Today’s business environment is full of immediacy, where small influences such as a single tweet can send stock prices soaring or sliding. Leaders are called on to retain calm in the face of pressure, stay focused in our distraction-filled realities and remain open-minded to generate greater insights to challenging situations. Our work with leaders and organizations around the world points to mindful leadership as the key to surviving and thriving.
Mindfulness for the Modern Leader
Mindfulness, an ancient technique, but put into the context of modern leadership, translates into three trainable skills designed to help cultivate greater stability, focus, and clarity of mind.
Grace Under Pressure
In the presence of imminent danger, our brain is wired to react to perceived threats by going into fight or flight mode and activating what is known as our “reptilian brain”. Staying calm under pressure means not succumbing to the mind’s natural tendencies to react reflexively to external stimuli.
Consider how often in your work day something unexpected hits you and you feel the urge to react – traffic jams, a negative text or email from a client, a comment from a colleague or member of your team.
Mindful leaders are able to pause, take a moment and choose how to respond to daily pressures and challenges instead of being reactive.
Mindful leaders are able to pause, take a moment and choose how to respond to daily pressures and challenges…
Focus on the Present
Researchers have found on average, our minds wander 46.9 percent of the time! This means when a team member tells us about a challenge they are having, our minds may be on that email we need to send to a client. Or while we think we are giving them our focused attention, our mind is actually busy preparing a response. Either way we are not fully attentive, and it’s likely our team member knows it!
Being more present with others and tasks means we are able to overcome our mind’s natural tendency to wander.
Mindful leaders are able to release external and internal distractions to be able to fully focus on the people they are with and the tasks at hand. In this way mindful leaders can become more efficient and effective with their time, and also develop higher-quality relationships with increased engagement and performance.
Mindful leaders are able to release external and internal distractions to be able to fully focus on the people they are with…
Clear Your Mind
Being able to tap into greater insight and awareness is about opening up our conscious mind to tap into the vastly greater wealth of information and data that exists within our subconscious. Scientists have estimated that at any given moment in time we can hold only 7 to 9 bits of information in our conscious awareness. Meanwhile, our subconscious can hold somewhere around 11 million bits of information moment to moment.
Now much of the information hitting our subconscious is data we really don’t need to pay attention to such as whether we’re breathing. But we also receive important information such as how others around us are feeling or experiencing what we are saying. The subconscious also allows us to connect memories and experiences to generate creative insights.
Mindful leaders are able to be more insightful, more empathic and more creative because they see people and events with bigger and more expansive mindsets.
Conscious practice of these mental skills enable us to overcome some of the mind’s natural default tendencies.
Mindful Leadership Training – Creating Your Mental Fitness Plan
If you are in a leadership position it is likely you already have some of these qualities. But there is another element of brain science important to note. Scientists have discovered that our brains are plastic, meaning that they can be shaped and changed. In other words, we are not stuck with the brain we currently have; our brains are constantly adapting based on how we use them. So if we want to enhance how our brain works, functions and responds, we can.
Mindful leadership training is an active intervention in how our brain works. By training in mindfulness we are not just training to enhance stability, focus and clarity, we rewire our brains so these qualities become more automatic. Regardless of how good you already are in these mental skills, with regular training, you can get better. Just as you would go to the gym to get more fit and flexible, mindfulness training is like going to the mental gym to have a fitter, more flexible mind.
Mindful leadership Tips
Here are a few simple tips to help you in your journey to become a more calm, focused and clear-minded leader:
- Set a Motivation | You are more likely to be successful if you are clear on what it means to be a mindful leader. Articulate why you believe cultivating these qualities would enhance your leadership skills. Use the descriptions above to be specific about what mindful leadership would look like for you.
- Create a Plan | Determine when and how you will practice mindfulness. Most people prefer practicing in the morning immediately after waking up. Don’t use time constraints as an excuse. Research has shown just 10 minutes a day can have significant impact.
- Make Mindfulness Part of your Daily Routine | View it like brushing your teeth. You can find time for dental hygiene everyday because you know it is important. You will find time for mental hygiene if you put it on the same level of importance of personal care.
- Find a Buddy or Access a Community | Anything we want to change about ourselves is easier if we are not doing it on our own. Find an Accountability Partner who will commit to completing a 21 day mindfulness experiment with you. For group support, there are many mindfulness communities and resources online with helpful information.
- Practical Applications | In addition to the training, consider finding simple, practical ways to enhance calm, focus and clarity of mind. Strategies like turning off all email notifications and only tackling your inbox at set times during the day can be a simple way to be more efficient.
If you’re stressed, distracted or going through the day in a mental fog, you’re not alone. Practicing mindfulness can help you achieve the calm, focused, clear mind necessary to build your leadership strengths.