Mindful Leadership 101
What is mindful leadership? How to become a mindful leader for your teams inside your organization? Why should we leverage mindfulness to make our business thrive especially when we are dealing with chaotic situations and uncertainty?
Aspiring to become a mindful leader starts by asking yourself a set of somewhat uncomfortable and confronting questions.
WarningThe context in which leaders need to operate now is more than ever a fluctuating one with significant changes not only since the last century but most recent years. And in 2020 and the Coronavirus emergency this trend has reached its peak!
Mindfulness could be a powerful way to develop the skills modern leaders need to properly engage and inspire their people.
Attention spans are, unsurprisingly, becoming shorter as leaders struggle to find their way through this minefield. And then they’re expected to make rational decisions, and provide calm, confident leadership.
A new era of leadership is not only emerging, but compulsory.
WarningThe skill-sets needed today are unlike those championed decades ago. No longer will we celebrate and promote the dictatorial, hard-ass leader who generates their power in threats and aggressive backlashes.
When we’re mindful we’re fully connected to ourselves and to other people, and this connection allows us to lead ourselves and others to shared certainty, rather than individual confusion.
When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the immediate moment, rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Being mindful simply means being fully connected to the reality of what is, and accepting this reality even if we don’t like it.
Mindfulness, then, maybe an extremely valuable framework for us to consider in navigating the contemporary demands of being a human being.
Being a leader is tough, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Practicing mindful leadership is the perfect way to become a better, calmer leader. Here’s how to start if you aim to become a mindful leader.
Heartbeats Never Lie
Having a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help an individual get in touch with their feelings and emotions and become aware when they might be disturbed or angry. This can be useful as our schedule gets busy and hectic.
Mindfulness gives us that moment of pause and calm to reflect on our actions and behavior so that we don’t act out of emotion and do something we might regret.
It can help us improve our emotional intelligence, which allows us to understand another person’s perspective and be more sympathetic to their needs and concerns.
It is now widely understood that emotional intelligence skills are essentially, by definition, leadership skills.
WarningDifferent from management skills, leadership skills are about inspiring high levels of performance in team members. And, every competency related to inspiring performance in others falls somewhere under the umbrella of emotional intelligence.
Empathy is, in my opinion, the very essence of the most effective leadership. When you truly understand the legitimate needs of team members and do whatever you can to help team members meet those needs, you build the influence that is the hallmark of highly-effective, inspiring leadership.
Because mindfulness training is essentially synonymous with self-awareness training, mindfulness training is a systematic way of developing emotional intelligence.
Following this logic, it should be clear that mindfulness training is perhaps the best tool there is for developing higher levels of emotional intelligence. And, as you would expect, there is a growing body of research suggesting that this is indeed the case.
Being a great leader means understanding your team, which involves active listening. Mindfulness is about being non-judgemental and present while doing so.
It can be tempting to dismiss your team’s thoughts as petty complaints and let your mind wander to your own workload, but this attitude will only serve to promote office-wide unhappiness. It’s time to open your ears to what your members have to say.
Don't Be a Control Freak
Ultimately, mindfulness encapsulates an attitude of calm and awareness. In leadership, this translates into a style of gentle guidance, and not heavy-handed controlling.
Teams hate to be micromanaged: it’s intrusive, insulting and stifles their freedom.
Being mindful is all about sensing the present, and adapting your leadership style for the moment. It’s alright to be more intrusive at times, but also important to let go and promote creative freedom — being a good leader is about finding a perfect balance between these two.
Be a conductor, not a controller!
When we’re mindful we recognize when someone in our working orchestra is playing their own tune rather than playing in harmony with everyone else. Give teammates clear direction on their shared working goals, and the space to find their own best way to be a wonderful working part of a wonderful working whole.
In addition, the capacity to collaborate with others involves being able to co-operate and facilitate cooperation across ideas, boundaries and cultures. Diversity and inclusion being one crucial related skill to being able to collaborate with other both inside and outside the organisation.
The biggest issue with control freaks is thinking they know it all. Ultimately, leadership by example is the best way to move control freaks toward a leadership mindset.
In a position of leadership, you can demonstrate that no one has all the answers, that delegation benefits everyone, and that the best decisions are made by including diverse perspectives. Show that you’re not driven by trying to control opinions, people or any decisions.
Worrying fuels self-defeating thoughts, and it also can lead to compulsive behaviors, like feeling the need to constantly control all aspects of the environment around you.
WarningTo manage your worries, talk to a confidant or mentor and get an outside perspective about what’s a valid worry versus invalid worry. Most worries tend to never come into fruition so getting some understanding around this will help.
Spread some cheer
It seems that when we need a little cheer the most, it is the hardest emotion to come by. If you are feeling frustrated, take the time to reward and recognize your staff. You are sure to find their smile to be contagious.
A paycheck is good but is not always enough. Individuals need to be appreciated and recognized on a regular basis for the hard work that they’re putting in.
Regular appreciation is especially important to balance out the more critical feedback that a leader sometimes needs to provide. The worker who is appreciated and properly recognized will be more engaged and there’s a higher likelihood that they won’t develop a wandering eye.
Apple is rewarding employees who complete a new mindfulness and meditation month-long challenge with a special edition Apple branded Breathe t-shirt, partnering with app 10% Happier to encourage staff to meditate for a specific amount of time per day for 25 days.
Employees crave recognition from leaders. Leaders reap in numerous benefits when they recognize excellent work.
The main impact is obvious: by recognizing your employees for the work they’re doing, you will instantly boost employee engagement. When your team notices you’re recognizing their performance, they will want to keep repeating that behavior.
An effective leader never forgets how effective a genuine thank you can be. Not only do you want your thank you to be sincere, make it specific to that employee.
WarningWhen an employee delivers amazing results, one of the best things a leader can do is make them feel empowered in their position. Recognize them for going above and beyond by highlighting what was so stellar with their performance.
Compassion Is Fruition
You never know how casual remarks may be perceived by others. Though we cannot avoid all missteps, take the time to consider your words and avoid using jargon, slang, judgmental remarks, and personal jokes. These are all forms of speech that can harm feelings, create emotional distance, and erode company morale.
We know how impactful words can be, and for leaders it is vital to be able to communicate in a mindful and compassionate manner.
WarningBe aware of your emotions before responding to an email or communicating in-person. Take the time to consider whether the communication you’re about to deliver is honest and beneficial.
The effective modern leader knows that the idea is to get the best out of people, not just squeeze them dry and discard them when they fall apart.
Gordon Gekko was a fictional character; leaders who really behaved that way would almost certainly find their best people jumping ship, and those that stayed being stressed, sick and underperforming.
Some traditional management thinking would have you believe that it is necessary to be tough and hard, constantly demanding results and driving performance. But in the 21st century, talented staff want a leader who is human, and who understands that work-life balance is not just some wishy-washy fad, but a source of renewed commitment and enthusiasm.
Compassionate leaders are those who lead from within, those who have the ability to inspire others through encouragement and empowerment.
When you treat people with compassion they never forget. You cultivate people who want to work for you not because of what you do but because of who you are.
Compassion can be defined as a willingness and desire to be kind to others. It means being thoughtful and aware of what others’ lives and experiences are like.
WarningIt is the opposite of indifference, and it is one of the essential qualities that determine, quite frankly, whether one is a decent human being. It’s related to the qualities of sympathy and empathy, and at its root, it describes a deeper sense of understanding.
Chew Humble Gum
Leading with humility means that the leaders are open to receiving feedback and won’t just blame the workforce, but are able to look at their own shortcomings when company goals have not been met.
Practicing mindful leadership does not mean you safeguard yourself from making mistakes.
WarningFor those times when you just cannot keep it together, do not be afraid to take responsibility for your actions and emotions. Admitting mistakes and apologizing for poor behavior shows confidence, courage, and humility.
At any point in time, you can take a few minutes to focus on who has helped you to be where you are.
Being conscious of what you have it terms of work, colleagues and professional networks, can help you to develop a fine-grained awareness of those who have contributed to making you who you are and what you have achieved.
Personal humility is a road less travelled. Most people are either boastful of their achievements (a habit cultivated by our competitive society) or dishonestly modest. The middle road is difficult to achieve but beckons when you want to grow in mindfulness and achieve its attendant benefits.
It is so easy to quickly dismiss the perspective, opinions or views of others as if our stance is the right one all the time.
WarningHowever, being humble demands a recognition of the limitations of our own perceptions, knowledge and skills and an openness to others through respectful listening for understanding.
Humility is often misunderstood. It can be seen as weak or indicative of lack of self assurance. But nothing could be further from the truth.
As a leader your ability to take full responsibility for your actions and to acknowledge when you have made a mistake, deeply, positively impacts everyone around you. In fact, rather than being seen as weak, you are perceived to have true courage.
When employees have something to look up to, and are emotionally intelligent to take care of their problems and work challenges, they develop mechanisms to tackle hard situations like deadlines, hard decisions and competition.
One of the reasons that team motivation deteriorates over time is because there is a lack of team bonding and poor emotional health.
While managers consider their jobs done with a couple of team building sessions, the reality is, energetic and spirited teams need more than just that. They need consistent boosts; they need affirmations; and they need to build themselves before they can support others.
A mindful leader should not expect others to do the things that he or she is not willing to do. Otherwise, there will be a disconnect between the leadership and the workforce.
WarningThat can gradually cause a deterioration of trust. Those in leadership positions should be aware that their behavior and attitude will influence the culture of the organization and the people working under them.
When something challenging happens at work, a mindful employee will not simply react and judge what is happening emotionally, rather they will consider it with a more adaptive stance. Therefore, by construing the stressor at work with a more proactive approach, the employee will also be more satisfied in their work.
A simple definition of integrity is having no gap between who you want to be (or who you state you are) and who you actually are.
Unless you are an incredibly rare, you’ve probably noticed that there is often a gap between who you would like to be, and who you actually are. The less often there is a gap between who you aspire to be and who you actually are, the more others will perceive you as a person of integrity and the more you will see yourself as a person of integrity.
Living with high levels of integrity is essential for living a fulfilling life, and it is also a key component of inspiring team members.
Leaders of high character, who live with integrity, can inspire followers much more readily than other leaders. And living with high levels of integrity is not just good for your team. It’s good for the world.
Be a Bright Light
Mindfulness is about awareness, both of self and others. By broadening your point of view and recognizing the goals of other individuals, you’ll slowly realize that your team might be drifting in different directions.
Disparate goals, without any commonality, make everyone self-absorbed and unable to connect with each other as a team. As a leader, once you’re aware of this divide, it’s essential to inspire unity.
This unity could come from boosting a bottom-line, reaching a golden number of clients, or simply getting through the week. It’s completely up to you to assess your team’s needs, but it’s imperative to rally everyone together.
The mindful leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without emotional baggage, and mindfulness is key to maintaining unbiased focus.
WarningWith so much complexity in most professional tasks and situations, the ability to remain focused on the core purpose of any action is of significant benefit. This is part of the wider topic of critical thinking, and can be as simple as paying attention to what is actually happening, rather than letting yourself get sidetracked.
Because mindfulness is so effective at helping you to regulate emotion and develop the ability to become free from the grip of unpleasant emotions, mindful leadership training can help you to significantly improve your ability to make sound decisions, even during demanding situations.
Erratic leadership and mixed messaging increases confusion and uncertainty in others. You must remain consistent in your leadership approach, as well as in your messaging.
WarningTo ensure consistent behaviours at work, you can ensure your team or organizational values are clear in the workplace. Ensure that the values you have collectively identified are connected to expected behaviours.
The clarity of your intention will be reflected in your actions.
Your actions determine the context within which others perform their work, and your words can make or break someone’s day. So, clarify your intentions, and lead intentionally.
Mindfulness will not magically help us develop these qualities. It helps put us in the right frame of mind so we can be more aware of our thoughts, emotions, speech, and behavior. The more we become aware of these things, the more we will be able to control them and not be controlled by them.
While there is no manual for navigating the contemporary demands of everyday life, we have been presented with the opportunity to approach life differently than before.
We can approach daily life in a way that leads to more self-awareness, more kindness, and compassion, and to be present. This mindful approach, presented above, is stackable and scalable, leading to authenticity, work-life balance, and emotional freedom.
As with most things in life that really matter, walking the talk is hard. But all of the challenging work and thankless moments really do pay off in the end.
WarningIt is a brave leader who chooses to lead with mindfulness, but along the way, they will gather an endless supply of support, trust, and loyalty that will make this mindful leadership path a worthwhile one to take.
Don’t consider mindfulness as an easy way out of saving money, or a temporary fix for your team.
When mindfulness is applied with the focus to build team motivation and overall well-being of the organization, it would benefit the company in the long run. Think of it as an investment in your organization that have outreaching impact on the overall performance and productivity level.
Mindfulness enables you to step back and contemplate situations objectively before taking action, making for more level-headed leadership. The more control you have over your thinking, the clearer you will lead and take action.
At the end of the day, mindful leadership is a great step to boost your leadership skills and interpersonal relations. It’s simple and straightforward, so why not jump right into it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!