Using Mindfulness to Boost Leadership in the Workplace
Co-authored by Salaire Cush, Research Intern, RC Warner Consulting, LLC
“In a time of rapid technological change and economic uncertainty, businesses that thrive will do so through empowering employees at all levels to take an active role in leading themselves and their organizations to success."
Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Based on this definition, no matter what position you hold or degree you have obtained, all individuals can serve as leaders and role models.
For some, this may feel intimidating and possibly overwhelming. When serving as a leader, there may be high expectations. Oftentimes leaders may feel like they are obligated to do everything correctly and make the best decisions all the time. This intense pressure can cause leaders to be extremely stressed and impact the way they treat their co-workers, manage tasks, and make decisions.
Everyone deals with some sort of stress in their lives, whether personal or job-related. Since leaders play a special role in helping to bring out the best in those who work around them, it is important to be mindful and ensure that stress does not prevent them from being the best leader they can be.
How Can Mindfulness Help Leaders?
For centuries, mindfulness techniques were utilized to develop the mind and improve leadership. Mindfulness can be defined as a heightened awareness and unbiased evaluation of oneself and surroundings at a given point in time. Research has emphasized the possibilities of mindfulness to increase job performance, attention, concentration, and leadership qualities. Additionally, mindfulness can make leaders more effective at managing complex issues and solving difficult problems.
Leaders will always experience challenges throughout their journey when influencing others and striving to make a difference within their workplace. However, implementing the following mindfulness strategies can be helpful when facilitating meaningful change and serving others:
1. Engage in self-awareness
Being mindful can help leaders become more self-aware of how their thoughts and emotions impact their actions. For many leaders, mindfulness is a totally different way of thinking and behaving, which will require constant exercise to attain. Self-awareness development will lead you to perceive situations more precisely. Oftentimes, in difficult situations, we are quick to react without processing the situation and determining the best course of action. Therefore, it is important to experience and process your thoughts and behaviors with an open mind to become more aware of possible counterproductive behaviors and areas of growth. When you learn how to lead yourself, you become a better leader for others.
2. Practice meditation
Meditation is widely known to be useful for relaxation and alleviating stress. Over the years, studies have shown that meditation can play a role in reducing stress, as well as physically modifying areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, perspective-taking, and emotional regulation. Meditation is often perceived as a halt in someone’s ability to think; however, attempting to do so is ineffective. Instead, meditation can improve a leader’s ability to selectively focus their attention. Like most exercises, meditation should be practiced regularly, if not daily, to reap the maximum benefits. Meditating regularly should help leaders be more mindful during the day, especially at work, and increase control over their thoughts, emotions, and actions.
3. Be empathetic
Serving as an empathetic leader means having the ability to understand the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. Interestingly enough, mindfulness and empathy are linked through their shared relationship with stress. Research shows that while mindfulness can decrease stress, stress weakens empathy. As a leader, it is essential to understand the benefits of empathy to best serve the needs of others. For instance, research shows that empathy can help leaders build a sense of trust within the workplace, thereby strengthening their relationships leading to improved productivity and psychological safety.
Below are ways to display empathy more intentionally:
Authentically listen to the needs of others.
Get to know your team on more than just a superficial level.
Watch for burnout and check in on team members.
Show sincere interest in the goals, dreams, and ambitions of others.
Using principles of mindfulness is a great tool to help all leaders strengthen their abilities, performance, and effectiveness. When striving to serve others and make a difference in your workplace, practicing self-awareness, meditation, and empathy can allow you to maintain balance for yourself and others.
Brown, K. W., Creswell, J. D., & Ryan, R. M. (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of mindfulness: Theory, research, and practice. Guilford Publications.
Ehrlich, J. (2017). Mindful Leadership: Focusing leaders and organizations. Organizational Dynamics, 46(4), 233–243.
George, B. (2012, October). Managing Yourself Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader. Harvard Business Review.
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research, 191(1), 36–43.
Reb, J., Sim, S., Chintakananda, K., & Bhave, D. P. (2015). Leading with mindfulness: Exploring the relation of mindfulness with leadership behaviors, styles, and development. Mindfulness in Organizations: Foundations, Research, and Applications, 256–284.
Sauer, S., & Kohls, N. (2011). Mindfulness in Leadership: Does Being Mindful Enhance Leaders’ Business Success? In S. Han & E. Pöppel (Eds.), Culture and Neural Frames of Cognition and Communication (pp. 287–307). essay, Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
All Rights Reserved.