Can you relate?
You’re having a busy day at work, and there’s a particular problem that you can’t get off your mind. Even though you’re in and out of meetings (or video calls these days), you don’t contribute much. You’re preoccupied.
That evening at home, you’re quiet at the dinner table. You don’t ask the children about their day like you usually do.
“Is everything OK, honey?” your spouse asks as you get ready for bed later that evening. “You seem to have a lot on your mind.”
“Just mulling over something from work,” you answer.
Without having to say so, both of you know you will be tossing, turning and fretting about this problem all night. And you’ll probably wake up with a blistering headache even though you must face another busy day.
Of course, we face problems, and worrying has become a norm for most leaders.
However, the problem arises when worry becomes a consuming downward spiral with a negative effect on your productivity, decisions and relationships.
Through my PhD research and as I explain in Chapter 3 of my book, The Leader’s Inner Source*, I found that the most successful leaders counter these natural tendencies to worry and stress with a practice called mindfulness.
In fact, mindfulness is the first of seven dimensions that constitute the leadership framework that emerged from my PhD and discussed in detail in the book.
The Leaders Inner Source
In this article, I explore what mindfulness is, why it’s important for leaders and how to practice it.
What mindfulness is
Even though the term mindfulness is growing in popularity, many people have a vague idea of what it refers to.
For our purposes as leaders, mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment and attuned to our surroundings and aware of what we are thinking, feeling, sensing and listening. It is about paying attention to what is happening now or, in other words, what we are paying attention to.
What are we thinking and feeling? What impact do our thoughts and emotions have on our bodies? And what effect does the state of our bodies have on our thoughts and feelings?
Mindfulness also extends to the spirit – becoming aware of when and how we tap into our inner source or a Higher Source.
Why mindfulness is important for leaders
Because mindfulness allows us to engage our whole selves in any situation in life, every person can benefit from it. However, it is especially important for leaders.
Mindfulness allows leaders to go beyond the limitations of their egos in their daily lives, care for others and have constructive relationships. Mindfulness helps leaders pay attention to all that is happening in and around them and sense their inner source. If a person so wishes, mindfulness can open the door for leaders to become aware of and tap into a Higher Source during every act of leadership.
Some of the benefits of mindfulness are:
- Reduced stress, anxiety, worry and rumination
- Lengthened attention span, enhanced ability to focus and suppress distracting information, and reduced age-related memory loss
- Better cognition and job performance
- Enhanced self-awareness and decreased emotional reactivity
- Improved physical health, with uses including treating heart disease, lowering blood pressure, reducing chronic pain, improving sleep and alleviating gastrointestinal difficulties
- Improved social and relational skills as well as relationship satisfaction
- A decrease in turnover and turnover intentions at work
- Improved well-being, contributing to a satisfying life
An exceptionally gifted leader has told me that he could not afford not to be 100% present at all times. If he is not present in every moment, he said that he might miss a piece of the puzzle that could give him access to the next big deal. For that reason, he avoids anything that could get him in a position where he would lose focus even for a few minutes, such as, for example, excessive alcohol consumption.
Being present in the moment is an invaluable habit that any leader is wise to cultivate.
How to practice mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness is not about aspiring to some ideal state. It’s more important to start and actually do something.
Mindfulness can be practised in many ways. Prayer and meditation are popular methods, but it can also be as simple as taking a few moments to quiet your mind and body. As I learned from therapist Anna Mathur, just as we feed ourselves food three times a day, we should feed our brain too. For example, go for a walk, read a chapter of a book or take a moment to sit quietly.
Many of my coaching clients have found that coaching helps them practice mindfulness. The coach as a sounding board can assist us in becoming aware of what we are saying which follows what we think. Because great coaches make effective use of questioning, they can assist us to become more mindful.
As you start experiencing the benefits of mindfulness, build from there. And if you have any questions along the way, I’m always happy to help.
* The Leader’s Inner Source is available on Amazon, or contact me on +27832659027 to purchase it directly.