What Brings You Joy as a Leader?

Posted 02.10.2014

leader-joyThich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who first became publicly known for his efforts to negotiate a peace treaty during the Vietnam War. Since then, he’s taught around the world and has written more than sixty books that have had an influence on people in all walks of life. (I’ve only read a few of his books; my favorite is Being Peace.)

Last week, a friend of mine, Alanson Van Fleet, sent me a note to share how some of Hanh’s work is making a difference for leaders in corporate America. Alanson is a senior executive in a financial services firm and a longtime mindfulness practitioner who’s also doing some leadership coaching inside his company.

A well known Thich Nhat Hanh quote is “If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything.” Based on that idea, he has an exercise called “deep touching” in which he encourages people to be in touch with all of their senses and intentions as a part of being fully present in the moment. To make that tangible, Hanh suggests taking out a piece of paper and writing down all of the things that bring you joy and nourish your body, mind and spirit. Creating that list enables you to notice and appreciate those things as they come up throughout the day.

Here, in his own words (and with his permission), is how Alanson adapted the practice of deep touching into a conversation that helped one of his colleagues step back and slow down for a few minutes to recognize what brings him joy as a leader and the difference that makes for the people he leads.

I simply took (the deep touching) exercise and transposed it into coaching experience. I invited my client, who was exploring his evolving leadership experiences, to consider this exercise: “Take out a piece of paper, write down those leadership experiences that bring your joy and nourish you as a leader. What is going on? How do those moments bring you joy as a leader? What are you noticing in those moments? How are others experiencing you in those moments?

In a hurried up, hectic workday, it’s easy to blow past the things that bring you joy as a leader. And, yet, if you take a few minutes to write them down, you’re probably going to be much more likely to notice them, feel grateful for them and build on them when they come up.

Before you move on with your day, why not take a few moments right now to write down what brings you joy as a leader? It would be great if you’d share some or all of them in the blog comments so we can all compare notes.