Mindfulness for Leaders

As leaders, we have many examples to follow. Some managers favor an authoritarian, top-down, no excuses, a just-get-the-work-done ethic that drives employees to perform at peak levels – or else. Their model is General Patton, who was famous for commanding his people with fear and intimidation. 

But a Zen aphorism can best describe the opposite management style: “The best way to control a cow is to give it a gigantic pasture.” This leadership method trusts that the manager has hired good employees who do their work. So these managers believe the best approach is to get out of their way and let them turn in their best performance.

Which is better? Studies show the second is superior. The General Patton method may get results in the short run — but burnout is inevitable. Employees dominated by a boss are less happy. That ends in even lower performance over the long-term. Studies show that when managers don’t constructively control their stress, more than 50 percent of their employees see their leader as harmful or ineffective.

Leaders who are are hopeful, optimistic, and resilient inspire trust. 

Managers, then, can significantly benefit and grow more effective managers by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention. This means learning to function in the present moment in a very focused way. It’s the opposite of multitasking. When one is mindful, they calmly and deliberately give full attention to the task they are doing right now –- whether that function is big or small.

Mindfulness has the effect of giving people a greater sense of control. It brings clarity of mind to each task. That, in turn, results in workers completing assignments better. Mindfulness bolsters emotional IQ (EQ). People with high EQs are more sensitive to other people. Managers who better understand employees’ needs and motivations are better. 

For example, if an employee discovers a severe problem, they are much more likely to bring it to their manager sooner if they know they won’t get barked out. That prevents the problem from growing into a massive problem while the manager is left in the dark.

That’s just one example. Managers who practice mindfulness avoid burnout and develop great clarity about the goals they want to accomplish in business. Being clear about goals creates a well-defined target. It’s much easier to hit an in-focus target than one that is in a fog.

A mindful leader observes, allows, and asks. Observing is the ability to zoom out and see what is happening around you in the bigger picture. Without that ability to observe, we are stuck in autopilot. Allowing is the ability to let criticism about yourself or others flow without judgment so that you can identify what is happening. When we don’t allow, we put up defenses and fail to understand the criticism. And leaders must be curious. Leaders with curiosity are open to learning about situations. When we aren’t curious, we aren’t present. 

As a mindful leader, you should separate yourself from stressful events. Don’t take threats personally. That way, you can fully understand the problem from an objective viewpoint. Also, as a mindful leader, you should control your reactions to difficult situations so you can process your options instead of reacting without thinking. Being more conscious of your decisions is an excellent way to become a more compelling leader. 

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