Ineffective management is estimated to be costing over £19 billion per year and be related to 56% of corporate failures [1].

Nowadays, we can’t ignore the scope and complexity of the challenges faced by modern organisations. Economic crisis, social frustration, climate change, and even wars are the new “certainty”. In this era, the need for exceptional leadership has never been greater. Leadership enables organisations to see opportunities on the horizon, develop structures to motivate action, and inspire people to pursue opportunities with courage, passion and resilience.

Even though the quality of leadership and management has been improving in the UK over the past decade, there is a leadership talent crisis brewing that spans national boundaries and market sectors.

To face this situation, organisations are investing enormous amounts of resources to provide emerging leadership talent with rich developmental experiences. Yet research shows that conventional leadership training strategies are not enough to transform individuals into leaders [2].

The success or failure of this training depends on how people go through and reflect on their experience more than the experience itself. In order to succeed in developing leadership skills, people need to be aware of themselves and their surroundings, open to new information, and willing and able to process their experience from multiple perspectives. This is what mindfulness is all about and why mindfulness can be a tool to boost leadership in organisations.

What is Mindful Leadership?

Mindfulness is an adaptation of Buddhist meditation. Supported by over 40 years of research across a number of sectors and applications; Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgement [3].

Mindful leadership means being able to pay attention to the present moment, learning from experience, recognising feelings and emotions, and keeping them under control, especially when facing highly stressful situations. Mindful leaders are better protected from stress and its harmful impact on physical and mental health, they show reduced impulsive and irritable reactions to demanding situations, they increase their openness to different points of view in facing work problems [4], and they show a better understanding of the organisational context in which they are working [5].

Why Become a Mindful Leader?

Leadership is a set of behavioural skills which can be learned from experience. However, people do not automatically learn from experience. A particular experience can have all of the ingredients for leadership development but still the person can come away from the experience with no lessons learned or even the wrong lessons. To maximize the developmental value of any experience, people must approach and go through their experiences mindfully [6].

Several studies support the notion that leaders who act mindfully are better facilitators of organisational learning [7], ethical decision-making [8], and healthy workplaces [9]. Mindful managers are more likely to redefine the problems they face, question the underlying assumptions in the definition of the problem, and treat the immediate problem as a symptom of a deeper underlying situation. They are better able to convince subordinates and superiors to consider alternative ways of seeing, thinking and acting.

How to Become a Mindful Leader

It is possible to boost your leadership skills by informal and formal mindfulness practices. The informal approach consists of practicing mindfulness in daily activities such as eating, walking, etc. Any pause between tasks becomes an opportunity for mindfulness. As well as practising mindfulness in daily work activities, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal exercise. Formal mindfulness is what it is normally called meditation. This involves setting aside a specific time to sit silently or to walk mindfully.

Getting Started

You can start the journey to become a mindful leader by using both approaches and engaging in an everyday leadership development process. To do so, you need to:

Develop a learning attitude: rather than focusing on what can be learned, we often focus on either avoiding failure or proving to others that we can meet performance expectations. To avoid this, it is important to approach experiences with a learning orientation. This means that we need to set clear learning goals aiming at those leadership areas to develop.

Engage in learning behaviours: after our aims are set, we need to engage in three practices to foster real-time learning from experience: experiment actively, seek feedback from others, and control our emotional activation each time. None of these practices are easy. They require a high level of self-awareness and an ability to recognise and control one’s thoughts and feelings. Formal mindfulness practice will help you to achieve this.

Save time to think about your experience: With an orientation toward achievement and performance, many managers aspire to move forward. Reflection is an active process of probing cause-and-effect, questioning assumptions, and analysing the meaning of experiences. Understanding what happened is insufficient. One must appreciate why it happened, and how the current situation is similar to and different from other situations.


References:

1 DBIS. (2012). Leadership & Management in the UK – The Key to Sustainable Growth. Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

2 Harung, H., Heaton, D., & Alexander, C. (1995). A unified theory of leadership: Experiences of higher states of consciousness in world- class leaders. Leadership & Organisation Development Journal, 16(7), 44–59.

3 Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003).Mindfulness-based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

4 Vago, D. & Silbersweig, D. (2012). Self-awareness, Self-regulation, and Self-transcendence (S-ART): A Framework for Understanding the Neurobiological Mechanisms of Mindfulness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1–30.

5 George, B. (2012). Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader. Harvard Business Review.

6 Ashford, S., & DeRue, D. (2012). Developing as a leader: The power of mindful engagement. Organisational Dynamics, 41(2), 146–154.

7 Baron, C. & Cayer, M. (2011). Fostering post-conventional consciousness in leaders: Why and how? Journal of Management Development, 30(4), 344–365.

8 Ruedy, N., & Schweitzer, M. (2010). In the Moment: The Effect of Mindfulness on Ethical Decision Making. Journal of Business Ethics, 95, 73–87.

9 Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2014). Leading Mindfully: Two Studies on the Influence of Supervisor Trait Mindfulness on Employee Well-Being and Performance. Mindfulness, 5, 36–45.

10 Weiss, A. (2004). Beginning Mindfulness: Learning the Way of Awareness. Novato, CA. New World Library.


Developing Mindful Leadership

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