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How To Become a Mindful Leader

White Swan in a Blue Sea


That’s how most leaders see themselves. Or would like to.

No matter what goes on beneath the waterline, they show up unruffled, calm, collected, inspiring trust, motivation and confidence. Their teams beg to differ.

Perception vs. Reality

The leader's perception is far removed from reality.

Only 7 percent of employees believe that stressed leaders effectively lead their teams, and only 11 percent of employees with stressed leaders are highly engaged at work.

But is it any wonder? Look at the challenges leaders face today. The context we live and work in is endlessly changing. Time is measured in microseconds. There are new, complex economic and cultural constraints in play. We are umbilically attached 24/7 to an array of technologies that generate information overload not to mention stress and, ironically, isolation. One paradigm after another is shifting.

The volume of information at our disposal is leading to less rather than more certainty. The number of voices and opinions we can hear on any given issue is so overwhelming, we struggle to simply cope, let alone truly listen or, heaven forbid, understand.

Scattered. Fragmented. Conflicted. Overwhelmed. Stress riddled. Time starved.

With all the many ways we get distracted, suffocate our intuition, and fragment our attention, we can easily go through our entire lives without ever bringing all of our capabilities and attention to any given moment.

Continuous partial attention is exhausting and inefficient. It limits our capacity and ability to lead with excellence. There are too many times when we feel we’re just putting out fires or we’re wasting time rather than doing real work, let alone our best work. Can we realistically expect leadership excellence when we spend whole days on autopilot?

No. In reality, we simply do not have the capacity necessary – physically or mentally – to be clear, focused, non-judgmental, and to listen deeply, intuitively, wholly to ourselves and to others.

But in an increasingly competitive environment – one that is adaptive, agile, fast moving, complex – making decisions with profoundly distracted minds, reacting instead of responding, multi-tasking instead of focusing, is no longer an option.

The good news? Mindfulness is scientifically proven to help leaders manage stress, make better decisions, and work better with other people, and be more effective leaders. All of which reduces employee stress, creates a better workplace, and yes, improves the bottom line.

Harnessing the Power of Mindfulness

What is Mindfulness? Simply, it's being fully and unconditionally aware of any moment. Not influenced by past experience, not coloured by future hopes and expectations, not seeing more or less than what is truly here, not with judgments that can lead you to a conditioned reaction. But simply having the capacity to see the present exactly as it really is, as it unfolds, meeting each moment with equanimity... the purity of now.

Clearing your mind of bias, judgment, distractions, clutter, allows space for clarity, perspective, calmness, confidence, balance, focus – and so delivers a uniquely powerful combination of energy and direction.

It also allows us to access untapped resources – human capacity and capability is profoundly underleveraged as a result of that burden of distraction, bias and judgment.

Rather than a thought process that is head-only (functional, rational, and littered with unconscious rituals that hold us back and impede change), it allows us the awareness and capacity to tune into gut feel, instinct, intuition, to be fully aware of the context, have clarity of perspective, and show up with unshakeable conviction.

How to Become a Mindful Leader

A mindful leader actively chooses to cultivate awareness, focus, clarity, perspective, conviction, creativity, and compassion.

It requires you to be attuned to what is happening in the moment.

It requires full and complete non-judgmental attention.

It means you choose a response, rather than reacting as things happen.

It means that you’re operating from strength.

You have a positive framing of the situation. You feel connected to the people around you. You’re fully engaged, both your right and left brain. You’re energized, too, and that energy is contagious to others. And as well as energy, you have clear direction.

By following simple practices that hone your attention and your awareness of what’s going on in your body and mind at any given moment, you can utilize all of your capacity and capabilities.

The list is long and ideally should be personalized to your individual preferences, time constraints and more, but to give you just four of many examples of what this looks like:

1. Non-Judging

This refers to the practice of paying attention non-judgementally. We tend to see things from our own perspective, which creates a veil in front of our eyes. It is important to recognize this tendency to judge (which seems to come naturally to most of us), but not be imprisoned by it.

In other words, it is crucial that we let go of judging our judgements. If we could just observe our judgements, acknowledge them, and not judge the judging, ironically, we might actually be on the path to becoming less judgemental and living life more authentically!

2. Acceptance

The mindful practice of acceptance is the active process of recognising things as they are and not how we want them to be. We get so caught up in trying to change things to suit ourselves that we don’t allow them to just be.

Acceptance, especially of unpleasant or negative occurrences, thoughts, and emotions is not easy (e.g. pain and suffering). Before you can actually deal with the pain, you first need to accept it and allow it to be. That is the first crucial step toward healing. Once you know where you stand, you can apply your own wisdom on how to change the situation and take the right action.

3. Gratitude

We tend to take so much for granted in our lives. There is a strong need to bring gratitude to the present moment, realising how blessed we are to be alive, with our body working in perfect harmony: to be thankful for having eyes that can see, ears that hear, hands and feet that work! Being mindful of these blessings is so important.

However, we normally only come to this realisation when something goes wrong, an injury for example, which propels us into actually thinking about and counting our blessings. The practice of gratitude keeps negativity at bay and fosters a spirit of contentment with life.

4. Generosity

Finally, we have the practice of generosity, giving our time and attention to ourselves and others, showing that we care, enhancing the feeling of interconnectedness. Bringing joy to others, striving to give people what would make them happy is known to have many physical and psychological benefits (I wrote about this in an earlier article).

It doesn’t have to be anything grand; it can be something as simple as smiling at a stranger, who for all we know may have been having a bad day and could really have used a kind, friendly smile.

The key to staying calm and grounded is to bow down and accept where we are in life’s journey, non-judgementally and with compassion, safe in the knowledge that we are where we are meant to be and that things will naturally unfold as they were meant to. Leadership matters, but mindful leadership takes it level-up.

Key Takeaways

  • Leaders often have a skewed perception of their own effectiveness, while their teams experience a lack of trust and engagement.

  • Mindfulness is a proven solution to the challenges faced by leaders today, helping them manage stress, make better decisions, and foster collaboration.

  • Mindful leaders actively cultivate awareness, focus, and clarity, and choose responses rather than reacting impulsively.

  • By practicing mindfulness, leaders can tap into their untapped potential, exhibit contagious energy, and provide clear direction, taking their leadership to the next level


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BME - How To Become a Mindful Leader
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