What is mindful leadership and why does it matter?

Susan S Freeman Blog

Reposted from my Conscious Shift Magazine article.

Our theme this month is mindful leadership.  What is it exactly and why should you care about it as a leader.

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere.  Books, articles, and videos tout the benefits of mindfulness.  Although the topic is “hot”; attaining it seems elusive for many people.  We are comfortable with its absence. We are constantly multi-tasking, plugging into our electronic devices anywhere and everywhere, texting during meetings; both in-person and on the phone.  We are addicted to everything but mindfulness.

mindfull-gearsMindfulness is simply the experience of being in the moment and being present to what is going on in any given moment.  When we experience “what is” for what it is, no more and no less, is when we are mindful.  Distractions fall away and time seems to slow down.  Mindfulness is the prelude to inspired leadership.

Mindfulness in Practice

Last week I was working with a corporate client in Phoenix for a two day leadership retreat. Although I had been working with the company president for several months, this was the first experience I had with the leadership team in-person.

Mindfulness was on my mind and although it may have seemed like an odd place to begin our day that is exactly what we did.  I knew we had a lot of important work to do.  I needed them all to be sharp, energized, creative, and fully committed.   I needed them to be present.  I needed them to be mindful.

Although a bit awkward at first they eagerly participated in a mindfulness exercise so they could experience the benefits for themselves.  Everything came into clearer focus. Throughout the day, when they needed to recharge and refresh, they understood the value of being mindful as a team.  There was a depth to their contributions; a positive connection.  As a result the created more in a day than any of us thought possible.

One of the observers commented that this was a common practice in golf. He was aware that golf coaches were requiring their athletes to practice mindfulness.  It’s commonly used by coaches in pro-sports because what separates the winners from the losers is the mental, inner game.  Mindfulness helps creates the inner experience, allowing us to focus only on the essentials.

The Power of Stopping

Why not apply its usefulness to leadership? I adopted “The Power of Stopping” as the fourth principle in my book, “Step Up Now:  21 Powerful Principles for People Who Influence Others.”

Since then, I have been referencing this in dozens of talks, workshops and in work with leadership clients and teams.

I admit that I was initially concerned that I might be marginalized if I were perceived as an executive coach who is “out there.”  What I found was exactly the opposite.  Clients found it refreshing, different, and energizing.  They were thrilled to have a new approach to their old issues.  They became more effective in their communication with colleagues and family members. They reported sleeping better and even finding it easier to fall asleep. Many of them asked me to provide individualized practices in our coaching sessions.

It turns out that the crisis we are experiencing in our organizational life has its root in our lack of mindfulness.  When leaders are mindful, teams feel care and connection.  From that communication and trust are possible.  Re-connecting to our own human experience in each moment matters a lot.

Develop a curiosity around mindfulness.  Mindfulness can be cultivated through our current activities; washing dishes or walking outside.  Breathe deeply through your belly, slowly inhaling and exhaling for a few breaths.  Take a walk outside without headphones and tune into the sounds around you.  Notice what’s different each time you do this.

As you cultivate and develop mindfulness, bring it forward in your team and in your organization and watch what happens.  Something new will unfold that wasn’t there, or even possible, before.

Being mindful as a leader will help your leadership leap forward like never before.


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