Mindfulness for Effective Leadership: Three Quick Tips to Go Beyond Meditation
Mindfulness isn't just for meditation. Three tips that enhance your decisions, listening, and goal setting to make you a more effective leader.
Mindfulness. The very word used to summon images of monks and yogis sitting in lotus pose under a tree while chanting om. Thankfully, however, mindfulness has gone well beyond extended meditation and into buzzword territory. But with all the hype surrounding mindfulness there are still few practical tips that integrate the idea into a tangible asset. In its simplest terms mindfulness is being aware in the present moment. Many of us still reserve such practices for a class or scheduled time in our day instead of recognizing the many opportunities throughout our waking hours to be mindful. I have found, through my own practice and while working with clients, that the simpleness of being present (though not always easy) can transform how compelling we are as leaders. So here are three quick tips that can be used to exemplify mindfulness to help you make good decisions, be a better leader, and reach your goals.
Learn to breathe before you react. Just picture it… you’re in the familiarity of your office, looking at the latest data report, sipping your coffee, happily in your groove; when you get an urgent call from the CFO. You meet with the other organizational leaders immediately, stress is already building, but when he begins to speak you realize how urgently decisions will need to be made. You begin to have racing thoughts of options available; you aren’t really focused on the numbers he is showing you, you just want to DO SOMETHING.
When stress happens our bodies are wired to cause the “flight or fight” response. Faster than our visual response registers what we are seeing, our body is flooded with hormones that cause a reaction in our bodies. Pupils dilate, breathing becomes shallow and quick, vision changes, and hearing can become hard as the blood pounds through our ears. All of this can happen whether we are facing a true life or death situation or everyday life like a heated boardroom debate, rush hour traffic, and family troubles. Our bodies react the same in each stressful situation. That is why it’s imperative we give ourselves a moment to just breathe before making decisions or reacting verbally or physically as leaders.
With the rush of the adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol within us, our inclination is to take action but we should avoid making an instant, knee jerk decision or statement. Yes something needs to be done and actions taken, but first, before even talking about it, be mindful. Breathe and take notice of what is happening to your body.
Learn to mindfully listen. Your job, as a leader, is to know how to motivate the individuals you are leading. By taking the time to listen to their explanations, feelings, thoughts, and concerns with compassionate, full sensory, mindfulness, you can learn more about what drives their behaviors and ideas. That is where effectiveness begins. Relating to their motivation and thought process through mindful listening. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Ph.D., advises that when they begin speaking “give them the space to share without interrupting, advising, or correcting them.” After hearing them, watching their body cues, and remaining open to their experience, you can take what you have learned and come back at a later time to make any recommendations for improvement or change. But give them the space at first to be heard, seen, and understood without judgment.
As a leader you get to help others grow, learn, and excel. One of the most important things you can do as a leader is learn to really understand the members of your team. We’ve all had a boss that doesn’t actually want to hear why you made a decision or behaved the way you did in a situation, they only want to tell you why you were wrong for doing it. Even the boss that engages in active listening techniques can fall short when the listening goes from attentive to distracted parroting, checking off the list of ways to show interest in their minds rather than engaged in the conversation. It’s not easy to listen to other people talk without internal and external distraction, but it is possible.
Learn to be more than SMART, be consistent. Yes, having goals and benchmarks in business is imperative. When it comes to leadership though all goals do not all have to be SMART. There are many goals that are hard to quantify and give a deadline to, because they are based on skill and characteristic development. Goals that take consistency are better suited for mindful undertaking. There’s a great read by Weldon Long called The Power of Consistency. Which describes and champions this very notion of mindfulness. When you are aware of your thoughts you are able to track them in your body and together they deliver an outcome. If you are unaware of your mind, body, and emotions, when making a choice especially, you are leaving room for failing or prolonging successful acquirement of your goal characteristics. To be mindful of your objective, is to look at each moment with the question in mind, “does this align with my goal?” That mindfulness is where consistency takes hold. If, for example, you want to be viewed as an exemplary leader, one of the characteristics you may want to develop is compassion (honesty, integrity, follow through, fairness, etc.). You can practice compassion. This particular goal “be more compassionate” can (and should) be started with yourself. Become attentive to your own motivations and drivers. When you make a mistake, ask yourself what brought you to that decision and look at it without judgment, without over-thinking, without negative self-talk. Do this every-single-time you make a mistake. You will start to find you have compassion for yourself. Which is, honestly, much harder than having compassion for others. But, if you haven’t learned to accept your own faults and mistakes, you may unwittingly be biased when dealing with those same type of mistakes with others, keeping you from being as effective as you can be.(Tip: When making goals be aware of what obstacles you may face and be honest about them. Saying yes to a donut each day but “forgetting” to add it to your calorie tracker would not be beneficial in your health goals. The same is true professionally. Know your strengths and weakness. You create a SWOT analysis for your company, do one for yourself. Become aware of your habits and be mindfully consistent to make changes that get you closer to your goals. Avoid seeking justification of an action or inaction, instead, be truly aware of whether it is helping, then no excuses are needed.)
There are countless ways to be more aware of our body, thoughts, mind, and emotions throughout your day. Getting to know yourself, and others, through attentive, purposeful noticing (aka mindfulness) assures that you are at your best. You can be a more effective leader by paying attention and adjusting your mind and body to your present situation. Common human behaviors like: compulsively checking your phone; practicing what you’re going to say in the next meeting; berating yourself for something you said, or didn’t say, clearly the day before; leave you without full awareness of what is going on within or around you and that limits your ability to be an uncommonly good leader.