It’s no wonder mindfulness has taken some time to reach popularity in the corporate context. For high-powered leaders, setting aside to essentially “do nothing”, is a hard sell. Still, the pool of business icons, like Marc Benioff and Oprah, using mindfulness meditation, continues to grow. Successful business leaders leverage this daily mental exercise to enhance their performance, at work and in their broader lives.
What at first blush, can seem like a hippie, or “woo woo” practice, actually has a blanket up-leveling effect on key business skills.
Just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation each day has the ability to drastically decrease stress and improve performance at work, while promoting a greater sense of wellbeing.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a practice of bringing awareness to thoughts, sensations, and emotions with a lens of non-judgement. Typically, mindfulness is practiced as meditation, though there are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into everyday waking life.
It’s a simple practice that doesn’t require any up-front cost or lengthy training to begin, yet its effects are profound. A single session can drastically reduce beta wave activity, associated with high stress states.
When done consistently, mindfulness meditation physically changes our brains, increasing cortical thickness, and grey matter. Both associated with improved brain health, including cognition and memory.
With mental-health benefits becoming more necessity than perk in the modern workplace, employers have caught on to the positive effects of this originally, Eastern practice, and begun to offer classes to employees. A recent study from the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments, reports that 45% of employers offer mindfulness classes or training at work.
This not only makes for a more mentally healthy workforce, it also makes for more effective leaders. Mindfulness meditation also has the ability to directly cultivate traits key to successful leadership.
Here are 7 ways keeping a mindfulness practice makes you a better leader
1. Reduced stress-response
Stressful situations naturally trigger us to go into fight or flight mode. While incredibly valuable in the wild, this primal instinct can keep us from making clear-headed decisions. Keeping a mindfulness practice reduces stress induced brain activity, allowing you to appraise the situation rationally, and respond rather than react. This cuts down on rash decision-making and making us a leader that our colleagues can trust and depend on in times of crisis.
2. Increased receptivity
The more we practice mindfulness, the greater our ability to slow things down and broaden our awareness. This is an invaluable skill for a leader because it awakens us to our own emotions and instincts, as well as other key insights from our colleagues, direct reports, and clients. Mindfulness heightens our ability to spot inconsistencies, signals, and opportunities, meaning that we more easily notice when something is off in a deal or with a team member. When we are completely in-tune with our teams and our businesses, we improve our ability to act proactively and with long-term success in mind.
3. Increased creativity and nimble-mindedness
Decisiveness is an important leadership skill but judgement can get in the way of innovation and problem-solving. A key component of mindfulness is non-judgement. When we pre-judge, we shut down nascent ideas, that could have blossomed into something great. The open-mindedness we learn from mindfulness teaches us to be open to whatever arises. This keeps us from getting stuck, and allows us to stay open to healthy evolution and innovation. When we are no longer judging or stuck on something being a certain way, this increased flexibility enables us to look at things from different angles and come up with other solutions we otherwise wouldn’t have.
5. Increased Empathy
Empathy is an important trait for leaders. So important, that according to WSJ, 20% of companies are offering their leaders empathy training. When we cultivate this trait we increase our emotional awareness, and are better able to see things from all points of view. This ability to put ourselves in other’s shoes makes us better communicators and negotiators. Empathetic leaders create an intellectually safe environment that allows employees to contribute their most innovative ideas.
6. Clear-minded confidence
Mindfulness training has a unique ability to bring greater clarity of mind. When our minds are not cluttered with tasks, ideas, and worries, it increases our ability to focus. This increased focus and clear mindedness makes it easier to prioritize and tackle our responsibilities with confidence.
7. Increased well-being
The benefits of mindfulness extend far and wide. When we practice mindfulness, we are practicing a state of relaxed awareness that makes it easier for us to decompress in our downtime. It becomes natural to let go of the thoughts that normally plague us when we are spending time at home, or with our friends. This ability to focus on relaxing and recharging on our days off, makes us even better leaders when we are back at the office.
Becoming more mindful
You don’t have to practice mindfulness for long to start seeing results. One study showed that that in as little as 6 days, participants were able to significantly reduce stress levels using mindfulness meditation, and results lasted for 2 weeks.
Mindfulness meditation is the number-one way to practice mindfulness. There are lots of online resources (many of them free), that are great for beginners. Check out this mindfulness meditation for after work, designed to help release thoughts after a stressful day.
You can also practice mindfulness by making an effort to tune into daily tasks. A great place to start is to consciously place your full attention on a simple activity, such as eating, or cleaning the dishes. It’s amazing how much of our day runs on autopilot. By consciously tuning into daily activities, we increase our awareness and our ability to be present.
Like anything else, mindfulness is a skill. The more that you work to increase your general sense of presence and non-judgemental awareness, the more benefits you will see in your business and your life. Time spent “doing nothing” might feel tedious or pointless at first, but your efforts to become a more mindful leader will pay off in a multitude of ways.
When we show up mindfully we create an environment that makes people want to do their best work and our business will reflect that.