October 1, 2019

5 ways mindfulness will help you become a better leader

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” — Viktor Frankl  

Mindfulness is a game changer

A guest post by Anna Marie Wood

We’ve all been there. Stressed out, overwhelmed and pulled in too many directions at the same time. Information and stimulus overload is a reality for most of us. The average person has thousands and thousands of thoughts each day, many of which we are not aware of. That is a lot of thinking! Most of us operate on autopilot, propelled by habitual thoughts and emotional responses that keep us stuck in behaviors that do not serve us well. The thoughts that run through our minds and our habitual reactions to them affect how we show up as leaders and in life. This is where mindfulness comes into play and why it is a game changer. Mindfulness disrupts this inertia and enables us to be truly present and aware with focus and intention.

What is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, widely recognized for his work on mindfulness-based stress reduction, defines mindfulness as “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”  Mindfulness combines meditation, breathing and other practices to help you focus on awareness of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without judgement. Practicing mindfulness relaxes the mind and body, and it creates space for us to observe our thoughts and choose our response, rather than react to them.

Five ways mindfulness will help you become a better leader

1. Self-awareness and clarity

Mindful leaders are better equipped to detach and observe stressful situations within themselves and their organization from a neutral, nonjudgmental position and with more self-awareness. Recognizing how you show up in a situation helps to neutralize self-criticism and criticism of others. It provides an opportunity to be curious, gain clarity and redirect focus to problem-solving based on what is most important to you and your organization.

2. Responding not reacting

Mindful leaders are more aware of their habitual thoughts, emotions and reactions to stressful situations. With greater insight and awareness, you can choose how to respond to difficult situations rather than reacting to them. Choosing your response communicates confidence and thoughtfulness, while demonstrating executive presence. In addition, choosing to respond, rather than react, reduces your stress and can have a more positive impact on each employee you interact with in your organization.   

3. Emotional intelligence

Mindfulness fosters emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and be aware of our emotions and the emotions of others and to effectively navigate their impact on ourselves and our organizations. Leaders set the vision, tone and pace for their organizations. What you do and how you handle yourself as a leader is observed and scrutinized by everyone. Mindfulness helps leaders hone these critical interpersonal skills and call upon them when disagreements and challenges arise.

4. Resilience

Mindful leaders experience greater resilience and are better equipped to reframe challenges and failures to bounce back more quickly. Resilience is the ability to recover, adapt and grow in response to a threat or challenge. Mindfulness boosts resilience.

5. Less stress 

Mindfulness helps reduce stress caused by internal (thoughts and emotions) and external (work, physical, social, environmental) stressors. In his book “Full Catastrophe Living,” Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses the many benefits of mindfulness to reduce the intensity of stress responses, lower blood pressure, strengthen immune systems and improve brain functioning. Mindful leaders who can manage stress benefit the people they lead and set a healthy tone for their organization.

Where can I learn more about mindfulness?

Like any other skill, mindfulness can be developed through practice. It’s like going to the gym and lifting weights to build muscles. Think of your mind as a muscle. The more you practice mindfulness, the better equipped you are to navigate any leadership (or life) challenges that come your way.

A mindfulness practice does not need to be time-consuming or elaborate. Just 10 to 15 minutes each day can have a dramatic impact on your life. There are several apps I recommend to my coaching clients who are interested in beginning a mindfulness practice. Calm and Headspace are two great resources, and both include tutorials to help you learn the basics of mindfulness and meditation. Another great resource is the book “Full Catastrophe Living- Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

How could mindfulness help you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

The thinking in this post draws on several resources:

Harvard Research Reveals How Mindful Leaders Develop Better Companies and Happier Employees, by Marissa Levin.  Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence, by Dan Mager.  And the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Last updated October 1, 2019

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