How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces

The following is an excerpt from my book, Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces.

Regular practices of mindfulness give leaders a different perspective on their world, opening them up to ways of being which are both more focused on what matters and more observant and appreciative of what is there. Paradoxically, becoming more present enables leaders to see reality more clearly and act more purposefully and with less of their own stuff getting in the way. This is one of a number of paradoxes which we often see operating in mindful leadership: to open up for change, it is necessary to sometimes stop striving to change things; to empower others, stop talking and listen from a different place; to go forward effectively, notice the present; to achieve things, stop doing and start being.

The ratio of investing in mindfulness training has been found to be 1 to 2.5–5.0 according to a study by Tage Sondersgaard Kristensen of Corporate Based Mindfulness Training IF Insurance, based in the Netherlands. He observed a 19% decrease in stress, 37% increase in productivity, 40% increase in focus, 34% increase in emotional control and 37% decrease in overwhelm. Stephanie Tate’s study with a Fortune 500 knowledge workforce found participants in 6–9 week mindfulness course experience a 42% stress reduction, improvement in productivity, time management and job satisfaction.

Studies have documented that regular mindfulness practice elicits better attentional capabilities and more positive emotional states, mediated through neuroplastic changes in key parts of the brain involved in cognitive and emotional functioning. Mindfulness changes our intentions (making us better at self-regulation and more compassionate toward self and others); changes our attentional capacities enabling us to sustain attention for longer; switches attention more deftly when needed and inhibits unnecessary secondary processing; and finally mindfulness enhances positive emotions.

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What Do Mindful Leaders Do Differently?

Based upon my experience in coaching senior executives in organizations combined with my examination of research, I’ve come to the following conclusions about how mindful leaders differ from other leaders. They:

  • Personally engage in an in-depth process of self-awareness and self management and encourage others to do the same.
  • Learn and demonstrate a capacity for intentional response to external events rather than unconscious, “autopilot” reactivity.
  • Let go of their belief in themselves as technical and problem solving geniuses and embrace the notion of becoming mindful partners. This requires building an awareness of and becoming more open to nuance and subtlety.
  • Are open to the concept of an unknown future and uncertainty.
  • Are flexible enough to make changes quickly without defending their territory or ego.
  • Become skilled at leading through intuitive reflection rather than logical analysis.
  • Understand what motivates other people, particularly those from different backgrounds.
  • Practice attunement — listen empathetically and attentively and think about how others feel.
  • Practice kindness, empathy and compassion towards others in the organization, and see these behaviors as strengths, not weaknesses.
  • Develop a corporate culture that includes gratitude, and forgiveness for mistakes.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to explore and express their own feelings and emotions.
  • Demonstrate vulnerability as a strength.
  • Are humble, rather than being driven by hubris or narcissism.
  • Become more open and accepting of the world and others, and their differing points of view, rather than trying to reshape the world in their own image.
  • Create a conversational space where all were welcome; all views were valued and people were free to explore.
  • Are open to others’ emotions and venting without feeling threatened.
  • Are adept facilitators who help others gain self-awareness.
  • Exhibit extraordinary curiosity and patience.
  • Tolerate ambivalence, ambiguity and conflict, reduce frustration, and ward off unwholesome thoughts and feelings and resist the urge to force the situation.
  • Incorporate into their working schedules substantial time for quiet reflection and a state of “being” in touch with their inner mental and emotional state, rather than the constant external state of “doing”.
  • Embrace the beliefs that “less is more,” and that slowing down actually improves productivity, rather than the reverse.
  • Organize workplace systems and structures to incorporate mindful practices for employees — such as meetings, “quiet time” communication systems, and conflict resolution.
  • Model mindfulness practices for employees and customers to see.

Leadership Coach and Author: Helping Leaders Live Better Lives and Serve Others