3 Practices for Becoming a More Mindful Leader

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Mindfulness can help leaders to heighten their levels of self-awareness—and experience greater success in the workplace.  

Mindfulness practice is no longer confined to Buddhist temples and the campuses of retreat centers. In fact, the benefit of mindfulness for those in leadership roles is proliferated in the pages of Entrepreneur MagazineForbes, and Harvard Business Review.

But what kind of mindfulness are we talking about?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, describes mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally."

Noted Buddhist Psychology teacher Jack Kornfield describes mindfulness as “a practice that enhances our well-being in every way, from developing increased mental clarity and deep relaxation, to handling stress in healthier ways and escaping the grip of our reactive emotions.” 

These benefits can be especially helpful when applied to the modern workplace, which is full of emails to answer, meetings to attend, and deadlines to meet.

The many ways mindfulness can benefit individuals are well-documented, but a 2011 survey of directors and managers at General Mills supported that practicing mindfulness can be particularly beneficial to those in leadership roles.

Balancing the Head With the Heart

“The key to effective leadership is the ability to integrate your head (IQ) with your heart (EQ),” said Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School.  

The head is great at analyzing, but it’s even better at generating worries and stress. To find balance, you must use the heart, which is where our courage, compassion, and empathy lie. These qualities are essential to great leaders.

Practicing mindfulness allows those in leadership roles to heighten their levels of self-awareness and intentionality in their actions. This can translate to being present, actively listening to employees, and keeping an open mind for opportunities and new ideas.

It can also help bring greater attention and focus when leading meetings or looking at ways to bring more productivity and innovation into the workspace. 

Start Practicing Mindful Leadership Right Now

  1. Learn to observe your thoughts and emotions before acting on them, and accept your current situation. If you are stressed out at work, acknowledge it. Observe the thoughts that come and how you feel about them. If you are in a loud or noisy environment, try to tune in to the sounds and really listen instead of trying to block them out. In other words, swim with the tide, not against it. After giving yourself space and accepting your situation, then you can begin to more clearly plan your course of action.

  2. Breathe. Take time to step away from your computer and your phone and focus on your breath. Close your eyes for a few minutes and breathe deeply and fully. Listen to your heartbeat. Spending even a few moments focusing on your breath can help you clear your mind and calm down.

  3. Look people in the eye and actively listen. No matter who you talk to, whether it’s an employee or a new client, look them in the eye. When you are having a conversation, don’t think about what you’re going to say next, just listen to what the other person is saying. Be curious and embrace the opportunity to learn from others.

For a more in-depth discussion of mindful leadership, watch this Google Talk with Michael Carroll, author of The Mindful Leader and Awake at Work.