How Mindful Leaders Think Differently

Becoming a mindful leader isn’t about just changing your actions. You have to reframe the way you think about the world and yourself. So what are some ways mindful leaders think about the world differently?

Be non-judgmental in the moment

Maybe you can be hard on yourself, and see flaws in yourself magnified even when you wouldn’t judge another person for that same thought or action. Or maybe you feel you aren’t where you want to be in life, or feel jealous of people in your life. Maybe you have a trait you wish you could change.

It’s okay to have those thoughts. Even the most mindful among us do. However, to become a mindful leader, you need to reframe how you react to those thoughts. It can be too easy to obsessively dwell on those thoughts and let ourselves sink into them. Or, instead of dwelling, you may beat yourself up for having a judgmental thought, especially if it was directed towards someone else. You may wonder if having that thought makes you a bad person.

It does not. Your thoughts do not make you a good or bad person. You are not your thoughts. They do not determine your worth. Thoughts are just thoughts, and we always have the choice of how we will respond to them.

When you notice yourself thinking something judgmental, rather than dwelling on it or beating yourself up, take a step back. Allow yourself to take a moment to notice the thought and take note of the emotions it brings up. Then, let it go and refocus your attention gently.

Doing this takes practice. It can often be helpful to have a specific thought to redirect yourself to, like returning to a specific task at work or considering something that makes you happy. Over time, you may notice that it gets easier to reframe your judgmental thoughts when they arise and redirect your attention elsewhere.

Mindful leaders aim to think non-judgmentally in the moment, and that attitude shows in their work and in their lives.

Respond with compassion

Sometimes, you have awful days. They happen to all of us. Even the most mindful person in the world is going to have an off day. If you want to think like a mindful leader, responding with compassion is two-fold.

First, be compassionate and gentle with yourself. If you need to take a break, do it. If you mess something up, remind yourself that it will be okay. There is very little most people can do in one bad workday that will permanently ruin their work forever. And you cannot change the past. All you can do is learn from your mistakes, talk kindly to yourself, and do your best to set up your future self  for success.

A mindful leader thinks differently because they understand that being kind to yourself will get you much further and be better for your overall mental and emotional health. If you wouldn’t say something to a friend or coworker, why would you say it to yourself?

The second part of responding with compassion as a mindful leader is how you react to the outside world. It is important to remember that your employees are people, ones who have rich and complex lives outside of their workplace. It can be incredibly beneficial to take time with your employees, especially new hires, and make sure they understand that you are listening to them and their concerns. If you treat your employees with compassion, they are far more likely to come to you when they need support. Mindful leaders recognize the complex needs of their team and do their best to meet them, gently and with kindness.

Give yourself room to have perspective

It is a common misconception that we must always reply in the moment–whether that’s when you have an emotion, right after someone comes to you with a problem, or when you hear disappointing or challenging news. It is not true.

While it may be rude to stare at someone while you gather your thoughts for several minutes, it is not a faux pas to take some time to gather more information and reflect on a situation before you respond to it. When we feel time pressure, we are often not our best selves, and that is why mindful leaders give themselves the time they need to think through an issue.

This is something else that may take practice. Try writing yourself a script so you know what to say next time you cannot respond immediately and need to take time to reflect. Here are some prompts to get you started:

I want to have this conversation. However, I need to take x minutes to think first. Can we take a break before we come back and figure this out?

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will come back to you with a strategy once I have gathered more information.

Conflict and stress are an unavoidable part of life, unfortunately. However, you can choose not to exacerbate an issue by giving yourself the space you need to gain perspective and ensure you are not just reacting emotionally. Mindful leaders take a step back to allow themselves to evaluate the entirety of a situation so they can respond gracefully and with as much information as they can gather. This way of thinking can be immensely helpful with conflict resolution and high pressure workplace scenarios. Often, taking more time in the beginning before acting can help lessen conflicts or obstacles later.

Looking forward

Much of mindful leadership may seem like “soft skills” some would dismiss at first glance. That’s fine. This approach to leadership does not work unless you are committed to it. But mindful leaders don’t just think differently about interpersonal relationships. They also look forward and set goals mindfully.

Setting long-term goals depends on your own values. You likely already know what your organization wants to do going forward, but how are you uniquely positioned to help? How can you best utilize your team and their skills? These are the sort of thoughts mindful leaders have, and they can help you set up mindful goals for yourself.

Take time to make a list of what is important to you and what you want to make time for over the next year. This list should not just be organizational goals. Make sure you include team and wellness goals, as well as anything else you think is important. Then, tuck that list away for a few days. Come back to it and reevaluate how much of it you still agree with. And then, once you’ve done that, start planning how you and your team can meet your goals.

Mindful leaders think differently about the future and that leaves them uniquely positioned to plan for it. The future will come, ready or not, and if you have a list of measurable plans and goals you will be better positioned both to achieve what you want and recognize your own achievements.


One important part of thinking like a mindful leader is reframing how you approach your own thoughts. Here is a way to begin practicing mindfulness. This practice is adapted from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). If you are interested in trying an MBSR class, you can view Mindful Leader’s offerings here.

  • Approach one small daily task with intention. Select something you do at least once a day, such as turning on your car, putting on your shoes, or making breakfast.
  • Dedicate your whole attention to that task. Avoid distractions, such as checking your phone or holding a conversation. When you notice your attention has moved away from your task, gently and non-judgmentally refocus yourself.
  • After a week, sit with your experiences of approaching a task with attention. Was it difficult for you? Did you find your attention wandering frequently? Was it a relief to have one small moment for yourself, even if you were doing something mundane?
  • If you feel ready, you can try approaching another, longer task with intention. See if it is different to focus for a longer period of time. If your new task is more complex, does that change your relationship with this exercise?

Once you’ve tried this practice, you may find yourself thinking about the small, mundane tasks of your life differently. Or, maybe, tying your shoe has suddenly become an essential part of your daily routine because of the moment it gives you to focus your attention fully on something. If that is the case, you may be thinking more like a mindful leader.