How Does Mindfulness Help You Become a Better Leader?

Figuring out what makes someone good at leadership can be difficult. It’s easy to list the qualities of a bad boss, especially when you happen to be complaining about a specific one, but it’s much harder to pin down those nebulous qualities of a good one. 

When a leader clicks with their team, it improves job satisfaction and productivity. And maybe the mechanics of a good leader might differ based on industry, since you don’t want the same things from an art director as you do a financial leader. Or do you?

Being a good leader requires much more than simply being good at your job. When you think of the leaders in your life you consider good, think about what stood out to you. You can make a list of these qualities if it helps you define what you want to emulate. A lot of mindfulness is taking time to really look at and understand the world around you. Once you understand what being a better leader is to you, it’s much easier to make that happen. In the meantime, here are three ways mindfulness can help you become a better leader.  

1. Defining and meeting goals

You may be thinking you already have a set of goals, or your organization does, and that is very likely true. But are they mindful goals? We’ve likely all heard of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals at some point. SMART goals are a great way to start moving towards mindful goals, but they aren’t the same thing. 

Mindful goals are about your values. Human beings will make time for what they value, and where you spend your energy will reflect what is important to you. It can be so easy to get lost in the noise and bustle of daily life and lose sight of those values and of what matters most. So take time to create a list of your mindful goals, both for yourself and for your team, and consider actionable steps to get you there. This list may change over time. That is both expected and good. As you grow, so will your list of what you value and what you want to prioritize in your leadership.

Make sure this list of goals doesn’t slip to the back of your priority list. Keep track of it and update it with new goals, actionable steps, and wins as you go.  

2. Resiliency

A team can’t function without someone at the helm, making decisions and steering the course. If their leader is negatively impacted by setbacks or can be easily swayed by negative opinions, the team won’t trust them. 

Mindfulness can help you learn resiliency to embrace both uncertainty and adversity. To do this, you must learn to decrease your reactivity in the moment. What this means is that you must analyze your own reactions, even in stressful moments, and learn how to take a step back before responding. This helps decrease knee-jerk, defensive reactions and gives you the space to consider what the actual problem is and how best to respond. 

Try a STOP practice. STOP stands for Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed. When you notice yourself getting upset or defensive at a situation, you can stop, do a quick breathing exercise, observe without judgment of the current situation, and then proceed with a skillful response rather than a knee-jerk one. 

3. Self-awareness

Increasing your self-awareness ties in with both defining your goals and values and increasing your resiliency. Once you’ve figured out what your values are and worked on your resiliency, you’ve likely already become more self-aware and more likely to respond to situations in ways that reflect your overall goals. 

But there’s still more to learn. Self-awareness is incredibly important to a leader because it’s what allows you to pay attention to yourself, your environment, and the present moment. There are lots of ways to learn to be more present in the moment and aware of your surroundings. To make it a habit will take time. Taking a structured course, such as an MBSR class, can help you build a practice. 

If you want to start on your own, consider trying to complete a task you do daily, such as brushing your teeth or tying your shoes, with intention. It’s likely you do these every day and barely notice them anymore. So bend down, tie your shoe, and focus entirely on the task for the time it takes with no distractions. If your mind wanders, that is okay, but when you notice it, gently redirect yourself back to the task at hand. Once you’re feeling confident tying your shoes, or whatever other small task you’ve picked, with your full awareness, then you can move to a longer task. Try washing your dishes or walking around the block with your full attention on the present moment. Again, if your mind wanders, that is okay. When you notice you’ve drifted away from the present moment, accept that and refocus your attention. Building self-awareness and an awareness of the present moment are not quick tasks. This will take time, but it can be very rewarding. 

It’s also important for your own confidence. Self-awareness means knowing your strengths and skills. You can still be both humble and self-aware, but it’s important to know what you’re capable of because it’s what led you to your current position. 

How can I learn more about mindful leadership? 

Mindful Leader has a lot of articles on the topic here. Also, if you want to explore some of the exercises mentioned in this article further, consider taking either an MBSR class to deepen your own mindfulness practice or join the next Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator training cohort to learn more about bringing mindfulness into your workplace.