When it comes to leading others, there is a barrage of tips, theories, practices, and models from which you can gain inspiration and guidance. These consider every angle of leadership, from motivating employees to generating shareholder value. However, one perspective on leadership that is less sought out is the practice of mindfulness.
Many leaders may not think of mindfulness as an element of leadership and might view it as something completely dissociated from leadership practices. Yet by integrating mindfulness into traditional leadership approaches, leaders can develop the ability to make crucial decisions from a space of intention, focus, and openness. Moreover, they can experience enhanced cognitive, emotional, and social awareness.
What is mindfulness?
Before a leader can begin to consider mindfulness as a leadership practice, it’s important to understand what it is. Mindfulness is attention in the here and now – observing the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that are happening in the present moment in any given situation. This includes acknowledging and observing thoughts and reactions without necessarily assigning emotions and judgements to them.
Mindfulness can guide leaders toward greater organizational success and emotional inner awareness.
Leaders are often burdened by endless thinking and rumination about what might happen in the business world or what has happened in the past. For example, a leader might have difficulty letting go of a mistake they made or experience anxiety about an upcoming conversation with a client. Sometimes they might get swept up in an automatic reaction like silently making a judgement about an employee’s comment made during a meeting.
A mindful leader is focused only on the present situation and pays full attention to those around them. This heightened awareness of the present can help leaders identify new opportunities because they are able to view situations and people more clearly.
Here are three ways you can bring mindfulness into your leadership practice:
Practice conscious awareness.
Pay attention to what is going on around you and what is happening for you internally. For example, if you are writing an email, give that task your full attention. When your mind wanders (and it will!), simply become aware of this, acknowledge it, and refocus your attention back to the email. Mindfulness teaches focus on what is happening in the now. By focusing your attention on the present, you make contact with the direct experience of whatever you are doing, freeing yourself from mental rumination, the stress of multitasking, and the burden of the past or the future.
Practice nonjudgemental thinking.
By becoming aware of the natural tendency to judge ourselves, situations, and others, we can reduce automatic and potentially harmful emotional responses and reactions. For instance, if an employee has a negative reaction to a performance review and seems to be angry with you, this may automatically trigger negative thoughts. Mindfulness can give you the opportunity to notice your thoughts and the triggered emotional reaction.
Once you recognize your emotional reaction, you can then choose a different response and more clearly assess the situation. You may even notice and observe the employee differently, opening up the possibility of changing the tone of the situation and the outcome.
Make mindfulness part of the conversation.
Make mindfulness at work an organizational priority. Encourage your team to adopt mindfulness as a practice themselves. Workplace balance is an important component of psychological safety in the workplace – people need to feel that their efforts at work are balanced with rest and recuperation. Employees hold many roles, including that of worker, parent, friend, partner, and caregiver. The practice of mindfulness can help your employees maintain their concentration, sense of control, and personal wellness – this leads to enhanced job satisfaction and performance.
Introduce the practice of mindfulness and its benefits. Collect various guides and how-to resources and share them at a staff meeting or individually with employees. Share the benefits of mindfulness from a workplace performance perspective and openly discuss your own experience with it.
Leaders want to succeed, achieve organizational goals, and perform at a high level. Mindfulness, through the practice of awareness and nonjudgement, can help contribute to these goals. Ultimately, mindfulness can guide leaders toward greater organizational success and emotional inner awareness.
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