Do you feel confident you and your team are on the same page? Are you aware how your words affect them?
If you are like most leaders, working on being more mindful about your actions and words is probably not your top priority. It's a soft skill that's difficult to develop consciously as you run from task to task and meeting to meeting.
Despite workplace mindfulness having a proven, positive effect on psychological well-being and productivity, it's difficult to find concrete ways for improving it.
Fortunately, we found one for you today. And it came from one of the most unlikely of places.
The Four Agreements.
A few years ago, I was reading an article about 7-time NFL Champion, Tom Brady and discovered that there was a book he re-read every single year and loved. I decided to give it a read and really loved it, too. I've since re-read it every year, just like Brady.
Having recently re-read it, I realized many of its principles could be used by leaders and managers like you.
"The Four Agreements” is a book written by spiritualist Don Miguel Ruiz that's based on ancient Toltec wisdom. The Toltec people are considered the predecessors of Aztecs in central Mexico.
Their teachings promote freedom from self-limiting thoughts that cause people unnecessary fears and frustration. Ruiz focuses on using these teachings to help people overcome their issues and understand those around them better.
Why you should read "The Four Agreements”
- Short Length: I've never read a 300 page book that couldn't have been a better 100-200 page book. Saying just the right amount on a point and moving on shows a skill and care many others lack. This book is a tidy 160 pages.
- Great Depth: Too many books can have all their concepts covered in a single blog post. The best management and leadership books keep teaching you new insights right until the end, and add nuance to their points beyond overdrawn anecdotes. This book is simple on the surface, but gives you a lifetime of opportunity for reflection.
- Timeless: As philosopher Nassim Taleb writes, the best books are more than 20 years old; that means that the ideas are not just a fad, but work long term. This book, first published in 1997, has timeless advice which likely explains why it has sold 9 million copies in the US alone and is now translated to 47 languages.
As I was just re-reading it for the 4th time a few weeks ago, I realized the key lessons in the Four Agreements absolutely apply to managers.
With that in mind, today we share how you can use these insights to be a better leader and manager.
The Best Don Miguel Ruiz Quotes from the Four Agreements that will make you a better leader
Ruiz used ancient Toltec wisdom to inspire his book, which helps people be more balanced and thoughtful. The Four Agreements are based on traits like honesty, integrity, mindfulness, and appreciation for others and yourself.
Before we jump into applying them, let's introduce them and their meaning at a high level: (for more detail please read the book!)
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don't take anything personally
- Don't make assumptions
- Always do your best
Agreement #1: Be impeccable with your word
The first agreement Ruiz teaches in his book is, "being impeccable with your word.”
The word "impeccable” comes from Latin and literally translates to "without sin”. Ruiz sees language as a tool we use to shape the world around us and the perception others have about us.
According to him, the power of words can set us free and allow us to express ourselves. It enables us to build deeper bonds with people. However, it also has a darker side to it. When we're careless with our words, we can cause irreparable harm to the relationships we have.
That's why Ruiz argues against being self-deprecating or using language to spread lies, gossip, or do harm to others. Such behavior is what Ruiz considers a "sin”. Not necessarily in a religious sense of the word, but rather as a perspective that causes damage and adds no value for anyone.
Being impeccable with your word means taking responsibility for what you say and do. It also means not being judgemental about yourself and those around you. The agreement stresses the importance of thinking things through before saying them. As Ruiz puts it:
"How much you love yourself and how you feel about yourself are directly proportionate to the quality and integrity of your word. When you are impeccable with your word, you feel good; you feel happy and at peace.”
How you can apply the First Agreement as a leader
For leaders, being impeccable with your word equates to leading by example. As someone people look to for guidance, carefully weigh what you say and do. Live the values you want to see in others. Whatever your vision may be, commit to it fully and earnestly. If you do this, your team will follow.
Acting with integrity as a manager also means recognizing when to give praise. Follow Miguel Ruiz' advice and use your words, "in the direction of truth and love.”
Look for different ways to encourage your team when they deserve it. If you genuinely want them to do good and don't take them for granted, you'll develop more meaningful relationships with them by showing this recognition.
Not only that, they'll also be more motivated to do their best for you. According to the Harvard Business Review, 40% of Americans say they'd put more energy into work if they were recognized more often.
Being impeccable with your word is one of those things that seems obvious, but requires conscious effort. When you start applying the first rule, you'll start seeing major changes in your team's everyday behavior and build a more positive, engaged culture.
Agreement #2: Don't take anything personally
Can you remember the last time somebody was rude to you? Did you take that personally?
If you're like most people, you very likely did. It probably bothered you more than you expected.
Taking things personally is a direct consequence of what Ruiz defines as our "domestication”. We can understand the domestication process as what our education teaches us about societal norms.
Whether we're aware of it or not, ideas about what is acceptable and what isn't are imprinted on us thanks to the culture that surrounds us. In modern societies, we are taught to take basically everything personally.
Ruiz warns against the perils of thinking this way:
"Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me'.”
In The Four Agreements, Ruiz reminds us that no opinion is ever truly objective. People's perspectives are formed through biases and filters that are completely unique to them.
When someone says something about us, they're really revealing things about themselves and their point of view, not you. That's why agreement #2 urges us to be less impulsive and reactive. It encourages us to think about the real intent behind the words and the person saying them.
How you can apply the Second Agreement as a leader
Indira Nooyi, former chairman and CEO of Pepsi, understands the importance of not reacting impulsively as a leader:
Nooyi knows that the position of a leader carries certain burdens with it. To keep moving forward, you have to be thick-skinned and avoid jumping to conclusions.
Give people who criticize you the benefit of the doubt. Assume that there is something constructive behind their words, and try to understand their reasoning. Take on the role of someone who rises above the drama on your team, not causes it.
Additionally, always be prepared to stick by your people in challenging times. By showing them you're in this together instead of sulking because something bad happened to you, you'll be setting a great example.
Your reactions can create a ripple effect across your team and company culture, so the best thing you can do is start from an assumption of positive intent, not hurt.
Agreement #3: Don't make assumptions
The third agreement in the book is, "don't make assumptions.” We are all wired to jump to conclusions without having all the information, or use our imagination to fill in the gaps when we have limited information.
We also tend to believe our own views first and stick to them for the long-term once they're set. This can cause us to have pent up emotions for no good reason (like resentment over something someone did without the intent you thought they had), or avoid discussing a topic that would not be as big a deal as you thought it was.
To overcome such problems, Ruiz encourages us to ask questions and communicate our needs and desires clearly and as often as possible. We should do this without fear of judgement and stop assuming things that can deepen the divide between us all.
As we all know, assuming and overthinking can cause us to feel a lot of stress. That's why Ruiz talks about the importance of really trying to understand perspectives beyond our own.
Rather than jump to conclusions, we should be communicating more transparently. We should also express our wishes and intentions as clearly as possible. This can go a long way toward preventing conflict, miscommunication, and long-term frustrations.
How you can apply the Third Agreement as a leader
This is the most important lesson for leaders to truly understand. If you make assumptions on behalf of a team member, you can create a lot of unnecessary problems.
For example, you may think a team member is not ambitious because they never talk about their career goals. The truth could be that they need encouragement to open up about their aspirations. Or they may be worried you're too busy to talk about them.
In turn, that employee could assume you just don't care about them. Resentment could set in, making honest communication between you even more difficult. The more complex the assumption is, the worse the problem can get.
That's why asking great questions and being a good listener are super important. And the best way to practice these skills is in your 1:1s.
We have a great post that can teach you how to become great at Active Listening. In a nutshell, it can be explained by moving your habits of listening to others through the 3 degrees, until you truly understand the other person by stating it in your own words:
We also have a wide variety of posts to help you ask the right questions in any situation:
- 31 Questions to Ask Remote Employees to Better Support Them
- What to Discuss in One on One with your Manager
- Skip Level Meeting Questions to Improve Your Managers and Engage Your Employees
- Questions to Ask a CEO to Ensure a Healthy Company Culture
- 12 Questions to Ask Your Team to Become a Better Coach at Work
- 18 Questions to Ask Your Team to Thrive in Difficult Times
- 6 Questions to Ask Employees as a New Manager
By directly asking your team members about issues and topics important to both of you, instead of assuming things, you can avoid major problems like waves of employee turnover, and even turn around underperformers. You'll also learn things you never would have otherwise.
Don't assume your team will default come to you with issues, ideas, and feedback. You'll get much better results if you don't make assumptions and instead ask them.
Agreement #4: Always do your best
The fourth agreement tells us to, "always do our best.” Ruiz is aware that "our best” is something that's very relative. It can depend on things like our mood, or how tired we are. However, we should always strive to put effort into everything we do.
"Doing your best” means taking action instead of expecting things to happen to you. It also means enjoying what you do and the process behind it.
The tricky part about doing this is not getting discouraged by external factors. This means not being disheartened by failure, or how slowly you're making progress.
To genuinely do our best, we must stop comparing ourselves to others and look in the mirror. As Jordan Peterson puts it:
"Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. As people, we are eternally flawed. But where you start might not be as important as the direction you are heading.
Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”
When you do your best, you also free yourself of a heavy inner burden. You have no dilemmas about what could have been and hold no regrets. According to Ruiz, this is extremely important for overcoming failure.
As long as you put an honest effort into life, if you do your best in each moment, you will have nothing to be ashamed of. You won't find yourself dwelling on past mistakes or question your own judgement.
How you can apply the Fourth Agreement as a leader
Similar to the first agreement, this agreement is all about setting an example for your team.
Remember - what you do resonates more than anything else. Use that as a way to motivate others rather than imposing strict rules on them.
As former Harvard professor Clayton Christensen explained in his excellent book, How Will You Measure Your Life:
In his book, he recalls how classmates in his Harvard class who deviated from this rule went on to regret it; some lost major business, and others even lost their freedom by going to prison or fracturing families due to infidelity.
The lesson he heard from these classmates was always the same: a deep regret of compromising on their values that eventually led to irreparable harm. It's likely why Warren Buffett similarly cautions:
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”
Help your team do their best, too.
This is also where the concept of Task Relevant Maturity comes into play. To enable others to do their best, you should consider how hands on you are in their work.
Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, describes this idea in the following way:
"How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it – his task relevant maturity…
As the subordinate's work improves over time, you should respond with a corresponding reduction in the intensity of the monitoring.”
If you see someone is struggling with a task or a skill, make sure to provide them with the support they need to grow and learn. By being open about weaknesses and addressing them head on, you'll be enabling everyone to do their best, too.
Helping your team do their best also means creating career development plans for everyone. Without them, morale and motivation will sink over time. In a 2018 report from Gartner, 40% of departing employees cited not being able to grow as their main reason for leaving.
As a leader, you must help people make progress regularly and keep an eye on development plans by checking on them in your 1:1s. To help you do that, we have several posts you can use as a starting point:
- How to Help Your Team Achieve Their Goals
- How to help when your team member can't answer "What are your career goals?”
- The 3 Questions Every Manager Struggles with Making Career Development Plans
- How to grow your employees when you can't promote them
Use ‘The Four Agreements' to transform your mindset
More than 20 years after it was published, "The Four Agreements” remains a highly relevant guide for anyone looking to become a more mindful, considerate person.
It ties together ideas on how to perceive the world around us and how to change the way we're perceived. When you start with your own inner work, the way the world receives you can shift in dramatic and positive ways.
With the four agreements (and four quotes about life), Ruiz teaches us how to foster new habits that will motivate people to act out of love and understanding. He understands that fear and resentment can only hold you back.
If you're a leader, these habits will help you transform your company culture with happiness, self-acceptance, and mutual appreciation as its foundation.
I believe in it so much the image at the top of this post is literally the background on my phone, so that I'm regularly reminded of them, as it's a constant effort to live them out:
And of course, if you really want to create genuine connections with your people and consistently be at your best, you can accomplish this much more easily if you allow us to help you.
💡 Sign up for a free trial of Lighthouse and features such as our Suggested Questions will help your team members to open up to you and have meaningful, valuable conversations with you throughout the year.
We'll also prepare you for each meeting by helping you remember key details and reminding you of your promises. This will ensure you and your people are making consistent progress.
Lighthouse offers a wealth of other useful insights and guidance to make you be the manager you always wanted. Sign up for a free 21-day trial now and see for yourself.