“The present moment is actually perfect just the way it is. It is our thinking that creates problems. Mindful leadership allows us to be free from the prison of our thinking.”
– Matt Tenney, author of The Mindfulness Edge: How to Rewire Your Brain for Leadership and Personal Excellence Without Adding to Your Schedule
My own leadership journey has not been perfect. A few steps forward and a couple steps back were a recurring theme. I wish I had been aware of the benefits of mindfulness back in my financial executive days. Heck, I did not even know what mindfulness was then. Had I known, I believe it may have changed my trajectory and most certainly would have helped me to avoid a health crisis. But the benefits of mindful leadership far surpass those of the leader alone.
Yet, mindful leadership is about the leader, first and foremost. It is about our own internal compass. It takes focus and daily work, but the great news is that every leader and every individual can develop the skill set around mindfulness. Mindful leadership offers a powerful advantage to individuals, teams and organizations. A mindful leader consciously cultivates their ability to be present, open-minded, and compassionate in all circumstances, including with themselves. The mindful leader is a happy leader who embraces where they are now. Leaders often carry the burden of stress and when they practice mindfulness, it helps promote their own health and longevity. The need for leaders to be mindful may be a requirement for future leaders as the focus on well-being has risen dramatically in recent years.
What are a few traits of a mindful leader and how do you compare?
1) Mindful leaders care about the needs of each individual and the team as a cohesive unit. They have big hearts, practice compassion, and refrain from judgement. They understand that each team member is a work in progress with opportunities to improve as they continue to work on their own personal growth. A mindful leader seeks to bring out the best in others, provides the necessary tools and resources, and encourages them to step into their full potential.
2) Mindful leaders are curious, an essential trait for psychological safety. A mindful leader has an insatiable curiosity and seeks to understand the challenges his team members face, without preconceived judgement. The ability to keep an open mind and ask powerful questions is at the core of a mindful leader. Curiosity is central to psychological safety for both the individual and team and allows each person to be heard in a safe environment. Leaders that model supportive curiosity give their team members the framework for individual and organizational growth and well-being.
3) Mindful leaders listen with an open mind and heart. A mindful leader practices active listening and seeks to understand without an agenda. To be present when deadlines spin around you, is more difficult than it sounds. Allowing your mind to table those items while you listen is critical to the outcome. When a mindful leader “hears” without the noise of their busy day, the team member is “seen” and the environment for success is created. This sets the stage for healthy and proactive problem solving.
4) Mindful leaders lead by example. They focus on their own health and well-being and work on practicing self-mastery. They practice gratitude, positive intelligence, mindfulness and enjoyment of the present. They cultivate a greater awareness of how their behavior impacts others. They set a sterling example by not sending emails or texts outside working hours, understanding that healthy boundaries between work and personal time increases well-being. Their behaviors set a positive example for their team and allow their team members to also experience healthy work/life boundaries.
5) Mindful leaders maintain composure. By seeking self-mastery, mindful leaders are able to cultivate calm and clarity, even during stressful times. They bring an inner strength, see the positive in a negative situation, and know they will be able to figure out the best path forward. Mindful leaders do not react hastily to negative events, circumstances, or criticism from others. Rather, they consider various options and the short-term and long-term impact on each party to determine the best path forward.
As a result of practicing mindfulness, leaders and their organizations enjoy advantages leading to positive outcomes and provide the opportunity to thrive.
1) Mindful leaders have the most power in the room. They are not the loudest, but the one paying the closest attention. They read the room well and speak when it matters. They have the ability to present options that others do not see because they rise above the politics to see the big picture and impact on all sides. They are respected for their keen observations and composure. They model influence.
2) Mindful leaders have high-performing, cohesive and well-rounded teams. Consider how important psychological safety is to team members – when individuals can speak up and know their voice matters, they are able to speak honestly. It is the honest, open conversations in an environment of trust that creates the cohesion among team members. Team members are motivated to contribute and in effect, a stellar product or service is the result.
3) Mindful leaders contribute to a healthy environment and organization. Well-being in organizations sets the foundation for sustainability and long-term success – both for the individuals and the company. That is the bottom line. As companies move forward, they need to equip their leaders in the habits of mindfulness and reward their progress.
How does a leader achieve these traits? By working on themselves and embracing self-mastery, leaders will welcome mindfulness into their personal and professional life. We are all a work in progress, and it takes intentional habits and time to practice mindfulness on a regular basis. But the efforts are worth it. The composure, compassion and connectedness of a mindful leader builds trust and resilience, even during the most challenging times. Understand setbacks will occur. Understand failure will occasionally happen. Expect them and grow through them. See them through a positive rather than negative lens.
You may be wondering where to start. Start by observing yourself, intimately. Focus on the little things – your breath, your hearing, your vision, your environment. Start noticing in deeper detail things around you. Begin to live in the here and now – not tomorrow, next week or next year. What is it that you need now? How is your health and well-being on a scale of 1-10? What positive habits can you add to your daily schedule? How can you shift to a state of calm before reacting? How can you practice daily gratitude? How can you stay centered? It takes work, but you will not look back. Start a journal and note where you are now. Journey daily and in a month look back and see your progress. If you would like to know how more on the positive impact of habits, please read my article, Your Daily Habits and the Art of “Becoming”.
This is a no judgement zone. Do not “judge” yourself as good or bad. Rather look as an observer where you are and habit by habit, start building mindfulness. See the joy. You have this and will be grateful for the journey of self-discovery and self-mastery.
Cynthia Legg, CPA, ACC, Founder of Inspired Success, is a certified executive level leadership and faith-based coach. A retired partner in a regional CPA firm, she helps leaders, teams, and individuals achieve greater purpose and impact and take their team and organization higher. She helps her clients to enjoy the journey of success as much as the destination of success. She loves working with individuals pivoting to a new level of significance.