The Definitive Benefits Of Mindful Leadership

The Challenge: Leaders determine the success of their workplace but sometimes make mistakes.
The Science: Too much pressure can influence leaders to make wrong decisions.
The Solution: Learn how to adopt a mindful approach and become a better leader!

Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more — do more, better, faster, and with spectacular results. Our society has become obsessed with continuous improvement at increasing speed, with the result of rising stress levels for leaders and their teams and deteriorating relationships.

Most contemporary management and leadership literature is a predictive recasting of 19th- and 20th-century institutional thinking: multitasking, bigger, better, faster; planning, analysis, and problem-solving, or work on steroids.

While it is true the effectiveness of leaders is determined by the results they achieve, those results are an outcome of the impact the leaders have on others. Behavior is driven by thinking and emotions, which can be a result of mindfulness or mindlessness.

Mindfulness as a leadership practice and a workplace culture holds promise for returning balance and health to our lives. Coaches can be a great catalyst for leaders to increase their self-awareness and self-management, as well as bring calmness to business leadership.

Mindless Leadership

Neuroscience has clearly established that we make decisions often unconsciously because the brain’s reactive and protective mechanisms often rule us. Research also points to the existence of certain emotions being contagious in workplaces, often initiated by the emotional states of leaders.

When leaders believe they don’t have the time to work through all aspects of a problem, they are inclined to narrow their perspectives and take cognitive shortcuts, becoming more impulsive and reactive. In effect, their actions become “mindless” and automatic.

Daniel Siegel, neuroscientist and author of The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, contends that a corporate culture of cognitive shortcuts results in oversimplification, curtailed curiosity, reliance on ingrained beliefs, and the development of perceptional blind spots. He argues that mindfulness practices enable individuals to jettison judgment and develop more flexible reactions toward what before may have been mental events they tried to avoid.

Mindful Leadership

Michael Carroll, author of Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation, explains the key principles of mindfulness and how they could apply to leaders of organizations. He argues that mindfulness in leaders and their organizations can heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance, cultivate courage and confidence in spite of difficulties in economic downturns, and lead with wisdom and gentleness rather than simply ambition, relentless drive, and power.

To become mindful and tap into that power, leaders must:

  • Let go of their belief in themselves as technical and problem-solving geniuses and embrace the notion of becoming mindful partners. This requires building an awareness of nuance and subtlety;
  • Be open to the concept of an unknown future. What we plan for today may not work tomorrow. To succeed in an unknown future, leaders must acknowledge mistakes quickly, be flexible enough to make changes quickly without defending their territory or ego;
  • Become skilled at leading through intuitive reflection and logical analysis;
  • Be more accepting of other cultures and their differing points of view rather than trying to reshape the world to suit them;
  • Become more mindful of what is going on in terms of their thoughts and emotions. External mindfulness is being able to sense situations, pick up on signals and cues in different contexts, and pay attention to them. Internal mindfulness entails being aware of your own movements, emotions, and thoughts.

With today’s excessive focus on speed and multitasking, with little time for reflection, a little mindfulness wouldn’t go astray. Coaches who specialize in working with leaders of companies — particularly senior leaders — can shape their coaching practice and methodologies to incorporate mindfulness successfully. The impact could be significant.

Ray Williams
Ray Williams is Owner and President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver, Canada, providing leadership and executive coaching and professional speaking services internationally. Ray has been a CEO, senior HR Executive, Management Consultant and Executive Coach for the past 30 years. His clients include those in the Fortune 500, Best Managed Companies in Canada, entrepreneurs and professionals. He has written books on leadership, personal growth and organizational change, and written for, or been interviewed by such media as NBC News, The Huffington Post, USA Today, The National Post, Entrepreneur, Forbes, The Financial Post, Psychology Today, and other international professional publications. He has served as the Vice-Chair of the Vancouver Board of Trade and President of the International Coach Federation, Vancouver.
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