How Meditation Strengthens the 4 Pillars of Leadership
By Steven Cohen, guest contributor
As more people meditate regularly, we are seeing the benefits more clearly. Can meditation make you more effective at work? Absolutely.
Core leadership traits such as self-awareness, focus, creativity, listening, relationship development, influence, grit and having a growth mindset can be developed through meditation, thus improving professional performance. These fundamental leadership traits can be grouped into four foundational pillars: Awareness, Connection, Perspective, and Potential. Each pillar can be built and reinforced through regular meditation practice.
At its most basic level, the practice of meditation that includes a focus on your breath, takes your mind out of its regular thinking pattern, thus giving you the opportunity to observe what fills the void, both internally and externally. You learn during meditation to observe thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the present moment and without judgment. What you find is that instead of the same day-to-day chatter in your mind, you begin to observe different, more important, thoughts and feelings.
A student in one of my meditation classes noted that he had been working on an engineering project for a month and was struggling with several obstacles that prevented success. One day during meditation, a different way of overcoming a key obstacle just floated through his mind. Within 48 hours, the engineering project was complete.
When you’re living your life in a state of greater awareness, you are able to see situations more clearly as they arise (and not just during your meditation practice). You may notice changes or trends in the marketplace that significantly impact your business, customer dissatisfaction before customers stop ordering, the morale of a valued employee before he or she departs without warning, or how fear or self-doubt influences your behavior.
During meditation, you listen. Effective leaders are able to listen at least as much as they talk and are able to communicate with others more effectively. Too often, the baggage we bring to an interaction from our past experiences gets in the way of communicating clearly and openly. Emotional mindfulness and lovingkindness meditation can help you understand how past experiences cloud your lens, impacting your response to new situations. We learn during meditation to pause and then thoughtfully respond instead of just reacting to situations.
Effective interactions with others build connections. In business, connection is everything. It is how customers and employees are satisfied, how sales are made and how brands are built. Once the lens is clear, it is easier to be present to others and listen with greater attention. We can see more easily what motivates people and notice that people have different communication styles. Being aware of those differences can assist you in more successfully motivating others and being a more effective team member and leader.
Meditation can also assist you in determining with whom to be in a relationship. There are always certain people you “click” with, and being more aware of these relationships can be of great value both personally and professionally. Try setting an intention during meditation by asking between each breath, “With whom should I connect?” and just observe what arises. You may find that a key customer, a mentor or friend who has drifted away comes into your consciousness. You may have an urge to call your mother or father. Follow this realization and see how your inner wisdom guides you.
Stress has become such a roadblock for many of us, impacting our actions, reactions, health, and well-being. A meditation practice provides a break from the events that trigger our stress and teaches us to step back and witness with greater perspective so we experience fewer stress triggers. Meditation provides a moment of calm within the chaos so that whatever is most important (your wisdom within) can rise to the surface. By stepping back and pausing, you may become more aware of your thoughts and actions within the context of a greater purpose.
A daily meditation practice, while very valuable, may not be enough to make it through the day. You may want to add to your meditation toolbox micro-practices that you practice during meditation but can use any time you need it. It can be as simple as taking three deep breaths when you notice you are out of balance or a mantra meditation. Mantra meditation is focusing on a word, phrase or saying that returns you to the state of balance and equanimity through its vibration in your body. Your mantra should be meaningful to you and bring you back into perspective by just repeating it a few times in your mind during any situation.
Every day, we are deluged by information, social media and demands for our time and attention. Effectiveness in business is based in large part on how we process and utilize information and choose to spend our valuable time. Daily meditation, along with micro-practices throughout the day, allows the most important information to rise into your consciousness, helping you to rebalance your perspective, improve your decision-making and increase your positive influence within your organizations, at home, and in your community.
Meditation puts you in touch with your true authentic self. This “self” acts as a witness during meditation. With practice, your authentic self can recognize opportunities available to you that are often your most promising opportunities for growth but were previously lost within the noise created by your mind. Daily meditation practice reinforces hard-to-describe, intangible “grit” qualities that seem to characterize true leaders: passion, effort, perseverance, and resiliency. Sitting regularly in meditation is hard to do. You must want to do it. You must actually do it. You must keep doing it when you don’t want to. You must return to doing it when you have stopped. You must demonstrate grit. As you utilize your grit trait to pursue your vision, you will encounter areas in yourself and your organization that requires change.
One of my favorite intention meditations was inspired by Robert K. Cooper’s book The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership and Life. Each Sunday night, I would ask myself: “What is my greatest opportunity this week? What is stopping me?” Inevitably, making sure you keep these answers in your awareness during the week and prioritizing them when the other moment-to-moment demands arise, can be a key to success.
Willingness to change and proceed with a growth mindset allows you to add more value to others; the organizations in which you are active become more effective. The world becomes a better place. That is your potential.
Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson address the science behind meditation’s impact in their book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body. “Beyond the pleasant states meditation can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting traits that can result. An altered trait—a new characteristic that arises from a meditation practice — endures apart from the meditation itself. Altered traits shape how we behave in our daily lives, not just during or immediately after we meditate.”
Learning to lead from within is the process of integrating your meditation practice with your life. Where your mind goes during mediation, your actions can follow. You can learn to be more aware, recognize opportunities to build relationships, see things from a larger context and envision new opportunities, all by developing your leadership traits through meditation. Just as you can’t control your thoughts or the sensations in your body during meditation, you can’t control all of the situations you will face as you live your life. However, you can refine your response to situations and open yourself up to personal and professional growth. Ultimately, your life is your practice.
Steven M. Cohen is the author of Leading from Within: A Guide To Maximizing Your Effectiveness Through Meditation and the co-founder and Chair of the Board of Meditation4Leadership.