5 Reasons Leaders Should Embrace Mindfulness
It might sound a bit New Age and hippy, but mindfulness could be a powerful way to develop the skills modern leaders need to properly engage and inspire their people.
We live in a time of unprecedented pressure to be productive, and to be available around the clock. This can lead to a working environment that is fragmented by thousands of distractions and disparate demands.
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. Tough gig.
Mindfulness is Not New
The concept of being fully aware of the present moment, and of observing our thoughts rather than following them, has arguably been around almost as long as there have been humans.
Many cultures have embraced the fundamentals of this way of thinking for centuries.
Mindfulness has its origins in 1500 BCE Hinduism, linked with early yoga practices. It was further developed through Daoist and Buddhist meditation, and has since featured in the traditions of many major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
Applying mindfulness to leadership and business, however, is rather more recent.
Here are some ways in which you can use mindfulness to develop and enhance effective leadership practices.
In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it is essential that you remain aware of your emotional state, and of how you are coming across to others. The self-awareness facilitated by mindfulness can benefit you, as a leader, in a number of ways.
Being alert to your own behaviours is key to ensuring that you are the leader you want and need to be at all times. Most of us have a concept of our “ideal self”; the leader we would like to be, and the behaviours we know would allow us to reach major goals. But how many of us have an accurate idea of how close we are to this? The ability to continually and objectively compare the ideal with reality is central to great achievements.
As a leader, you don’t exist in a vacuum, and everything you do or say in a professional context has implications for others. High levels of self-awareness increase emotional intelligence, giving you the ability to see and experience yourself as others do. This is crucial in understanding the impact you have, from the influence you have in board meetings, to the impressions you make on catering staff.
Learn more about Self-Awareness.
2. Presence in the moment
The modern leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without prejudice or emotional baggage, and mindfulness is key to maintaining unbiased focus.
With 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.
People who multi-task often spend much of their time thinking about the thing they need to do next, or worrying about the latest issue to arise. Mindfulness asks that you temporarily forget about all that, and think about the here and now.
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.
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.
Your ability to withstand major trauma, bounce back from setbacks, and cope with pressure, all without becoming stressed, is a key factor influencing your capacity to provide engaging and confident leadership.
Stress is often the natural enemy of achievement, causing you to lose focus, make mistakes, and even break down completely. Besides, who is going to place their trust in a leader who can’t seem to manage themselves, let alone anyone else?
We often become stressed because we’re trying to do ten things at once, and end up doing none of them effectively, which in turn causes more stress. Through mindfulness, you can learn to block out the unnecessary information that prevents you from successfully completing the task at hand.
Mindfulness helps you overcome challenges with confidence by keeping things in proportion. Through proper focus, you can understand events in context, and avoid jumping to damaging conclusions. This clear, calm way of thinking allows you to assess situations and think of the best ways to respond, rather than wasting time beating yourself up.
See our page on Resilience for more.
5. Rational thinking
Powerful leaders make well-considered, rational decisions. Ironically, however, high amounts of pressure to be an effective leader can provoke irrational behaviours, which in turn lead to less effective leadership.
Rational thinking and behaviours help you treat challenges and failures as learning experiences that can be analysed to guide future action.
Rationality goes back to the ability to focus on the present moment. The more aware you are of the intricacies of the situation, the better placed you are to respond to them.
To be rational, you must also be objective. 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 your thought processes will be.
Further Reading from Skills You Need
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To sum up, mindfulness isn’t about finger-cymbals and chanting (not that there’s anything wrong with either), nor do you have to sit cross-legged in front of your guru.
When used properly by leaders, mindfulness is just a hefty dollop of common-sense, applied to an area that is often rather short of it.
About the Author
Jannike Ohsten manages digital marketing at Babington Group, a training provider that specialises in CMI accredited leadership and management mentoring programmes.