5 Traits of a Mindful Leader

Becoming a mindful leader isn’t a magic, overnight leap. It is a process, one that takes time, patience, and effort. However, it can also be incredibly worthwhile, both for your team and you as a person. Leaders who embody mindfulness at work often have improved emotional resiliency, as well as increased attention and cognitive ability, and better physical health. Here are five traits that a mindful leader can aim to embody:. 

1. Awareness

An essential component of mindfulness is awareness. Many mindfulness trainings suggest ways to focus on the present moment, to be aware of what is happening as it is happening. People have a tendency to ruminate, whether on past mistakes or what could be coming in the future. While this is common, it is often unproductive in a workplace setting. You can learn more from cultivating an awareness of what is actively happening around you while at work. 

In your workplace, pay attention to the environment. It’s likely that you’re used to the ebb and flow of the workday and it’s easy to accept it when things feel familiar. All the same, take a few mindful moments each day to check in with yourself and with your team to make sure things really are running smoothly. When in doubt, ask. 

Rely on your instincts, too. You know your workplace and team better than anyone. If something feels off, there probably is an issue. Maybe you usually have a very connected team, sending messages and emails all day to check in with each other, and one day you notice that stop. It may not be a problem yet, but being aware of the change means that you’re ahead of the curve and if you do have an issue, or if your employees are starting to feel overworked, burnt out, or disengaged, you can step in to support them.  

Mindful leaders should also be aware of their internal balance. Throughout your day, set time aside to check in with yourself and with your body. If you are someone who tends to focus intensely to complete a project, try setting an alarm on your phone to take regular breaks to sip some water and stretch. Or, if you’re someone who often finds yourself hopping between tasks rapidly, try setting a timer to focus on one task for a set period of time before switching. A lot of self-awareness while at work is rooted in knowing what works best for you, so don’t just rely on what “everyone says” is the best way to work. Try something and evaluate for yourself if it’s a useful part of your work life. If it isn’t, then you can always try something else. 

2. Accountability

A mindful leader must acknowledge that their employees are human, and that mistakes will happen. It is how you deal with mistakes and issues as they appear that shows your employees whether or not they can trust you in a crisis. 

It’s far better to have employees feel safe coming to you with issues as soon as they realize that something is wrong and beyond their capacity to fix, rather than allowing things to fester and build up because they fear your reaction. A mindful leader must acknowledge that their employees are human, and that mistakes will happen. It is how you deal with mistakes and issues as they appear that shows your employees whether or not they can trust you in a crisis. 

Maybe it’s a Friday afternoon and one of your team members comes to you, an anxious look on their face, to say that something has gone wrong. Maybe it’s fixable quickly, or maybe you’ll be putting extra hours in. Either way, it may be frustrating, but once you know about an issue it can be mitigated. 

Now, consider the other side of the coin: your own accountability. Even the most mindful of us will make mistakes sometimes. If you mess up, fess up. Seeing that you make mistakes won’t destabilize your team, if you’ve built a solid, mindful foundation. It will do the opposite. 

A leader should never put their own mistakes on their team members. It’s a very human reaction to try to assign blame when something goes wrong, but it is also often unproductive. Cultivate a sense of trust amongst your team by acknowledging that mistakes will happen, and whether they’re caused by an employee, a leader, or a true accident, there will be a way to fix them. One mistake won’t bring the company down and it is far easier to fix things when people aren’t panicking or playing the blame game. Similarly, don’t dwell on mistakes. Once you’ve taken accountability, fix what you can and learn for the future. 

3. Compassion

Companies run because of their employees. If it wasn’t for every single person working in an office, both those commonly acknowledged, like C-suite executives, and those team members, such as janitors, who are most often overlooked, there would not be a company. Mindful leaders must cultivate compassion for all their team members. It is the leader who can create and shape the team’s culture, and when a mindful leader shows compassion, employees are all the more likely to follow suit. 

Consider what you would do if you notice one of your team member’s performance is slipping. They’ve been late several times this week, when before they were often early, and the quality of their work has slipped to the point that other employees have caught a few mistakes. There’s an important presentation in a few days and, normally, you would rely on their work for it but now you’re wondering if they can be trusted, or if you should allow someone else to take the lead on the presentation. While this may be a short term solution, it isn’t helpful for any of the people involved. As a mindful leader, try taking the employee aside and really listening to their concerns. If there is something going on in their personal life, maybe they need to work a flexible schedule for a few weeks or take some time off. 

Or perhaps they’ve been feeling overwhelmed, but don’t want to let anything slip or let any team members down and consequently they’ve been staying late and neglecting their own down time. In that case, maybe your plan to have the other team member step in is the right call, but now you can do it with transparency and acknowledge that roles need to shift in general. These check-ins can also be a regular occurrence, rather than a response, if that feels right for your team.

Showing compassion to employees is not the same as being their friend. There should still be an understanding of the power dynamic. But it does require showing respect for everyone, both as a co-worker and as a human being. Your employees are likely going through difficult things outside of work, especially right now. Be empathetic when they need you and, when possible, be flexible to accommodate them. This does not mean you have to let people take advantage of you, but it does mean that you have to step up as a leader and support your team. 

Make sure to pay attention to the other side of life too—when your employees have something to celebrate, celebrate with them! 

4. Open mindedness

Change doesn’t happen from being inflexible, stuck in your ways, or by saying, “But this is how we’ve always done things.” It can be tempting. A particular process or procedure may not be working perfectly, but it is working and changing things can be time consuming and stressful. 

At least, until it’s that Friday afternoon and your team member has just come to tell you that something has gone wrong. Maybe it stems from a mistake that should have been caught by a review process or the system as a whole is clunky and needs an overhaul. While it is stressful to have to reexamine and redo the processes your team uses, be open minded to the need for change. 

This also involves listening to your employees. They’re the ones doing a lot of the nitty gritty work,so when they come to you with problems or with potential solutions, listen to them. They may not end up working, but until you’ve tried, you can’t know for sure. Consider trial runs for smaller projects or practice attempts and you may find yourself with a new and improved process for getting everyone’s work done. 

This can be incredibly important when a project is in crisis, which is one of the times when change is least pleasant. However, stagnating or dismissing new ideas won’t help solve a problem, especially if you’ve already tried potential solutions that aren’t working now. Trust your team to know what they’re doing and be open to potential. 

5. Mindfulness

It may seem like an obvious trait, but above all, a mindful leader must be mindful. A mindfulness practice is personal and may look different for everyone, so assemble your toolkit with what works for you. You may choose to take short pauses during your workday, such as the STOP practice, a yoga posture, or a breathing exercise such as box breathing

As a leader, you may also want to create ways for your team members to practice mindfulness during their workday. Maybe there’s a spare room that can be reserved for quiet, or you can have someone come in and actually teach a mindfulness class once a week or once a quarter. Or maybe it’s as simple as just allowing people the space and time to explore the mindfulness world and try practices that work for them. Some companies offer subscriptions to apps such as Calm or Headspace to give employees the opportunity to find what works for them. Find what works for yourself and your team. Mindfulness is not a one size fits all field, which is why it is so important to allow your employees to find their own path. 

How can I become a mindful leader?

If you’re looking to become one, you’re already on your way. Explore the mindfulness world and pay attention to yourself and to your environment. Note what work styles work for you and your team and do your best to cultivate that environment. If you want to learn more about mindful leadership, Mindful Leader has more on the subject here.