August 13, 2019

What is a mindful leader?

by Wendy Ryan in Leadership

There’s so much talk about mindfulness and personal growth that it often feels like there’s too much talk–but not about what that mindfulness actually looks like and how to be more mindful at work.

Leaders aren’t necessarily CEOs or department heads. They’re anyone who can influence others to achieve a result not solely for the purpose of satisfying your own interests. Leaders help others to see the value in themselves, they help others to grow and they spark and grow ideas that leads to change–in organizations and industries.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to approach your role mindfully, with the self-awareness to know what’s going on within yourself internally. Being a mindful leader isn’t a set of experiences and CV-fillers you can check off; it’s a process and disciplined awareness that’s grown and developed through practice and intentional focus.

Leading mindfully may be an unpopular aspiration in your organization (after all, many view mindfulness as a bit “woo”), but it’s an essential part of performing well. According to John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” That’s exactly what a mindful leader aspires to do.

Why do you want to lead?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be successful, financially and professionally. But effective leaders are those who have a reason, outside of themselves, to influence others. For example, they may look at leadership as a way to help others grow or to initiate organizational transformation.It’s not about power; it’s about change and growth.

Be aware of your desire to lead, whether you aspire to lead an organization, a department or even a movement. When you know why you want to lead, you’re better able to harness and channel your energy effectively. That’s where the mindfulness takes center stage. But know that being consciously aware isn’t enough; you also need to be able to adjust your thinking and behaviors in ways that support others’ success, not just yours.

Understand the impact of your actions and words

As a leader, what you do and say profoundly impacts others every day, whether you see the results of that impact immediately or not. An effective, mindful leader offers so much more value to an organization than an ineffective one. And leaders who aren’t mindful of the impact they have on others will eventually fail.

Leading an organization isn’t just about sales and maximizing ROI. Sure, that’s a part of it, but without the right team members, you feeling like “the boss” isn’t going to generate your organization the outcomes the organization needs. A mindful leader makes sure that team members are seen and heard, not just told what to do and how to do it.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – Gen. George S. Patton

The way you speak to team members and colleagues matters and being aware of how others perceive you is important. Ineffective leadership costs organizations time, money and talent. Ultimately, it tends to lead to an exodus by your most talented employees, because great talent are repelled by bad bosses and have so many other options available to them.

How do you become a more mindful leader?

Change is difficult. And the more success you’ve had as a leader, the more difficult it’s going to be. In fact, successful leaders often feel like if what they’ve been doing in the past worked to get them to where they are today, they should keep on doing it.

That’s not true in today’s dynamic economy. The marketplace for products, services and talent is rapidly evolving and leaders need to be fluent enough to change along with it.

I recently conducted a leadership training at a large organization and the room was full of men and women spanning four different generations. As a coach and facilitator I know the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So when I saw a 60-something man raise his hand toward the end of the session, I braced myself for what he might say.

When I addressed him, he said that after participating in the training, he realized that what he was used to doing as a manager wasn’t working anymore. He acknowledged—in public—that he was aware and ready to change. I was impressed. It takes courage to step up and admit you need to change, especially in front of your peers.

The first step in being more mindful is acknowledging that you’re not as mindful as you should or could be. Assess where you are now and identify how you can improve.

Then commit to a mindfulness practice. Take steps to mitigate stressors in your life, which will ultimately will make it easier for you to practice and develop new thinking and behaviors. For many, mindfulness includes meditation, tuning into thoughts, taking time and space away from technology and even exercise.

You also need to solicit feedback from those you interact with frequently and don’t respond other than to thank them sincerely for it—just as you would any great gift. When people give you feedback, they’re giving you the gift of telling you what you need to know; not necessarily what’s easiest to hear. It’s up to you not to waste it.

Mindful leaders are tomorrow’s leaders. I believe it’s the way responsible leadership will look more and more often moving forward. If you’re not on board with it, you may just find yourself watching others pass you by.

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