Ways to Practice Mindful Leadership
Have you ever wanted to bring mindfulness into your work life or how you interact with your employees? Mindful leadership involves both learning new techniques and strategies you can use at work as well as unlearning toxic behavior. It is important to be thoughtful, intuitive, and open as a leader. Below are three ways you can learn to foster these qualities.
Here are three ways to practice mindful leadership in your workplace
1) Cultivate Presence
We all have bad days. Sometimes, you’re running late, hit traffic, spill coffee on yourself, and then arrive at work only to face a crisis. Those days are simply bad. And it can be incredibly hard to take a step back, breathe, and respond, rather than taking your bad mood out on everyone around you. Your presence, or the way you show up every day, is an essential part of being a mindful leader. Make sure to cultivate your presence so it reflects who you want to be as a leader.
Mindful leadership is not about being perfect. Everyone is going to have their off days or reactions that aren’t the best response in the moment. But it isn’t productive to let our immediate reactions to a bad day or problem be the ones we run with in every instance.
Take the above example. If a team is dealing with a crisis and their leader shows up late, covered in coffee, and scowling and then snaps at them, their reaction is going to be very different than if their leader walks in, still late and covered in coffee, but cracks a joke. It’s hard, some days, to show up and be present. But it is worth it.
It may seem impossible to get yourself there, but it’s all about training yourself to take that step back from a situation, breathe, and give yourself time, rather than reacting in the moment and regretting it later. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) offers many techniques to understand your body’s reaction to stress and learn to work with yourself when actively upset. When triggered, the rational part of your brain is overwhelmed by a fear or stress-response, and so having familiar mindfulness strategies can help you intervene in the stress-cycle.
To build up a more productive habitual response to stress, consider trying a body-scan meditation. Many body-scans are over half an hour long in MBSR classes, but if this feels too long at first, start at your comfort level and work your way up to longer practices.
2) Create Space
Creating space can apply to a lot of different aspects of mindful leadership, but most importantly, you must create space for your employees to be heard. One of the top reasons for workplace disconnect is that employees feel their concerns aren’t being heard or their needs aren’t being met.
It’s incredibly common to be listening to someone, only to realize you haven’t actually heard a word they’ve said in several minutes. Maybe you can tune back in and catch up, but more than likely, you’ve missed something important. And it’s far worse to be on the other side of that, to be explaining an issue or talking through a project only to realize that the other person has completely tuned you out.
As a leader, your employees should be able to come to you, confident that they will be heard and their opinions will be respected, even if you don’t ultimately agree.
Luckily, there are ways to train your brain to stay focused on the present moment. If you’ve already practiced a guided body-scan, you may have been told that when your mind wanders, just bring it back to the present moment, non-judgmentally. That is a great place to start practicing active listening to create space for your employees.
Actively listening in the workplace may take practice. Here are some tips to begin:
- Make eye contact with the person who is speaking to you. Stay focused on them, not on your laptop or your coffee or on something outside the window.
- Avoid interruptions, especially if you’ve jumped to a conclusion before they’re done speaking. Let them finish their point. Similarly, actually listen. Don’t start planning what you’re going to say while they’re still speaking.
- Ask questions and don’t be afraid to repeat what they’ve said to make sure you understand it. This gives the speaker a chance to correct if necessary. On the other hand, though, be careful not to come off as condescending or as a robot repeating input. Just ask for clarification where you need it.
3) Lead by Example
A team looks to a leader for guidance, even when not consciously aware of it. A good leader is aware of this and prepares. Using your mindful leadership techniques in meetings, or when there are stressful moments in the workplace, shows your team members the value of mindfulness.
It can be incredibly valuable to have a boss who has a mindful approach to workflow, rather than one who makes hard-to-reach demands that have employees scrambling under pressure. Just as you wouldn’t do that to an employee, don’t do it to yourself, either.
Part of your job as a leader is to dictate your team’s culture. Be aware of healthy work patterns, both for yourself and your employees. If you find yourself sending emails in the evening or over the weekends, when employees may feel pressure to respond outside of work hours, don’t. You can schedule your emails for work hours or, better yet, take your time outside of work for yourself. The office will still be there when you get back. Your employees will follow your example in regards to work-life balance and what to prioritize when in the office. As a mindful leader, you have the opportunity to set a good example.
Mindfully leading going forward
If you want to be a mindful leader, one of the most important things you can do is pay attention. Pay attention to yourself, your reactions, your employees and their reactions, and the world. Do your best to stay present in the moment and give yourself time to respond to situations. But if you do have an off day, don’t dwell on it. Not even the most mindful of us is perfect, and any bad day is just that: one bad day. You always have a chance to try again.