Mindful Leadership: How to be a mindful leader

- Leadership

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Much has been said about mindfulness and increasingly more is being said about mindful leadership, mindfulness in business, or just mindfulness at work. But why is this so relevant, and how can we develop it, if at all? This is a guide on how to be a mindful leader by Management 3.0 Facilitator Thiago Brant.

Quick links:
Mindfulness theory
How mindfulness relates to leadership
Why is mindfulness important in the workplace?
Mindfulness and Employee Engagement
Mindful Leadership Exercises
Book Recommendations for Mindful Leaders

With the advent of Agile Leadership, more and more courses and trainings are available on this topic (Agile Leadership, Leading with Agility, Mindfulness Leadership, etc…), and they all address mindfulness and emotional intelligence in leadership. It seems that it will be inevitable for the leader of the future to have to address these issues.

Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, mindfully, in the present moment, without judgment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

A little bit of mindfulness theory

Sustaining present moment awareness: That’s what mindfulness is all about. It’s also referred to as full attention, and has many benefits that have already been researched and is something we can develop and something that can help us gain other skills.

People who develop mindfulness practices become more aware of their inner self and deepen their self-knowledge. You can measure the practice by the changes in the brain. It is like lifting weights to gain muscle mass.

The greater capacity for being present that mindfulness provides, allows one to better observe what is happening and as a result to find more effective responses to what the world presents.

Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y, says that “people want to be the best they can be and contribute to creating value for others (and will do so if they get the right conditions). Author Pía-Maria Thoren adds, that “how we view people affects how we structure our management processes”.

And how can we view people to create the necessary conditions for them to flourish? That’s where agile leadership comes in!

Flourishing mikhail nilov Pexels
How to become more mindful in your job

Mindful Leadership

Author Bill George believes that “if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people”.

Mindful leadership happens as you increase your ability to attune to what is happening in the moment and choose a response, compared to reacting as things happen.

Always start from this reflection:
Your body is present. Is your mind?

The present leader is the one who puts mindfulness into practice in everyday situations and uses the state of presence to help make assertive decisions and to deal with the conflicts and uncertainty of the VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world.

I once worked in a large corporation that promoted the mantra “Be here now” among its leaders and employees. Be present, make yourself present! This was a reminder to everyone that the present moment, and what is around us, is what really matters in each moment.

How mindfulness relates to leadership

I believe that Zuzanna Ziomecka, a mindfulness teacher, translates how mindfulness relates to leadership in a very complete way when she says that; “These include being fully present, focus, learning to recognize and work within interconnected systems, clarity of perception, steadiness in face of threat or discomfort, the capacity to choose action rather than react automatically, and finally, the capacity for compassionate self-care in the interests of survival.”

We demand increasingly more of our leaders and being present is their greatest weapon to thrive in any scenario.

I recently read an article with Rick Hanson, an expert on positive neuroplasticity, in Forbes Brazil about all the benefits of mindfulness in leadership, and how this practice can be very positive in dealing with the issues we currently struggle with, amid the pandemic and social isolation, and the increase of remote work.

In the article, Rick says that mindfulness is very simple, explaining that we can know ourselves experientially from the inside out, as well as objectively from the outside in. He teaches that the simplest way to experience mindfulness is to breathe three times in a row with full awareness. This takes less than a minute, but it is a challenge to start building the mindfulness muscle. A great benefit the article highlights, is that mindfulness can help us let go of negative emotions we are feeling and research shows that being able to be mindful expands creativity.

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Why is mindfulness important in the workplace?

Thelma Bryant-Davis pleads us to “pay attention to your patterns. The way you have learned to survive may not be the way you want to live” and I love how it relates to mindfulness in the workplace. Mindfulness is all about paying attention! Only in a state of presence is it possible to make that observation sincerely.

We can easily apply her advice to organizations:

What we have learned so far, as an organization, that allows us to survive, may not be the way we really want to live.

Observing these patterns and comparing them to the direction of our business values is a constant leadership exercise within organizational environments. And it’s something that helps in two further aspects of McGregor’s Theory Y:

  • People need to work and want to take an interest in it. Under the right conditions, they enjoy it
  • People will direct themselves towards goals that they accept

Implementing Mindfulness in the Workplace

I believe Marc Lesser’s Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader are a great way to bring mindfulness effectively into our workplace because they are very relevant and aligned with everything we have so far considered. The practices are divided into three parts including:

Part One: Investigate

  1. Love the work (Theory Y again!):
    “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.” – J. D. McClatchy
  2. Do the work:
    “The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener.” – Bill O’Brien
  3. Don’t be an expert:
    “The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.” – Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  4. Connect to your pain:
    “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” -– Carl Jung
Mindful Note taking Pexels cristian-rojas
Bringing more mindfulness to business

Part Two: Connect

  1. Connect to the pain of others:
    “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama
  2. Depend on others:
    “A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” – Albert Einstein

Part Three: Integrate

  1. Keep making it simple:
    “Traveler, there is no path. You make your own path with each step you take.” – Antonio Machado

Mindfulness and Employee Engagement

In my experience, both as an employee and a leader, and from many conversations with agile and HR leaders I meet in my workshops, I see that the practice of being present in front of people leads to great engagement. Employees greatly value the fact that they are noticed and listened to. Environments with present leaders are much happier and more engaging.

Teamwork - Fauxels Pexels

Mindful Leadership Exercises

Two exercises I would suggest, in addition to the seven practices listed earlier, are simple.

Mindful Leadership Exercise #1:
Breathe

Use breathing to be present or to bring you into presence. Stop for a few minutes and breathe consciously.

Taking a deep breath – Pexels Anna Tarazevich

Mindful Leadership Exercise #2:
Feedback Wrap

Secondly, the Feedback Wrap is a Management 3.0 practice that consists of building your feedback using 5 ingredients, forming a delicious wrap. The second ingredient, “List your observations”, is all about presence!

Separating what is an observation from what are feelings and judgments is a great exercise in presence. This practice, very much in line with nonviolent communication, can help you be a mindful leader!

Book Recommendations for Mindful Leaders

Some books are must-reads for the agile leader of the future. I was so inspired by these books that much of what I mention in this article comes from them!

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Tips for mindful leaders

Now it’s up to you

I believe that by now you are already convinced of the importance of Mindful Leadership and I hope these insights will help you become a more mindful leader.

As I was reflecting on all that I’ve written, I was reminded of a quote that I often mention as I open Management 3.0 workshops:

“Fortunately, many managers have realized that the greater challenge is working with people, not with machines.”

I think it illustrates the change that took us from Management 1.0 to 2.0. And for 3.0, I see McGregor’s theory further incorporated.

Believe me: the best way to work/deal with people is presence! As a leader, being present is the best thing you can do for the people who work with you.

Header image by Vie Studio (via Pexels)

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