Wise, intentional leadership is needed now more than ever. As our world becomes increasingly complex and challenging, we need to be thoughtful in the way that we lead, work, and organize ourselves. Mindful leadership is one way of working towards this, but what is a mindful leader and how can we become one?
In this comprehensive guide to mindful leadership, we will explore:
“Gifted leadership occurs where heart and head—feeling and thought—meet. These are the two wings that allow a leader to soar.”
- Daniel Goleman-
What Is A Mindful Leader?
We all know what a leader is. A leader is someone who guides a team or group forward, whether in a corporate setting, a social movement, a peer group, or a region. Good leaders have a clear vision and an ability to inspire and connect with the people around them.
A mindful leader is someone who brings presence, awareness, curiosity, and non-judgment to the group or organization that they are at the helm of. In other words, to lead mindfully means to infuse our actions and interactions with the qualities of mindfulness.
Thus, mindful leaders are open-minded, receptive, and compassionate. They ask questions to uncover deeper insights and clarity, and they are able to tune into a range of voices, ideas, and opinions. They are flexible in their approach, continually adapting to whatever the present moment requires. Mindful leaders respond intentionally rather than react automatically.
The Importance of Mindful Leadership
Mindful leadership has always been important; however, in the modern climate we find ourselves in, it is more important than ever. We are facing challenges that we have never seen before, which requires wise, intuitive, and effective action. Mindfulness can assist with this.
For example, studies have found that mindfulness can:
Furthermore, leaders have a large impact on those in their group or organization. They play a large role in the overall vibration of the company culture. For instance, if leadership is stressed and anxious, this will create a ripple effect that impacts the well-being of others in the organization. In the same way, when qualities such as compassion and curiosity are exemplified by leaders, it naturally infuses others with similar energy.
How to Be A Mindful Leader
Becoming a mindful leader is not something we achieve overnight; it is a practice. Mindful leadership requires a capacity to be present with what is happening, both inside of us and around us. If you are wondering how to be a mindful leader, consider the following practices to enhance your mindful leadership capacity.
Practice mindfulness for yourself.
Mindfulness begins within, and so to become a mindful leader, one must first mindfully tend to their own thoughts, feelings, needs, and actions. Develop a personal mindfulness practice to enhance your ability to be present, non-judgmental, and curious towards your inner landscape. This will enhance your ability to offer the same openness to the outer one.
Clarify your values and vision.
Additionally, mindful leadership requires that we are connected to our deepest values and vision. What is the purpose of the work that you do? What do you believe in most? What role does your group or organization play in our collective healing and wellbeing? Clarifying your values and vision will help to enhance decision-making, clarity, and focus.
Cultivate compassion and understanding.
Organizations are made up of human connections like a web of neurons. In order to foster a healthy, mindful organization, we must nurture all those in the group (and beyond). By cultivating compassion and a desire to understand (especially in the face of differing opinions), we reconnect with our shared humanity. This can enhance conflict resolution and enable us to bridge gaps between differing ideas and views.
Practice mindful communication.
To further enhance the vitality of all those relationships within an organization, mindful communication is a necessity. When you speak, try speaking with increased intention, compassion, openness, and warmth. When you listen, listen with a quiet, open mind. Notice where internal commentary might be impeding your capacity to listen deeply.
Enhance emotional self-awareness.
Emotional self-awareness is another important skill of mindful leaders. Daniel Goleman, author and psychologist, writes:
“Emotional self-awareness is the ability to understand your own emotions and their effects on your performance. You know what you are feeling and why – and how it helps or hurts what you are trying to do.”
Goleman explains that as a leader, emotional self-awareness can offer clarity on our values along with a sense of purpose. It can enhance decision making and enable leaders to be more authentic. One way to cultivate emotional self-awareness is to harness mindfulness of your emotions.
Practice responding versus reacting.
Another habit to cultivate as a mindful leader is that of responding versus reacting. When we react automatically, we do not have time for curiosity or open awareness. Learning to take mindful pauses before responding to a situation can improve decision-making and communication.
Encourage mindfulness in your organization
Furthermore, it is important to encourage mindfulness in whatever organization you lead. You will do this naturally through your mindful way of being, but you can also take action to promote greater presence and awareness in others. For instance, if you are a corporate leader, you might offer mindfulness meditation sessions during lunch breaks. Or, you might have someone come into your organization to teach mindfulness techniques that are relevant to your employees.
Learn how to teach mindfulness meditation.
A Meditation for Mindful Leadership
If you wish to enhance your capacity to lead mindfully, consider the following meditation to clarify your vision and values. To enhance your practice, have a pen and journal nearby to jot down your experience afterwards.
Take a moment to find a comfortable place to sit where you will not be disturbed for 10 to 15 minutes.
Close your eyes, settle into your seat, and begin with a few mindful breaths. Simply observe the way the breath enters you and the way that it departs.
After a few minutes of mindful breathing, shift your attention to your heart. Observe a sense of expansion as you breathe in and a sense of ease as you breathe out.
Once you feel grounded within your heart-center, inquire with your heart:
What values do you, dear heart, wish for me to embody in my work?
What is my organization or community’s role in our collective healing or well-being?
Sit with these two questions for as long as you like. Do not actively seek certain answers; wait to see what arises from the silence and spaciousness inside of you.
When you feel that the exploration is complete, release the questions and any insights that might have come up. Settle back into your body and into your breath. Slowly open your eyes when you are ready and then take some time to journal about whatever came up for you.
7 Mindfulness Exercises for Leadership
There is a mindful leader inside all of us, whether we become the leader of a large group, a small one, or the leader of our own lives. To enhance your capacity to lead mindfully, consider the following mindfulness exercises for leadership.
This guided meditation script is an invitation to explore yourself as a leader – to inquire about what is most important to you and what you wish to achieve. This exercise can enhance a sense of clarity, purpose, and self-awareness.
Another helpful exercise is to mindfully reflect on someone who inspires you. Who do you look up to that embodies mindfulness in some way? How do they speak and what posture do they hold? How do they make you feel? By reflecting on someone who inspires us, we clarify our values.
Part of mindful leadership is to be clear on your big vision. What type of future do you wish to move towards? This exercise is an invitation to mindfully contemplate the future you feel drawn to, which may inspire new ideas, projects, or decisions.
Another mindfulness practice to consider is one that enhances our capacity to be present with emotions. Thus, this mindfulness worksheet is designed to enhance mindfulness of emotions. By increasing our capacity to be non-judgmentally present with our own emotions, we enhance our capacity to be present with others.
Furthermore, an ability that many exceptional leaders have is the ability to be aware of personal biases. Biases are inevitable as we are human, but through awareness of them, we can inhibit the likelihood that they will negatively impact our organizations and communities. This course explores 20 different types of cognitive biases.
This guided meditation is an exercise that may enhance your personal mindfulness practice. It is an exercise of simply stopping, helping us to take pause amidst the fast pace of life. This practice can strengthen our ability to be present with whatever is here, halting automatic reactions and enabling us to take pause before responding.
Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that many leaders experience high amounts of stress. While stress is very common in today’s modern world (and often unavoidable), we can choose how we respond to it. This exercise can help us to reflect on different ways we might manage or mitigate our stressors. It can also be shared with those in our organization.