Seven Steps To Mindful Leadership
By Fleet Maull, PhD, CMT-P
No matter what type of leadership role you are in, you need to be able to connect with others while also staying connected with yourself, so that you can be a driving force for positivity.
Mindful leadership is an approach and set of skills and practices that can be developed and mastered in order to effectively lead, manage, and influence in today’s world, ensuring that you optimize your abilities as a leader within a business, a non-profit organization, your community, or even within your family.
The following Seven Steps to Mindful Leadership describe an integral approach to mastering mindful leadership, so that you can be a positive influence and source of inspiration in any leadership role.
1. Practice Mindfulness & Cultivate Presence
The first step in mindful leadership is to become present within ourselves in service of being present for and with others. A formal mindfulness of breathing meditation practice that emphasizes embodiment and interoceptive awareness is a great way to enhance your capacity for presence.
Taking year seat on a cushion or chair, find a posture that for you feels naturally uplifted, dignified, stable and relaxed. Bringing your attention to your body and breathing will help you establish your physical presences as an anchor for present moment mindfulness. Simply welcoming whatever arises from the five senses and your thinking mind, moment to moment, while returning again and again to the body/breath as your anchor, will help you develop self-acceptance and deepen your presence. Paying particular attention to the landscape of internal physical sensation throughout the body with interoceptive awareness will further deepen your presence.
Presence communicates caring, respect, and availability to others, while also providing us with the internal and external data we need to skilfully lead others.
2. Build Emotional Intelligence
Daniel Goleman’s model of Emotional Intelligence (EI) encompasses four quadrants: Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, providing a very helpful framework or map for our journey toward mastery in mindful leadership. Emotional awareness is key to increasing our self-understanding and capacity for self-regulation, allowing us to make good decisions even when experiencing strong emotional reactions. It is very helpful to understand that emotions, rather than being caused by others or external events, arise from our perception of met or unmet needs (connection, autonomy, respect, fairness, status, safety, etc.) and that our perceptions are based on the meaning we add to experiences and assumptions we make about others’ intentions.
By learning to accurately assess and understand your own and others’ emotions, you are able to empathically connect with others and support them effectively. This leads to increased levels of trust, understanding, and improved communication--all critical factors for effective leadership, allowing you to openly exchange and discuss ideas and both provide and receive feedback from others in a safe, judgement-free environment.
3. Develop Availability, Flexibility, Resilience
Availability: Employees and others rightly desire and expect availability from their leaders. To be consistently open and available to others, you need to develop empathic awareness, presence, openness as well as a mindset of genuine curiosity about others and their ideas and experiences. It is particularly helpful to develop good empathic and reflective listening skills to give others the experience of being seen, felt, and heard. It is also important to act on people’s input when appropriate and follow-through on promises or commitments.
Flexibility: Being a leader is all about adapting to a dynamic, always changing world. Whether you are accommodating employees’ needs, making decisions based on changing market realities, or growing within your leadership role, maintaining a fluid and flexible mindset will help respond to given situations and challenges with your best skills and ideas.
Resilience: The ability to carry on even when things get difficult as a leader, resilience is an important part of being able to effectively handle any situation. Physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual resilience all provide leaders with the resources and strength to remain strong and focused no matter what comes their way. To be an effective, mindful leader, you need a self-care plan to cultivate and maintain your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness and resilience.
4. Focus on Integrity and Ethics
Part of being a strong leader is to positively impact those around us. To do so, we must uphold a high standard of integrity within ourselves, so that the decisions we make match the code of ethics that we live by. Integrity is the sine qua non of authentic leadership.
Developing and maintaining a moral compass to guide our lives and decisions is crucial in effectively leading others. As leaders, we often find ourselves in ambiguous, murky situations where the lines of ethical and unethical behavior appear blurred. To make sure you are able to live with the decisions you make, you must be able to trust your internal moral compass rather than allowing yourself to be swayed by circumstances.
By clearly defining your own code of ethics, you will ensure that you can make good decisions and do the right thing even in the face of very challenging professional or personal dilemmas.
5. Embrace Radical Responsibility
We live in a world dominated by blame. Blaming ourselves and others is a very human tendency--we all do it, but it is a complete waste of time. Radical Responsibility® means to embrace 100% ownership for all the circumstances you face, day-in and day-out, because focusing on your own choices and what you can do given any circumstance, no matter how unjust or unfair, is the only place you have any real power or self-agency. Radical Responsibility has nothing to do with self-blame, but everything to do with self-empowerment. Taking ownership for our lives and results in this way, is a radical act of self-leadership and ultimately, self-compassion that allows us to move beyond “victim thinking” and find creative solutions to even our most vexing challenges. The most powerful question we can ask in any situation, no matter how painful or unjust, is “What can I do?” If I feel challenged or even persecuted by someone else’s behaviours, what can I do to shift the situation or what can I do to create a different dynamic with this person---even when that involves setting clear boundaries.
By developing the strength and confidence to accept responsibility, both for your present circumstances and for acting to make the changes or create the results you want or need, you are then able to lead yourself and others into a world focused on solutions and possibility.
6. Lead from Radical Possibility
When we transcend “victim thinking” and the mindset of limitations and blame by embracing Radical Responsibility, we open ourselves up to radical possibility, that vast realm of infinite possibilities that can shape our own and others’ lives for the better. As mindful leaders, we use our energy effectively to focus on solutions and how to move forward, make progress, and continue to evolve ourselves and lead others in a positive manner.
The mindset of radical possibility opens the doors for limitless creativity and innovation, as we begin to look for new ways of doing things that allow ourselves and our organizations to change, grow, and make dynamic progress. By moving past fear-based thinking and into the mindset of radical possibility, you can inspire, motivate and drive the transformative creativity and innovation needed to stay relevant in today’s fast-moving world.
7. Live the Spirit of Mastery
In order to lead ourselves and others to be the best we can possibly be, we must move past the “good enough” mentality and work towards mastering whatever it is that we do. Mastery is not an end point to reach or a means for measuring or comparing ourselves, but rather a spirit we embrace that calls forth our best in each moment, whatever that may be for us. It is the spirit of continual growth and evolution and becoming lifelong learners and students of life.
By optimizing our own lives, our talents, and our opportunities, we create positive momentum and possibility for ourselves and others. Our ability to experience a genuine and lasting sense of happiness and life fulfilment is based on the felt sense that we are 1) growing and evolving and 2) contributing to the well-being and progress of others and our world. By working toward mastery and putting your best effort and full heart into whatever it is you are doing, you will assure ongoing personal and professional growth and maximize your contributions to others and life altogether.
Mastery encompasses all aspects of our lives. Whether you are looking to optimize your health and energy levels, be the best at your job, or simply learn something new to further your development as human beings, embracing the spirit of mastery will set you up for a life of personal growth, contribution, happiness, and fulfilment.
Continually working to develop and enhance these Seven Steps to Mindful Leadership described above will contribute to making you a strong leader able to connect with others; set a positive example for them; and become a driving force of positivity, inspiration, and possibility in their lives.
From corporate leadership to leadership within our families, embracing the path of mindful leadership will ensure that we can positively influence and guide others while also continuing to evolve ourselves.
Fleet Maull, Phd is an author, meditation teacher, executive coach, motivational speaker and seminar leader who works at the nexus of personal evolution and social transformation. He is the founder of Windhorse Seminars & Consulting, Prison Mindfulness Institute and National Prison Hospice Association and the co-founder of Engaged Mindfulness Institute and the Buddhist Chaplaincy Training Program at the Upaya Institute. He is the author of Dharma In Hell: the Prison Writings of Fleet Maull and the forthcoming Radical Responsibility: How to Move Beyond Blame, Fearlessly Live Your Highest Purpose, and Become an Unstoppable Force for Good (Sounds True, 2014). Fleet is a frequent keynote speaker and leads meditation retreats, leadership trainings, bearing witness retreats and prison programs throughout the world. For more information, please visit his website.