By Alicia Collin
Leadership is not a straightforward concept. There are many nuances to it, which can make it difficult to fully grasp, much less demonstrate. That is why the best leaders are those who continuously learn. To this end, one concept leaders and would-be leaders ought to learn about is mindfulness — specifically, mindfulness-based leadership.
Forbes uses the following definition of mindfulness, as provided by subject matter expert Jon Kabat-Zinn: "Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." In other words, mindfulness is zoning in on the present, which in turn increases one’s capacity to act with laser-like focus and relaxed discipline. If done correctly on a consistent basis, mindfulness has proven to be an effective tool for improving focus. Proof of this is how companies like Google, General Mills, and Aetna have incorporated mindfulness programs into their employee training methods. Particularly, the practice of mindfulness has been shown to increase efficiency, enhance decision-making, improve listening and reduce stress.
Those benefits are reasons enough for leaders and potential leaders to start incorporating the practice of mindfulness into their daily routine. Practicing mindfulness is a way for leaders to embody what researchers William Brendel and Carmela Bennett call “a way of being” in their study ‘Learning to Embody Leadership Through Mindfulness and Somatics Practice’ first published in 2016. This way of being, as explained by Brendel and Bennett, refers to an “aligned presence and purpose that spans all contexts so that the individual and leader are not separate entities but rather a fully cohesive self.” The practice of mindfulness is, in other words, a means towards a holistic development where leadership becomes an indissoluble part of oneself.
In turn, this unity of individual and leader can help lead into transformative leadership, which was previously discussed in our ‘Enacting Transformative Leadership’ post. It recounts the journey of Copper Beech’s own Peter Callahan from “recovering jerk” toward transformative leader. He has become comfortable in his own skin, even introducing himself as: “Hi. My name is Peter, and I’m a recovering jerk.” Having the courage and vulnerability to freely admit to a sordid past is a hallmark of a fully cohesive self — one who can transcend their own warts and lead with a purpose, despite their imperfections and faults. It is not surprising then that in addition to being a passionate staff member, Peter himself has undergone training at Copper Beech, including workshops and courses such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Diversity and Inclusion, and several 5-day silent retreats. Peter believes deeply in mindfulness practice, knowing how it has helped him engage with the world and others in a more peaceful and productive way.
Ultimately, leadership is also about strategically and thoughtfully leading teams through change. It is a challenge, but far from an impossible task. Doing so, however, will necessitate a multipronged approach. That being said, on their organizational leadership section, Maryville University describes how leaders have to possess the skills to introduce positive change and manage conflict. They include, communication and problem-solving skills, critical thinking, organization, and collaboration among others. However, it is entirely possible that these very skills will mean nothing with a purposeless leader; one who grows uncomfortable at the slightest sign of discord. Mindfulness helps in this regard as it ensures clarity of mind, focused decision making and insightful problem solving.
It is quite difficult to quantify or even qualify just how important mindfulness is, especially in the context of leadership. What is clear, though, is that it helps make better leaders. That is why more and more CEOs, professional athletes, and world leaders are practicing mindfulness.. If and when developing your own practice calls to you, know that Copper Beech Institute will be here to guide and support you through your transformative journey.