I first started looking into mindfulness a few years ago, when I realized that I was starting to become too frustrated at work. Throughout my career, people had told me that I was “always calm”, which used to make me laugh, because I often didn’t feel that way.
In one particularly chaotic and stressful role, I noticed myself becoming more and more frustrated, which resulted in an uncharacteristic emotional outburst. There was no damage done and things worked out fine, but still… I knew that this was something I wanted to improve on.
For me, having more mindfulness in my leadership was a good step to improving the way I responded to stressful situations.
Related post: 5 Ways Leaders Can Stay Calm at Work.
Mindfulness in Leadership: Why Does It Help?
In my experience, mindfulness helps leaders because we gain a heightened awareness of our emotions, thoughts and the way our body feels under stress. Mindfulness in leadership gives you the opportunity to respond consciously and intentionally, rather than to react in explosive and dysfunctional ways, without thinking first.
For leaders, this means you can tackle difficult conversations more easily, and handle criticism and harsh comments without flying completely off the handle. If people make comments (even unintentionally) that hurt your feelings or offend you, you’re more likely to be able to show restraint and remain polite.
Ultimately, being more mindful will help you to remain more composed, and help you to respond in a constructive manner. This will help you keep your composure in your interactions with your team, your colleagues and your boss.
For mindfulness resources, I recommend the Zen Habits website. Here is a link to a good Zen Habits article on mindfulness.
Emotional Responses vs. Thoughtful Responses
Our attitude represents how we feel about certain people or events, and is based on our own judgements.
These attitudes are based on logical reasoning, which are also shaped by our beliefs and feelings.
Emotions, on the other hand, are not necessarily based on reasoning or logic. Sometimes, emotions just hit, without us realizing what exactly they mean, or why they came.
What we would like to be able to do is react to situations rationally, instead of emotionally. Because emotional reactions bypass our logic and reasoning.
So, the way we can manage this is to become more aware of our emotions as we experience them. This means we can more consciously process the information, before we do something silly and reactive.
Because emotions are just that: information. With practice, we can use this information to better understand our situation and our environment.
Mindfulness In Leadership: Becoming an Observer
A friend of mine called me once and said she was going into a stressful meeting, where she felt like she was likely to react emotionally to the conversation.
My advice in this case was something I’ve learnt over the past few years, and that is to become an observer of your emotions during the conversation.
As an observer, you listen to the discussion and still actively participate. The difference is that during the conversation, you pay careful attention to your emotions as people speak. Instead of losing yourself in the conversation, you try to detach.
What happens is that “I can’t believe that idiot said that! I’m so angry!” becomes “It’s interesting that I feel angry when he said that.”
Practicing this mindset over time can help you to improve the way you respond to rude remarks, or stressful situations.
This has helped me greatly, because when I notice myself becoming tense in meetings, I now have the awareness to try to relax and respond, rather than react without thinking.
A Simple Exercise to Help You Become More Mindful
So am I completely cured? Am I completely in control of my emotions, never becoming frustrated or saying things that I later regret?
No, of course not. But I’m better at handling stressful situations and conversations than I used to be.
One of the best exercises I practiced to help me become more mindful was as follows.
If you feel you could benefit from more mindfulness in your leadership, you can try it too:
1. Sit still somewhere and observe how your body feels.
What I mean by this is that you consciously think about how your body is interacting with the surfaces around you. I do this on the train, on my way to work. (Note: Don’t do this when you’re driving!)
For example, feel your legs against the chair, or your back against the seat. Notice the feeling of your toes in your shoes, your relaxed shoulders and your tongue in your mouth.
Simply keep observing your different body parts one by one, until you’ve done this for your whole body.
Doing this exercise while sitting quietly in a relaxed state means that you’ll better be able to recognise physical signs of stress and tension in your body when they happen. This will help you to monitor and moderate your reactions to stressful situations.
2. Next, notice how your mind feels.
Now, start to notice your thought patterns.
Do you feel tired? Anxious? Worried about something? Do you feel happy or sad?
Simply observe the feelings and thoughts you have, without really judging yourself about having them.
3. Now, Notice Parts of Your Environment.
When was the last time you looked at the sky and noticed the clouds. I mean, really noticed them – like actually stared at the clouds and admired all the little details.
What about a tree, noticing all the minor detail on the leaves? If you’re like me, the answer probably is that you don’t do that very much.
Sit in your quiet place and look at the world around you. Notice the birds chirping, the detail of the clouds and the blueness of the sky or even the humming of the traffic on the highway. It’s not necessarily about nature – it’s more about really observing your surroundings.
Over time, you’ll start to notice other things in your workplace, too. Like people and their reactions. You’ll start to naturally become more perceptive, and perceptive leaders are aware leaders.
4. And… that’s it.
Yes, that’s all I did. I practiced this for about 10 minutes per day, on the train to work, for several months, while listening to relaxing music.
What I eventually noticed was that I started to build a greater awareness of my thoughts, feelings and emotions at work.
Sometimes in the middle of a conversation I’d notice I was tense. Then I would start to become curious… why had that comment made me so tense? I’d unpack it later and try to find the root cause.
This helped me because I began to more easily separate my emotional response from my actions. It helped me feel more calm, confident and in control, and able to respond, rather than react.
If you have trouble with stressful discussions and handling your emotions at work, try this for yourself. It’s not difficult, and you certainly don’t need to be a Buddhist monk, sitting high on a mountain top.
Mindfulness in leadership is a good thing, and you might be surprised at the difference it can make.
We will never be perfect, because we’re human. But you and I can always be better.
What are your feelings after reading this post? Have you tried anything else to help you become more calm and in-control as a leader? I’d love to read your comments below!
Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.