region. In those dual roles, Kevin is responsible for inspiring, protecting and developing more than 5,000 professionals. I recently had the chance to speak with Kevin about what keeps him on track, and what advice he has for other business leaders.

Kevin identified three approaches an effective leader can take to build trust with her or his team, because without trust, nothing else much matters. 1. Know yourself. 2. Do your homework. 3. Let go of the stress of the day.

Jay Sullivan: You’ve spoken and written frequently on mindfulness in the workplace. What does that term mean to you?

Kevin Wijayawickrama: I think of “mindfulness” as purposeful human engagement. You have to take time to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. Then you have to reflect on the other person. Our work lives get so busy dealing with tasks and initiatives, we sometimes need to remind ourselves as leaders that the people we are dealing with aren’t just cogs in the wheels of the machinery. They are living, breathing human beings who have goals and dreams and fears and aspirations. We need to be conscious of those attributes of the people we work with so that we treat them with respect. That will help you as a leader build a stronger level of trust.

Sullivan: Nice in concept, but what does that mean in reality?

Wijayawickrama: When I am meeting with someone, I try to make them feel that they are literally the most important person in the world to me at that moment. I don’t wear a watch; I don’t want to be distracted by time. I do my best to give 100% of my attention to whoever is in front of me. I can’t say I always succeed, but the effort is there, and I think the effort is appreciated.

Sullivan: But your team spreads across 10 states. How can you be present to everyone?

Kevin W, Deloitte Advisory

Wijayawickrama: You can’t, and you don’t need to. As a leader, you need to influence and impact those closest to you, and trust that the example you set is being carried through the ranks. That’s why it’s so important to build the right level of trust. Trust works two ways. You create a level of trust by consistent behavior, borne out over time. As your team feels that trust, you can trust them to act in accordance with the behaviors you’ve modeled.

Sullivan: How does this come into play at Deloitte?

Wijayawickrama: We recently instituted a “Next Gen Leadership Initiative,” which involves the top 10% of the partners at the firm. In addition to a formal, structured training program on leadership, we assign each person a coach and a psychologist. These two professionals help these top leaders identify their strengths, their challenges and their potential. Again, it all goes to increased self-awareness leading to increased effectiveness.

Sullivan: You also talk about doing your homework. What does that look like as a leader at Deloitte?

Wijayawickrama: Get to know your people. When you’re trying to build trust, you have to let people know you care about them. Get their kids’ names right. Understand their family situation. Know where they came from before they started to work for you, and ask them very directly where they want to go career-wise. Unless you’re a fantastic actor, you can’t appear to be genuinely interested in your team unless you actually are genuinely interested in your team. You need to be aware of what’s important to them. The easiest way to do that is to simply ask them. You can’t assume anything; you need to ask open-ended questions that force them to give you concrete information instead of a perfunctory answer.

For instance, the younger elements of the workforce are interested in fulfillment. When I entered the workforce, I would never have had the nerve to think I was owed that. I just wanted a job. Now, people want to know their work matters to them and to others. How it matters to each person is what you as a leader need to learn.

Sullivan: Where did you learn these lessons?

Wijayawickrama: When I came to this country from Sri Lanka as a young man, I had nothing. But I had the tremendous good fortune to be mentored by more senior business leaders. They, not only introduced me to a solid path for growth, but showed me how to walk that path and how to guide others to do the same. Much of what I do as a leader I do to say “thank you” to those who nurtured me.

Sullivan: You also talk about “letting go of the stress of the day.” How do you accomplish that?

Wijayawickrama: That’s where perspective and self-awareness come into play again. None of us alone are going to cure cancer, address global warming, or solve the big political issues of the day. But each of us can deal with the small issues in front of us by staying focused on the only important issue to us – the person with whom we’re meeting at any given moment. If I know that my role is to simply deal with the challenge in front of me – to not get distracted – I let go of the distractions. I focus on being present to those in my day. That’s what makes for transformative meetings.

The nature of work life is evolving. The chat around the water-cooler is a thing of the past as more teams function remotely. Instead of interacting with people sporadically throughout the day, we’re all more likely to limit our interactions with our teams to scheduled appointments, often on the phone. That means that those conversations need to be less tactical and more strategic. If I want to get to know someone I rarely see face to face, I have to work harder to build trust, to make those conversations purposeful. We have to talk less about “what’s on your plate today?” and more about “what keeps you fulfilled in your role?” It’s a tall order, but the payoff is tremendous. If I’m talking to you about your long-term goals, the little stuff of the moment doesn’t get in the way.

Sullivan: Very helpful advice, and thanks for your time. If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go revise my agenda for my next meeting.

Originally published on Forbes.com.

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