Mindfulness: The Path to Leadership

Mindfulness in leadership is becoming quite trendy.  I have been receiving Google alerts on mindful leadership for the past few years and I am excited to see an increase in interest and commitment to mindfulness practices by organizations. Why is mindfulness getting so much attention and how can it help you lead?
Jon-Kabat Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. I believe the interest in mindfulness is increasing because of the lasting physical and psychological benefits experienced by those who regularly practice. There are over 10,000 research papers now available on the subject and what once was seen by many as “woo-woo” or “out there” is finding its way into the mainstream. Companies such as General Mills, Google, Apple, Astra Zeneca, Aetna and others have implemented mindfulness programs.
Dr. Patricia Collard author of The Little Book of Mindfulness describes the benefits of practicing mindfulness as follows:

  • Increased experience of calm and relaxation
  • Higher levels of energy and enthusiasm for living
  • Increased self-confidence and self-acceptance
  • Less danger of experiencing stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, addiction or low immune efficiency
  • More self-compassion and compassion for others on our planet.

With the demands of modern life and the pressures of high performance, many find themselves in a frequent state of overwhelm and often experience heightened feelings of anxiety. When this state increases over time it can have a negative impact on relationships, physical and mental well-being may deteriorate and the ability to focus and make decisions diminishes.
My journey into mindfulness began seven years ago with the practice of yoga. After the stock market crash of 2008, my husband and I decided to transform our lives. Most simply, this involved both of us starting our own businesses while raising two young children and committing to live purposeful and adventurous lives. It was also a commitment to live with what I perceived to be greater uncertainty and financial risk.
My main intentions during this transition were to experience inner peace, create a sustainable marriage and family and leave a meaningful imprint on our world.  I also wanted to experience gratitude and joy and less feelings of struggle. I wanted to worry less and trust more.  Three mindfulness practices that have supported me are journaling to increase feelings of gratitude, guided meditation to learn to be in stillness and checking-in with myself to notice my inner state before responding.
The application of mindfulness can support a broad range of situations including leading an organization or business unit more effectively. A conscious business promotes mindfulness for all of its stakeholders. This means that employees are encouraged to contemplate their own selves and what brings them meaning, happiness and fulfillment. They also must understand the needs of their customers in order to bring them products and services that support their growth and well-being.
A simple way to begin experimenting with how mindfulness can help you lead is to pause when you are facing a challenge and walk yourself through the following centering practice:

  • Bring yourself back to the present.
  • Let go of any concerns or worries for the next few minutes.
  • Allow your eyes to close or just soften your gaze.
  • Breathe, notice your chest rise and fall.
  • Sense your feet, chair, and feel the support beneath and around you.
  • Notice where your body is particularly tense and let those places relax.
  • If you notice your mind start to wander, come back to your breath.
  • When you are ready, take a deep breath and come back.

Notice what happened. How is your inner state different? From this state, what alternatives are revealed?
Organizations change when the individuals within them transform. Mindfulness practices can support your personal transformation and increase your capacity to lead yourself, others and your organization more effectively through times of uncertainty and change.

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