We are in the midst of a great opportunity for the leaders of today’s organisations. The convergence of crisis is demanding better focus, more agility, and an enhanced capacity to deal with the complex demands of our world. Leaders who can rise to these challenges by incorporating mindful principles into their own, and their teams’, ways of working will put their organisations at considerable advantage.
The Qualities of Mindful Leadership
The mindful leader is able to take a broad perspective. She is not someone easily buffeted about by the diverse and often tangential demands on her time or attention. Her mindful practice enables clarity and focus in the midst of ambiguity and a complex and multifaceted scenario.
We are witnessing leadership morph into more of a stewarding, facilitating and coaching kind of role which all require a particularly calm and attentive mind. Yes, the modern leader holds the vision, yet his role also requires conflict resolution, profound listening, compassionate questioning and a deep capacity to understand the perspectives of those around him.
A leader with a mindful practice will cultivate better listening, and will be able to unpick and observe nuance within conflict. His calm and focused approach, in the midst of emotionally charged conversations, means issues are resolved efficiently and effectively.
Unless she is born superhuman our modern mindful leader did not stumble into her current capacity. She’s honed her skills, intentionally developing herself through prioritising mindfulness as a part of her daily routine. Let’s have a look at those practices now.
How Mindful Leadership Enhances Effectiveness
The mindful leader soon recognises the positive impact her new approach has. A mindful approach to work becomes something of a lense through which further examination and evaluation occurs:
- Are employees able to focus enough without being constantly disturbed by meetings?
- Do we effectively prioritise the important tasks without being distracted by what’s urgent?
- Does the team have healthy boundaries around technology which enable maximum productivity while maintaining a healthy balance?
- Does the way we work cultivate a calm and focused approach?
- Where could improvements be made?
Effectiveness rests on a number of complex factors and it’s the responsibility of a modern leader to balance these well to create an optimal working environment. This is no easy feat, yet time and again we’ve seen that a more mindful approach to leadership is a huge advantage.
A mindful leader is more open, approachable and flexible. Being able to slow down, witness the complexity of the situation, and make an accurate judgment call all happens with far greater ease when the mind is peaceful and attention is focused.
Implementable Practices for Individuals and Teams
Mindfulness is a form of mediation practice that involves placing your attention on your immediate experience and keeping it on one or two elements. For example, sitting on a chair, closing your eyes and observing your breath is a great mindfulness practice. As is going for a run and keeping your attention on your body and the rhythm of your feet.
My suggestion (for everybody from beginners to more experienced) is to incorporate your own seated mindfulness practice into the morning. Sitting still has the advantage of enabling deeper breathing which relaxes your vagus nerve. The research states that deep focused breathing enhances your ability to control your attention, builds your cognition and creativity, and all while reducing stress levels in the body and mind.
A simple daily mindfulness practice:
- Find a quiet place to sit, if possible your back is straight but don’t worry if that’s uncomfortable
- Pop a timer on for 10 – 15 minutes with a nice quiet alarm set for the end
- Close your eyes and bring your attention inwards
- Focus on your body and how and where you are in contact with the floor
- Let your attention rest on the body and on your breathing
- Allow your breath to be deep, smooth and from the nose into the belly
- Try to learn to observe your body, observe your breath and observe your mind and thoughts
- If you notice yourself thinking that’s good, you noticed! Gently bring your attention back to your body and back to your breath
- End with a short expression of gratitude (I like to do this outloud – I’m grateful for… a comfy warm home in which to meditate! – but you can just bring to mind things you’re grateful for)
- Finish the practice in your own time or when the alarm goes, open your eyes, take a moment to move around slowly and then carry on with your day.
For the mindful leader an element of daily practice is essential to her working routine. Once the benefits are appreciated and felt within her own life it’s a no-brainer to bring this kind of practice into the work day. Here’s a few suggestions of how you can do that, even while working remotely.
- Begin all meetings with 2 minutes of mindful breathing and ask others to do the same
- Start the day with a 10 minute guided meditation practice, or do the same after lunch
- Use Insight Timer or Headspace within your team and set weekly challenges for people to do as homework and then report back on what they found useful
- Bring in a mindfulness teacher into your office or take an online course
- Include Mindfulness Champion as an official part of somebody’s role
- Ask about how mindfulness (or the lack thereof) is impacting people’s working life when you have 1-1s or project update conversations
- Include ‘impact on wellbeing’ as part of the evaluation process you go through at the end of project delivery and explore if more mindful leadership changes this
Leadership requires extra vigilance around self-care; the invitation is to let mindfulness form a central component of your self-care practices. Under pressure from all corners the modern leader must work hard to prioritise their state of mind. Our world places complex and challenging demands on us, to be able to face these in a calculated, calm and focused manner places the mindful leader at a huge advantage.
Chris is an Associate at leading workplace wellbeing provider, Work Well Being, has a decade of experience in the professional leadership industry.
Since 2014, Work Well Being have been supporting some of the UK’s leading organisations and their people to thrive. Their workplace wellbeing solutions make it simple for smart businesses to start building healthy workplaces immediately.
Work Well Being deliver wellbeing workshops on topics including Stress, Sleep, Anxiety, Nutrition and Productivity; provide mental health at work training courses and 1:1 support and they have recently launched a flexible and affordable on-demand wellbeing programme, Work Well Being Play.
To find out more about Work Well Being Play, click here.