Leaders excel by being aware of self and others, and the situation at hand. We lead in a time of perpetual chaotic change, we drink from a fire hose of information, and we interact with people from around the globe with different perspectives, cultural norms, and communication styles. To achieve high performance, we need to uptake massive information quickly, process in a non-biased open-minded manner, and respond compassionately. Mindfulness practice gets us there. With training, through meditation or other mindful techniques, our minds become more sensitive and less reactive to the stimuli that are constantly flowing through, permitting us to move out of automatic mode and make more deliberate choices about what we say and how we act.
Leaders Need to Train Their Minds As Well as Their Bodies a recent Forbes article explained. Based on information from Megan Reitz, researcher and author, three important mindfulness practices are meta-awareness, allowing, and inquiry. Meta-awareness is the ability in the moment to notice and acknowledge our own thoughts, feelings, sensations, and impulses – understanding that they are temporary and we can choose if we act on them. Allowing is a kind and compassionate attitude – letting things be without judgment. Inquiry is a curiosity of the present moment – wondering how the current situation will unfold. We build a leaders mind by practicing these techniques, just like we build muscles through exercise. Mindful leadership is additive to other skills and techniques required to be an excellent leader as heightened awareness simply helps us apply learned skills more wisely.
Entrepreneur article, Mindfulness Isn’t Just a Trend, It’s Key to Being a Better Leader emphasized the benefit of unlocking intrinsic motivation for today’s workforce that is seeking meaning and purpose. Based on the extensive research of Jacqueline Carter and Rasmus Hougaard, mindfulness generates greater mental effectiveness for the realization of a leader’s potential. In their recent book, “The Mind of the Leader” the authors’ claim mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion are essential leadership skills. Mindfulness, in particular being present, attentive, and curious is what teaches us how our own minds work. “By understanding how your mind works, you can lead yourself effectively. By understanding and leading yourself effectively, you can understand others and be able to lead them more effectively.” Long-term mindfulness practice leads to selflessness, where we no longer constantly act as if we are the center of the universe, and to compassion, where we are able to take others’ perspectives into consideration before we speak or act.
In the words of LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, “Compassion is putting ourselves in the shoes of another person and seeing the world through their lens for the sake of alleviating their suffering.” For him compassionate leadership meant “pausing, and being a spectator to my own thoughts, especially when getting emotional. It meant walking a mile in the other person’s shoes; and understanding their hopes, their fears, their strengths and their weaknesses. And it meant doing everything within my power to set them up to be successful.”
Here is the rub. Being an attentive leader simultaneously processing information about ourselves, others, and the environment is not easy. I have practiced mindfulness almost daily since 1999 and I am still constantly learning about my own mind. That said, I have developed acute sensitivity to my thoughts, feelings, sensations, impulses, and to others in my environment. That allows me to make decisions based on a greater amount of information. My practice also allows me to change course quickly when I discover a bad habit arising or see that my current course is not effective. There is a good reason it is called ‘mindfulness practice’ because it is an ongoing effort and, just like exercise, it takes constant hard work to see the benefits.
We are better leaders when in a chaotic moment we can simultaneously be aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and sensations and have a broad enough vantage to incorporate diverse perspectives of others. Tapping all that information we can make better decisions and communicate compassionately. To get there, we practice mindfulness daily. There are now several meditation apps to support us, including my favorite Insight Timer. Then when we are aware of something awry in a given situation, be that in our own minds or in what we observe in others, we pause, take the time to acknowledge and allow what is happening, and then respond with intention.