Mindful leadership. What is it exactly and why should you care about it as a leader?
Mindfulness seems to be everywhere. Books, articles, and videos tout the benefits of mindfulness. Although the topic is “hot”; attaining it seems elusive for many. We are comfortable with its absence. We are constantly multi-tasking. We plug into our electronic devices anywhere and everywhere. We text during meetings to keep up, both in-person and on the phone. We are addicted to everything but mindfulness.
Mindfulness is simply the experience of being in the moment and being present to what is going on in any given moment. We are mindful when we experience “what is” for what it is, no more and no less, no interpretation or judgment. Distractions fall away and time seems to slow down. Mindfulness is the prelude to inspired leadership.
Last week I was working with a corporate client in Phoenix for a two day leadership retreat.
Although I had been working with the company president for several months, this was the first experience I had with the leadership team in person.
Mindfulness was on my mind. It may have seemed like an odd place to begin our day, yet that is exactly what we did. I knew we had a lot of important work to do. I needed them all to be sharp, energized, creative, and fully committed. I needed them to be present. I needed them to be mindful.
Although a bit awkward at first, they eagerly participated in an exercise to experience mindfulness for themselves. Everything came into clearer focus. Throughout the day, when they needed to recharge and refresh, they understood the value of being mindful as a team. There was a depth to their contributions; a positive connection. As a result, the team created more in a day than any of us thought possible.
One of the observers commented that this was a common practice in golf. He was aware that golf coaches were requiring their athletes to practice mindfulness. It’s commonly used by coaches in professional sports because what separates the winners from the losers is the mental, inner game. Mindfulness helps creates an inner experience of hyper-focus on what is essential.
Why not apply its usefulness to leadership? I adopted “The Power of Stopping” as the fourth principle in my book, Step Up Now: 21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others.
Since then, I have been referencing this in dozens of talks, workshops and in work with leadership clients and teams.
I admit that I was initially concerned that I might be marginalized as an executive coach who is out there, jeopardizing my credibility. What I found was exactly the opposite. Clients found my approach offered the missing ingredient; it was refreshing, different, and energizing.
As they engaged with how we combined mindfulness with a solid and thorough strategic approach, things shifted rapidly. Old, longstanding issues began to clear up. They reported improved communication, and especially in listening which helped in relationships with colleagues and family members. They reported sleeping better and finding it easier to fall asleep. The benefits were so many that I am often asked to provide individualized practices in our coaching sessions.
It turns out that the crisis we are experiencing in our organizational life has its root in our lack of mindfulness. When leaders are mindful, teams feel care and connection. From that, communication and trust are possible. Re-connecting to our own human experience in each moment matters a lot.
Develop a curiosity around mindfulness. Mindfulness can be cultivated through our current activities; washing dishes or walking outside. Breathe deeply through your belly, slowly inhaling and exhaling for a few breaths. Take a walk outside without headphones and tune into the sounds around you. Each time you do this, notice what’s different in each moment.
As you cultivate and develop mindfulness, bring it forward in your team. Watch what happens. Something new will unfold that wasn’t there, or even possible, before.
Cultivating mindfulness as a leader will help your leadership leap forward like never before.
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