Mindfulness is a well-developed, evidence-based process for accessing and developing your greatest asset as a leader – you!

But despite a plethora of research supporting mindfulness programmes, many businesses still don’t see the relevance. We know big companies like Google and Twitter invest in mindfulness, but isn’t that just nice to have soft stuff for companies who can afford it?

Does being a more mindful leader really benefit business and the bottom-line?

The best leaders show up, do their jobs well, and positively influence others. They behave in ways consistent with their values, display empathy and compassion, while inspiring others to perform at their best and to be accountable. No wonder our new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants the government to bring kindness back!

Leaders create culture. If you agree, then mindfulness is probably the number one skill leaders need to perform and function at their best.

If you think mindfulness is just a ‘nice to have’ consider these questions.

As a leader:

  • Under pressure (when angry, frustrated, or feeling attacked) can you step back and pause, or do you react mindlessly and regret it later?
  • Do you shy away difficult conversations and put being liked before holding people accountable?
  • When criticised, can you remain open and curious, or are you reactive and defensive?
  • Can you really listen to people without getting lost in your own thoughts?
  • How swiftly do you draw a line denoting what’s unacceptable behaviour at work?
  • Do you regularly get sick after periods of prolonged stress?
  • Outside work, do you struggle to be present with the people closest to you?
  • Can you prioritise your workday, or do you waste time answering email and putting out fires, while essential work backs up?
  • Do you stay on task until completion, or do you multitask to get things done?
  • Are you regularly exhausted at the end of the day?
  • How often do you resort to mind-numbing activities (alcohol, social media, mindless TV, shopping, food) to cope with pressure and feelings of overwhelm?
  • Can you approach problems with fresh eyes, or are you blinded by your own expertise?
  • Are you brave enough to say, “I don’t know” and to admit your mistakes?
  • When others disagree with you, are you open to their perspective, or do you push harder to have your opinion heard?

As a leader, you’re paid to think – and think well. When you do, everyone benefits.

An ever-increasing pressure to do more with less, forces leaders to rush and multitask. It’s hard to function at your best, while living in a state of chronic stress.  

You cannot concentrate, make great decisions, problem-solve, self-regulate, remain curious and open, stay fair but firm, or be as innovative and creative, while living in go-go-go mode, when your body and mind is in a state of high alert.

Practising mindfulness counterbalances the unhealthy pace of the modern workplace, and provides leaders with the tools to effectively self-manage and self-regulate. It helps build self-awareness, resilience, and expands emotional intelligence – all essential for surviving the complexity and constant pace of change.

Here’s 9 ways mindfulness makes you a better leader:

  1. When the proverbial hits the fan, practising mindfulness enables you to respond with equanimity and calm. Instead of reacting mindlessly, you’re able to better manage tough situations.
  2. Learning how to focus your attention and ‘uni-tasking’ means getting more done, making fewer mistakes, feeling more satisfied with what you’re doing, and less tired at the end of each day.
  3. Leader’s who are more present moment focused, are able to be more on-game.
  4. You can find solutions easier. Chronic stress increases cognitive rigidity (you’re mind becomes more problem-focused, inflexible and risk averse). Mindfulness reduces cognitive rigidity, providing a relaxed, open, and flexible mind.
  5. Being able to interrupt strong emotions shortens the time it takes to bounce back during prolonged stress, change and uncertainty (and the calmest person in the room is often the most powerful – it’s contagious!).
  6. Mindful leaders prioritise self-care. When you give yourself permission to attend to your own needs first, you’re more use to everyone.
  7. Mindful leaders know how to really listen because their intention is to hear, rather than just be heard. Approaching conversations with an open curiosity (being less critical and judgmental) also improves relationships and builds trust.
  8. Heightened self-awareness means you’re more likely to notice, question and act when your professional values (or those of the business) are breached. 
  9. Mindfulness builds compassion and empathy. Recognising we’re all in this together instills an attitude of service leadership (how can I serve?) which is optimal for reducing workplace conflict and build great teams.

Leaders need new tools to build emotional intelligence, strengthen professional integrity, and deepen personal humility.

Leaders who function at their best have a huge impact on business culture. I’m not saying mindfulness is the answer to every issue leaders face, but it’s hard to beat as far as improving attention, increasing self-awareness, and enhancing emotional intelligence goes. 

Self-awareness, innovation, compassion, courage, and resilience are essential leadership qualities and known outcomes of mindfulness training. As workplaces continually go through change and complexity and uncertainty increases, having leaders with these qualities will go a long way to ensuring the survival of successful, sustainable, and ethical organizations.

Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers workplace mindfulness programmes across New Zealand and Australia. 

Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) aligning values with behaviours to transform workplace culture by producing unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.