If you’re a parent, aunt, uncle, or anyone else who spends any length of time with children, you’ve probably heard it too many times: “Let it go.”
In the 2014 Disney hit “Frozen,” Queen Elsa sings about letting go of her worries and stress in “Let It Go.” While the movie is geared toward children, it turns out that it also contains some pretty good leadership advice: “Let it go,” and be mindful.
The Value of Mindful Leadership
As mindfulness grows more popular in corporate wellness and training programs, we should also consider its role in leadership development. In a 2014 “Training Industry Magazine” article, Julie Winkle Giuliani (co-author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go”) asks: What if, instead of traditional skills training, we taught leaders to focus on intention rather than behaviors? This new focus, she says, will enable readers “to access what they already know how to do (or instantaneously research what they don’t) in service of a deliberate decision about what they want to achieve,” and it will “enrich and enhance every other leadership and interpersonal competency.”
Before I freeze you out with what seems like an overgeneralization, let me say that the mindful approach to leadership development is supported by research. A 2014 Center for Creative Leadership white paper explores the limitations of relying on behavioral competencies for leadership development, pointing out that “leadership encompasses much more than behaviors.” The authors believe “that calling attention to the dynamics of a leader’s internal landscape can aid leadership development.”
They present a new model that includes circuitry (“physical, chemical, and neurological functioning”), inner content (“raw emotions, gut reactions, and inner dialogue”) and conscious engagement (“the ability to observe, modify, and regulate mental processes”) as well as behaviors. This model sounds a lot like mindfulness training, and indeed, the paper cites mindfulness training as a valuable tool.
The Institute for Mindful Leadership has also conducted research to evaluate the effectiveness of its training programs. These studies found increases in employee engagement, decision-making and strategic thinking, among other indicators. Furthermore, in a recent “Psychology Today” blog post, Ray Williams, an executive coach and author of “Eye of the Storm: How Mindful Leaders Can Transform Chaotic Workplaces,” concludes based on several studies that a “[broad] view of mindfulness practices” can “become a powerful leadership strategy.”
How can training managers implement mindfulness into leadership development programs? Julie Kosey, an instructor and integrative health coach at Duke Integrative Medicine’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, shared some tips in an email.
First, she said, “help leaders understand how they will benefit personally and professionally” from mindfulness leadership training.
How Mindfulness Can Help Leaders
Mindfulness training benefits everyone, but in some ways, it can especially benefit leaders. For instance, Kosey said, since leaders must often make fast but critical decisions, the “calm, clear mind” that comes from being mindful is very important for leaders, helping them have “a broader perspective on issues and foresee potential implications of their decisions.”
Mindfulness can also help leaders with teambuilding: “When a leader listens fully to colleagues with a sense of compassion and kindness, colleagues learn to support each other in working together toward common goals.”
Mindfulness can help everyone be intentional with the use of time and energy, but this intention is especially beneficial for leaders and their organizations. By stopping to “reassess how aligned their actions are with desired outcomes, leaders become more efficient.” Those “mindful moments” also help to preserve leaders’ energy and make them more resilient.
Tips for Mindful Leadership Development
The best way to maximize mindful leadership is to incorporate “extended periods of regular mindfulness practice,” but Kosey also teaches business leaders a short, simple practice that is easier to implement in the early stages of mindful leadership development: STOP.
- Take a breath.
- Observe what is happening internally and externally.
- Proceed with what matters most.
The STOP technique takes only a moment, but it allows leaders to focus on what’s important and let go of everything else.
Another technique Kosey recommended is uni-tasking, the opposite of multitasking. Not only does focusing on just one task or person at a time make a leader more effective, but it also demonstrates to observers that uni-tasking is acceptable and effective.
Similarly, Kosey said that at the beginning of meetings, leaders can set a powerful example by “setting a tone” of mindfulness. By introducing a moment of silence at the start of every meeting, leaders will invite participants to “allow themselves to arrive in the present moment, letting go of everything that has happened up to that point in the day and beginning fresh now.”
Finally, by supporting formal mindfulness training in the workplace or off-site, leaders can “promote a culture of mindfulness” that can lead to success throughout the organization.
You may not be a queen like Elsa, but as a training leader, you have the opportunity to help create a mindful culture at your company. Develop your own mindful leadership skills, and incorporate mindfulness into leadership training initiatives. You’ll soon be able to see the benefits in your “kingdom.”