To lead others, you must first start learning about yourself, how to manage yourself, and demonstrate self-leadership. No one is going to follow you if you’re not good at leading yourself. I’ve been reading lately about the concept of mindfulness — the simple ability to notice things the way they are.
In my experience coaching executives, those who are more mindful of what goes on both within themselves and with other people are the leaders with the most impact and influence. They have a finely tuned ability to pick up on things, ask questions, listen, and respond in the here and now. When you are in conversation with these leaders, they make you feel as if you’re the most important person in the room. They are totally focused on the moment.
How can you develop mindfulness, if, as a leader, you are facing deadlines, heavy competition, performance problems, financial restrictions and putting out day-to-day fires? It would almost seem that being more mindful of everything that goes on in fast-paced business would be too stressful to bear. Apparently, the practice of mindfulness meditation is key to managing stress, facing challenges with calm, and improving the quality of leadership decisions.
For many, the idea of pausing during a frantic workday to stop and sit still may seem absurd. As you stare down project deadlines and unpredictable time demands, this suggestion may seem silly. Yet stopping and sitting still for 15–30 minutes may be just the solution to prevent burnout and stress.
Scientific studies indicate that practicing meditation is just plain healthy. Leaders who do it experience a wealth of benefits. Stressed-out executives need a way to reconnect with themselves, become more open and transparent, and consequently more effective in their relationships with others.
A Buddhist-trained HR executive, Michael Carroll encourages business leaders to take time to sit and be still. In his book, The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation (2008), Carroll explores the key principles of mindfulness meditation and how this applies to leading organizations. Some of the research highlights the many benefits of mindfulness meditation:
- Enhanced physical health
- Enhanced emotional health
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Feelings of joy and compassion
- Enhanced wisdom
Let’s face it, being a leader isn’t easy, nor is it a question of in-born natural talent. Most of what you need to know is learned on the job, in response to stressful situations. But in order to come up with the right responses, your body, mind and wisdom need to be accessible. It isn’t when you’re stressed, multi-tasking, and scattered. Mindful meditation trains your brain to focus and concentrate.
So before you scoff and dismiss the practice of mindful meditation, I urge you to look at the research that reveals concrete benefits to leaders who want to improve their impact and effectiveness. Then find someone who can help you experiment with it to see what benefits it will bring to you.