How to practice mindful leadership

To be awake at work is to engage each circumstance now, on its own vivid, fluid and uncertain terms.

Michael Carroll

Leading or managing people is one of the most challenging roles one can take on in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world. The busyness and all the pressure that accompanies being a leader often distracts and limits one’s ability to lead perfectly. In the current pandemic and remote working scenarios, being present to be aware of what you can control and to maintain presence of mind to face the reality of the situation has become more important now than ever before.

As a leader, staying grounded and authentic is very important not only to face new challenges, but also to find right balance between achieving long-term and short-term goals. One way to better manage your goals and to self-regulate in stressful uncertain situations as a leader is to be more self-aware and mindful.

Most of us often wonder as to what mindfulness has got to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of leadership, but in tough times and otherwise, mindful leadership is one of the most most influential style of leadership. This is because as a leader, one must be aware of the ways they are able to impact other people and should be able to recognise the implications of their actions for the long-term which is possible only if you are mindful to the present moment.

What is mindful leadership?

Mindfulness leadership is a leadership practice focused on cultivating high levels of self-awareness, wisdom and self-mastery allowing a leader to lead with focus, clarity and compassion. Mindfulness entails being aware of one’s internal compass and enables you to achieve congruence in your thinking, emotions and actions.

As a mindful leader, you can respond more to stressful situations and to constant changes from a place of calm and focus. Mindfulness involves developing the skills to allow oneself to engage actively with the present moment and allows to develop a more aware and considered approach to respond to situations, rather than react to them.

Benefits of being a mindful leader

Mindfulness is not only linked to improved physical and mental well-being, improved memory and less stress, but also results in improved decision-making under stress and uncertainty and problem-solving. Helps you build better relationships and improves the quality of communication with people you lead or manage. Here are some more benefits of being a mindful leader.

  • Improved focus of attention. Mindfulness teaches you how to focus your attention on something specific like your breathing and thus helps you maintain focus on what is in front of you to sustain your attention for long hours of problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Self-awareness. An important aspect of emotionally intelligent leaders is self-awareness. Mindfulness is the ability to develop self-awareness. Mindful leaders are able to self-analyse of what they are sensing and feeling in the moment without interpretation or judgment. This makes them more sensitive to the impact they are having on others holding more clearer, less biased and non-judgmental perspectives.
  • Prioritise organisational goals. Less identification with egotistical self makes one prioritise organisational goals rather than individual goals. Mindful leadership ensures that teams and organisations have a broad awareness of what they are doing so they see what is really happening and take responsibility for it.
  • Better Emotional regulation. Being mindful makes you more emotionally aware, especially when you experience difficult emotions like anger or frustration. You gain more control over your emotional reactions so that there is greater choice in interpersonal situations. The ability to monitor your thoughts and feelings and regular reflection of your actions and behaviours makes you more grounded.
  • Clarity. As you become more mindful, there is less clutter and fewer distractions. This allows you to see if there are any potential biases, errors in judgment, impulsiveness, worry, defensiveness and all those things that hold you back from making good decisions. Clarity helps you to see more detail, the bigger picture and encourages less critical view which, in turn, creates more flexible and attuned response.
  • Increased empathy and compassion. It helps you to make compassionate choices where you develop deep understanding of what ‘is’. A compassionate attitude allows mindful leaders to deal with failures and mistakes with greater tolerance and kindness. The ability to communicate in a compassionate manner and deliver honest and constructive feedback leads to productive work culture.
  • Improved productivity. The foundation of good leadership often depends on relationship with others and prioritising your tasks and goals. This makes you establish meaningful connection with your work force in achieving your goals and improves your ability to let go what is not needed resulting in more productive work.
  • Improves creativity, cognitive functioning and learning ability. Creativity needs space to come up with innovative ideas. Busyness, multitasking or constant work pressure reduces creativity. Mindfulness helps you create that needed space to calm yourself down to come up with more creative thinking skills.
  • Increases intentionality and perspective taking. A mindful leader can reduce disorder by bringing focus and intent to the situation. Pursuit of mindfulness improves one’s intentionality to pursue your goals more effectively and improves your perspective taking where you are more open for other opinions, ideas and perspectives.

How to be a mindful leader

Many people perceive mindfulness as a coping-strategy or a high-stress management technique. But this mindset presumes that you are starting from a negative place. It is more beneficial to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life if you are fulfilling management and leadership roles and it doesn’t have to be a session of meditation. It often begins with more self-awareness, learning and improving on your strengths which in turn results in leading and making decisions in a more conscious manner. The following goals will help you become more mindful.

Give and receive honest feedback. We are good at rationalising our behaviour under every circumstance. Lack of self-awareness keeps you from noticing problems and makes you defensive during receiving or giving feedback. Without regular mindfulness practice, it is difficult to keep the constantly wandering mind in an aware and focused state. Pause and take small breaks during the day to refuel and develop the capacity to deal with criticism, challenges and problems. This gives you the chance to take other perspectives to find solutions you have not considered before.

Avoid busyness. Your focused attention is the true measure of your intentions and goals coming to fruition. Pay attention to your daily routine and tasks. Avoid filling up every minute of your schedule. Keep space and time to respond to unexpected opportunities, ideas and problems. Commit to less and do away with non-essentials.

Acknowledge and accept change. This enables one to step back, observe and respond with purpose. When leaders realise that change is inevitable, you can encourage resilience in individuals, teams and organisations. This allows flexibility and a realisation that what worked in the past may not be appropriate today and thus can avoid outdated rules and processes.

Prepare for the know and unknown. Opening yourself up to what’s going on in each moment, you learn that things change constantly and see your challenges and progress you are making. Since criticism, challenges and obstacles are all part of being a leader, refrain from judgment and self- criticism. This conditions you to face challenges and acknowledge what is going on around you.

Practice mindful listening. A mindful leader takes time to listen to different perspectives. Listen and observe as intently as possible and pay attention to what is going on in your surroundings. Otherwise, you can miss invaluable details, which leads to poor decision-making. By listening mindfully and being fully present in the conversation, people you work with feel heard, valued and this increases their engagement in achieving better outcomes.

Communicate with compassion. Compassion is the capacity to see the suffering of others and have the aspiration to transform that suffering. Be empathetic and genuinely care by engaging in actions that might serve the needs of others. Communicate with respect, care and authenticity. Before talking to others, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? and Is it the right time? This helps you to communicate more compassionately and constructively.

Acknowledge your past experiences. Sometimes our past experiences or immediate reactions will interfere with our ability to view the present in an unbiased way. Once we acknowledge this, we can quieten negative self-talk and assumptions. This process of stepping aside allows us to decide what approach will best support the situation at hand, and the goals and the outcomes.

Make conscious decisions. Leaders have to make difficult decisions that might put hem in bad light. Being mindful is to know when such hard decisions need to be made. By choosing the needs of the many instead of the path of least resistance, you can help others connect to your vision, goals and priorities.

Learn from failure. Acknowledging that failure is an inevitable part of life is an important aspect of mindful leadership. Certain moments make you feel like you are standing on the edge of failure. Learning from experience, correcting course and gaining insight from difficulties helps you strengthen your leadership effectiveness.

Questions for Self-reflection

How mindful are you when it comes to your leadership role?

What is your motivation for leading?

Are you leading to be served or are you leading to serve?

How willing are you to put other’s needs ahead of your own?

Do you make decisions with distracted mind or in a mindful conscious manner?

Do you respond or react in stressful or uncertain situations?

How mindful are you in your listening and communications with others?

How do you rate your present moment awareness?

To conclude,

Mindful leadership is being able to take an honest look at yourself and asking these questions on a regular basis. You can practice mindfulness anywhere with a little as a minute to stop and break. When you find yourself clinging to a limiting belief, stop from what you are doing and take a pause to switch from action to reflection. You can use the above to review your leadership goals at the beginning of the day and assess at the end of the day. With practice, you will be able to see more clearly the habits that drive your conscious behaviour.

Most of us fall short and blame our circumstances and those around us for distractions. But, leadership roles require you to perform at the highest possible level and being mindful helps with an honest assessment and creates an opportunity to excel and helps you respond to change with clarity and focus. Mindfulness does not magically develop these qualities. What mindfulness can do is help you develop right frame of mind so you can be more aware of your thoughts, emotions and behaviour so that you can do the best for self, team and organisation.

Related read : How to practice mindful meditation

When mindfulness is fully integrated into leadership, exponential progress can be made.

Michael Bunting

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