|  Human Leadership    |  What it takes to be a mindful leader: A practical guide

What it takes to be a mindful leader: A practical guide

What is mindfulness?

To understand what it means to be a mindful leader, we first need to understand what exactly mindfulness means. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings.” Simply put, it is the practice of guiding your mind to focus on the present and a proven way to reduce stress. But what does mindfulness have to do with being a leader?

Mindfulness and leadership

When we hear the word “leader,” a lot of things probably come to mind: charisma, confidence, knowledge, motivation, trustworthiness, goal-oriented, etc. But the word “mindful” likely isn’t the first word you would associate with being a leader. And yet, we know just how important mindful leaders are in the workplace. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology highlights how workplace mindfulness training (WMT) can “positively impact leader-follow relations at work.” The researchers found that leaders used mindfulness to enhance their productivity by focusing on individual tasks. By becoming more aware of their limits, leaders practiced better self-care strategies, such as intentionally choosing to rest when they felt overwhelmed by tasks. Aside from leaders becoming more self-aware, the impact of WMT on leadership is also significant. Many leaders indicated how their ability to regulate their emotions improved, and they could listen to others more mindfully.

A mindful leader focuses on nurturing the well-being of their team members. In essence, a mindful leader is someone who leads with a human-centred approach. They genuinely care about the well-being of their team members and proactively build a psychologically safe work environment for their employees. So, what does it take to be a mindful leader? You have to practice humility, listen actively, and lead with compassion. Here are 7 practical steps to help you become a more mindful leader:

  1. Be flexible and adaptable to change.
    When it comes to meeting tight deadlines, sometimes flexibility isn’t an option. However, when it’s possible, being adaptable shows your team members you are open-minded and have a flexible mindset. One simple way you can be adaptable is to ask your employees for regular feedback and be willing to put their feedback into action.
  2. Communicate openly and frequently.
    Regular and open communication is crucial to fostering a healthy and cohesive team. To ensure your team members are updated on shared goals and progress, you can make team meetings and check-ins a regular part of your employees’ schedules. By taking the time to ensure the lines of communication are open and accessible, leaders can maintain strong team dynamics.
  3. Build genuine connections.
    Leaders can build genuine connections with their team members by taking the time to get to know them personally. While it can be easy to resort to small talk, it’s important to understand that meaningful relationships can’t be based on surface-level conversations alone. Learn what your team members care about to connect with them on a personal level.
  4. Foster a psychologically safe environment.
    A psychologically safe environment is one where team members feel encouraged to speak their thoughts and share their concerns without fear of judgment. When leaders view mistakes as learning opportunities instead of areas to place blame, they show employees that it’s okay to take risks. This also fosters innovation as your team will feel empowered to share their ideas.
  5. Encourage transparency and honesty.
    Not only does being transparent with your employees keep them in the loop but it also “fosters connections across the board,” according to Forbes. Building a culture that celebrates transparency is another way leaders can build genuine connections with team members. While being honest can feel daunting, it signals that you are committed to solving problems instead of hiding from them.
  6. Make time for mindfulness activities at work.
    As a leader, consider making time for your employees to practice mindfulness activities at work such as self-guided meditation, breathing and grounding exercises, and short outdoor walks. By incorporating mindfulness practices into your work culture, you can encourage your team to take regular breaks and recharge their mental health.
  7. Practice leading by example.
    We all know the best leaders lead by example. Leading by example demonstrates that your actions align with your words and is a powerful way to gain the respect of your team members. Whether it’s your dedication to self-care practices, fostering a culture of compassion, or building genuine connections, modelling positive behaviours will give your employees a standard to follow.

Mindfulness exercises for busy leaders

This simple list of curated mindfulness activities from Mayo Clinic can help you focus on the present and practice mindfulness. Remember that to take care of others, you must take care of yourself too.

  1. Slow down.
    There are many ways you can slow down and pay attention. Taking time to experience the world with all your senses is one way to notice what’s around you. For example, taste and enjoy your muffin, listen to the rustling of trees, and smell the aroma of freshly brewed coffee.
  2. Walk.
    Walking is a great way to exercise your body and clear your mind at the same time. Try incorporating an element of walking into your daily routine and pay attention to how your body and mind feel. While walking, focus on the experience and be aware of the sensations of your movements.
  3. Breathe.
    Sitting down and breathing can help you ground yourself. When you feel overwhelmed, take a deep breath and focus on your breath as it moves through your body.