Mindfulness seems to be all the rage these days as a way to reduce stress. Millions of people are discovering the power of this ancient practice every day.
While the business world has adopted mindfulness as a way to boost productivity, it has an even better superpower. It can help you nurture and grow your empathy and your ability to relate to others. Both are essential trademarks of being a great leader.
Mindful leaders are great leaders
Leaders who practice mindfulness have higher emotional intelligence and a stronger capacity to manage their relationships. Mindfulness can help keep you from getting stuck in your head. By observing the world around you and how other people are acting and reacting, you’re likely to have more empathy for the people you meet
The key to this practice is to be able to observe without judgment with a goal of understanding what’s really going on. Observing the world and people around you can help you notice the nuances of what’s going on. When you hold back from judging, you’re assigning meaning to what you see. When you seek to understand, you ask better questions. It all leads to getting the information you need to make better decisions.
So you don’t want to meditate?
Mindfulness is not only about trying to fit in 30-minute meditation into your day.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned author and researcher on the subject, and founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non judgmentally.”
You can start by being present in the moment and engaged with the person right in front of you. Get out of your own head and be present with them.
Think of your last conversation. Did you listen to understand or to answer? We tend to only really half listen to the other person. We’re too busy thinking about how we’re going to respond because we want to make sure we’re heard.
When we listen with the intent to answer, we’re bringing in our own stories and assumptions. That’s the judging – and that’s why it can be so easy to completely misunderstand what’s actually going on.
I regularly work with two founders who have successfully built a great business. We were recently discussing some of their plans for the future. In the middle of our conversation, I noticed a grin pass between them. Seems trivial, but it wasn’t
It turns out that they were debating whether they were ready to share some information with me. The grin was a silent communication between them that they were in a safe place. What they shared took our conversation in a new and productive direction.
If I had been stuck in my own head, I would have missed the moment, and perhaps the opportunity would have been lost. If I brought my own judgment to the conversation, I might have misinterpreted the meaning of the grin, and maybe I would have even taken it personally. Instead, I asked them about it. I trusted my instinct that it was an important moment and asked for more information, without judgement, and it was worth it.
Tips for building your mindfulness muscle
The more you use mindfulness, the more you’ll trust your instinct. You’ll find yourself picking up on cues all around you (and inside of you!). There are rituals you can do every day to improve your mindfulness, and they don’t require investing in a retreat or a dedicated meditation practice.
1. Start with a deep breath to reset yourself and cleanse whatever is going on in your day. Let it wash away your previous conversations and the work that’s worrying you. Use it to ground yourself in the moment.
2. Don’t multitask. When you’re involved in a conversation, focus on the person in front of you. In other words, put down that phone and really listen.
3. Pay attention to everything about the conversation. Listen to what the other person is saying and notice what the gremlin in your head may be up to. When you inevitably start thinking ahead to how you want to answer, with compassion for yourself, bring yourself back to the conversation.
4. Be kind to yourself. If your mind wanders, don’t waste time berating yourself for being distracted. For a lot of us, that’s our normal state of being.
5. Take in the physical world around you. If you are having trouble staying present, it can be helpful to ground yourself by noticing, but not dwelling on, the physical things around you. Notice the art on the wall or the feel of the chair you’re sitting on.
What’s going on in there?
Sometimes it helps to try to understand what’s going on in your head by asking a few simple questions:
What am I thinking?
What am I feeling?
What do I want?
It can help you realize if you are judging a situation or if you need more information.
Being present can be a challenging state to master. We’re conditioned to busy ourselves by ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. When you’re in the moment, you’re released from future worries and past disappointments. You can keep them from clouding your vision.
The clarity you can achieve by being in the moment becomes like a superpower. You’ll make better decisions because you’ll see the bigger picture. When you have the power to make decisions, you’ll have choices about everything you do or feel. You’ll be in a fantastic state of being “at choice” instead of just “at peace”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jackie Lauer is a often invited keynote speaker and leadership and culture consultant, owner of Heart of Culture program. Known for her “No BS” approach and sense of humour, Jackie has helped organizations both large and small build strategic programs that help turn business objectives into long term success through the science of happiness, neuroleadership and EQ Emotional Intelligence. If your team could use some help – or if all hell is breaking loose – connect with Jackie today.