Blog: Mindful Leadership: Learning to Lead with the Heart and Mind
By Hal Adler
Have you given any thought to how you can be a better leader through mindfulness? This is a topic I’ve been passionate about for years, way before its mainstream acceptance. As mindfulness continues to grow in popularity and becomes the latest health and wellness craze to infiltrate the workplace, it’s as if we’ve finally been given permission to talk about this stuff openly.
Here’s the thing: everyone’s talking about it because it just makes sense, which is why mindfulness training is becoming more commonplace for businesses. Industry leaders like Google, Apple, Yahoo, AstraZeneca, IBM, and others now offer corporate mindfulness programs to their employees. In fact, 22% of companies have mindfulness training programs already in place, and another 21% plan to add a mindfulness training component to development programs in 2017.
Yes, but what does that have to do with my being a great leader? Well, actually, a lot. Many of mindfulness’s underlying principles can be applied to leadership development, and they resonate deeply with the 5 Attributes of Great Leaders I’ve identified through all my years observing and assessing. They are: self-awareness, bravery, kindness, innovation, and inspiration.
Let’s Start with Self-Awareness
Leaders who are self-aware have a clear sense of identity, a clear sense of purpose, and a distinct, consistent way of interacting with others. Let’s explore this further:
• “A clear sense of identity.” They know who they are. They take action, make decisions, and pursue strategies in accordance with a strong set of personal values.
• “A clear sense of purpose.” They know what they want. They set goals, envision outcomes, and build organizations that align with their personal and professional values.
• “A distinct, consistent way of interacting with others.” When leaders are authentic and genuine with themselves, they can be the same with others. When personal interactions are in line with a core set of values, their interpersonal behavior is steady and reliable; their communication direct and concise. They quickly build trust, and earn respect.
Self-awareness is the starting point because it allows room for all the other attributes to grow. Bravery requires self-confidence and kindness requires self-acceptance. Innovation and inspiration spring forth from self-assurance. Self-awareness guides the other attributes toward a unified and appropriate vision. Brave decisions that take the company off course are harmful. Innovation without productivity is a waste.
Self-awareness is the compass that ensures the other attributes are moving in the right direction. It is at the heart of leadership, and without it, we are lost. When I think about all the obstacles that hold my clients back, lack of self-awareness is the one characteristic I see most often.
Mindfulness: strength training for your brain
Mindfulness is the art of being present in the moment. Practicing mindfulness is strength training for your brain, an exercise that is becoming increasingly critical as we lean into a 24/7, always-on and connected lifestyle. Studies show scientifically proven benefits to mindfulness, including increased cognition, focus, and concentration; a reduction of anxiety and stress; and probably the most important one for great leaders, a quieting of the mind’s distractions.
Practicing mindfulness increases self-awareness and encourages connections with others. As a leader, it gives you space to see things differently so you can maximize your mental capacity, and in turn, nurture the genius and potential in those around you. It helps you to become a better person, and a great leader, one that inspires employees and energizes organizations. On a personal level, mindfulness can help you be more patient with yourself, practice compassion, and be more open to new experiences.
Great leaders think before they act. They plan and strategize, and they build a foundation before implementing and executing on an idea. They lead with intention, and by example. Intention defines purposeful decision-making for themselves and their organizations. When great leaders make sound decisions that align with their vision and values they not only earn the respect of employees but create a workplace where employees are empowered to take risks and engage in creative activities that benefit the entire organization. And that’s what we all want, right? To build an environment that results in a great workplace.