This article was originally published on Thrive Global in July 2017.
As I often say, being a leader is a gift. We have the unique opportunity to lead and make a difference in the lives of others. I take the responsibility that comes with this gift very seriously, as I’m sure you do, too. I try to make the most of this gift, constantly learning how to best utilize it and make a positive impact. But, life often gets in the way.
People often assume leaders are more adept at rising above the roadblocks and stress of everyday life. In fact, leaders face a unique kind of stress, and managing it can be challenging. When you’re a mindful leader, you have strong disciplines in place to manage the stresses and keep your energy, awareness, and creativity at high levels.
Check out some of the positive behaviors of leaders who are mindful. Are any of these part of your discipline? If so, you are likely leading in a mindful way and enhancing the lives of your team members. If these aren’t on your list, not to worry, you can easily incorporate them.
1. You are completely focused when people are talking to you.
For example, during a meeting, you are giving your team your full attention. An employee approaches you with a problem and you resist the urge to begin solving it in your head and instead listen without judgment to everything they share.
It’s a fact of life that the mind is constantly full of chatter — studies suggest that our minds wander to something else nearly half of our waking hours. But we have a choice: do we surrender to that phenomenon, or do we train our attention and give our full, complete presence to the task at hand?
2. You make thoughtful decisions.
Every decision involves a certain level of bias, judgment, and emotion. As leaders, we make countless decisions every day. Are you making decisions with your head or your heart? A mindful leader makes decisions with both.
When you pause and bring awareness to your biases, judgments, and emotions, you are able to make better decisions. Check in — are your emotions tricking you into thinking that you’re making the right decision when you’re really just fulfilling an emotional response? Do a quick mind and emotional check, make the decision, and move on. When you are mindful, you are building the awareness muscle in your head to mindfully regulate your emotions and better assess and make decisions without judgment.
3. You empower your team members (employees).
When a team member comes to you with an issue, challenge, or discussion item, do you ask questions and allow for them to come to their own conclusions? Do you compliment or reward a team member when you notice they made a great decision? Do you teach when they don’t? Team member performance improves when they know you have empowered them and you trust team members unconditionally. Often, people will make a different decision than the one you would have made, but there is more than one solution to a problem. My good friend and mentor, Gino Wickman, taught me that it’s not about who’s right, it’s about what’s right.
Your team is only going to be as strong as you are. Mindful leaders give their team members their full attention and presence, and notice their strengths and successes on an entirely new level. They are more patient with weaknesses and they’re partners in helping drive their success.
4. You sleep well at night.
Making sleep a priority may seem like a small thing, but it’s big. A good night’s sleep allows for you to be more mindful during the day and have extraordinary interactions. Sure, things won’t always go perfectly — but you can rest more easily in knowing the way you handled yourself. We can only control the way we show up, not outcomes. Letting go of that emotional decision you made in the midst of a crisis or worrying about the customer that’s been unresponsive lately takes practice, but for those leaders that can let go and move on, the next day will start with a fresh set of ideas and energy to counteract those situations.
Mindful leaders tend to stop, slow down, and breathe even if just for a moment. If your mind’s keeping you up at night, you’re missing the balance that mindfulness provides.
5. You have a regular meditation practice.
Our lives are busy and you’ve made a meditation practice a priority. We are so busy that researchers coined a term for the unique experience of leaders: power stress. It means we’re more susceptible to stress because of the demands of authority, the inherent loneliness of being “at the top,” and knowing that our daily decisions affect the lives of our team members. Outside of work, we have obligations to our families, our communities, and to ourselves as leaders. I hear it all the time from other leaders — there’s no time for meditation, no matter how much people say it will help. Yet, you’ve made the time.
If you haven’t been able to start a regular practice, make it a personal challenge. You’ll feel better and so will your team. Here’s my advice: commit to 90 days, share what you’re doing with your team, and survey them at the end and ask if they notice a difference.
Sitting for 5 to 20 minutes a day really can make a measurable difference for your leadership. Research has proven that twenty minutes of meditation a day is not time lost, it is time gained. Mindfulness is actually a recovery tool for managing the effects of “power stress.” And it’s scientifically proven: study after study has shown that meditation changes your brain, reduces stress, and improves your health.
Developing your own meditation practice takes commitment and discipline, but most leaders I know have that in abundance. Take the leap and begin your journey to becoming a more mindful leader.
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