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How to be a mindful leader

How to be a mindful leader

Being a mindful leader is a sought-after skill these days. Mindful leadership is where people leaders focus on being present, open-minded and compassionate when interacting with their team and it has been proven to increase engagement, performance and foster effective teams in the workplace. Like many habits, mindfulness is something we need to cultivate and practice. Here are some ways to set you on your path to becoming a mindful leader.

Don't fear feelings

As humans, we all have emotions and feelings, and this is no different if you are a people leader. If you repress these, this has a flow on effect to your team, who see the expression of their emotions as something to avoid. As we know, if we supress feelings for too long, they can build up and erupt, often at unfortunate times.

Be compassionate to yourself about your feelings and allow yourself to feel them – and that includes excitement and positivity, as well as fear and vulnerability.

Embrace self-awareness

A key part of being mindful is creating awareness. With busy lives and teams to manage, we don't stop to cherish the present moment. Self-awareness and self-compassion are linked and when you put these into practice, change occurs, and you start to enjoy what’s happening in front of you at this point in time.

This does require patience as you’ll need to keep nudging yourself to bring your mind to the present, so you can observe, experience, and feel the now. You'll see the benefits as taking the time to pause actually allows you to respond calmly instead of an emotional reaction. An example that most of us have faced is a heated and reactive email conversation. Taking time to reflect calmly on the next course of action can be the difference between resolving the issue or it becoming a bigger issue.

Start with small steps

Mindful leadership is something you'll take with you throughout your career, so it doesn't need to be perfected in a day. It's all about the subtle shifts required to initiate long term change and compassion.

Start with one step each day. It can be as simple as taking five minutes after meetings to reflect, feel and release your emotions, particularly if you had to deliver tough news. Ask yourself whether you dealt with the situation with compassion for yourself and for others. If you have come away knowing that you have done the best you could, then you have been faithful to yourself, no matter the outcome.

Healthy self-talk

When you are taking time to yourself to reflect on situations, make sure you’re having a positive dialogue with yourself. Banish the self-criticism such as "I wish I had handled that better" and tell yourself that "I did the best I could in the situation."

Many of us have the same negative thoughts that we tell ourselves on a regular basis. An effective way of turning the dial from negative to positive is to write the recurring thoughts down. For each negative thought, populate a new statement or phrase to tell yourself. Check back on this list regularly and you'll soon find your new positive thoughts are at the forefront of your mind.

Relinquish control when relevant

Leaders often feel responsible for everything in terms of their people, whether it's workload or happiness. An important realisation is that ultimately the only person or thing you can control is your own internal state. And if you know that you’re doing the best you can in the current situation, in this point of time, this is where self-compassion comes into force.

It may be that things don’t go the way you wish but be realistic about what you can influence and acknowledge that you've done the best you can in the situation. This doesn't mean pushing down your emotional or mental pain, but it means accepting that this was out of your control.

Celebrate success

Last but definitely not least, celebrating your successes, no matter how small, is critical to your continuing success with mindful leadership.

It can be as easy as taking a moment to congratulate yourself on how you dealt with a situation in a different way, how you practised compassion, or how you walked away from that tricky email conversation to dilute the situation.

Being able to see positive changes in yourself also allows you to be empathetic to changes and behaviours in your team members, so celebrating their success too becomes second nature.

Self-compassion and self-awareness not only make us better leaders, but it teaches future leaders within our organisation about healthy practices they can use in their development. This flows through to an organisational culture of emotional intelligence and trust, leading to higher engagement and well-being.

Author: Peter Robinson
Team Management Services