There is an extremely wide range of ways to discuss mindfulness, mindful awareness and present-centered consciousness. It is a concept and practice that has been around for hundreds of years and has recently become a large and important trend in the western world of science and business. This article aims to help articulate some of the ways we can discuss mindfulness as well as explore how this concept and practice can benefit people in leadership positions.
Mindfulness can be considered a concept or construct that refers to a specific mental state, skill, or trait. It generally refers to a non judgemental awareness of the present moment through any of our senses. The word mindfulness can also be used to refer to a specific practice in which one uses concerted effort to place their attention on the present moment arising in awareness. These practices, whether formal or informal, have the purpose of inducing a state of mindful awareness, improving mindfulness skills, or increasing trait-level mindfulness. Both the construct and the practice of mindfulness can relate to intrapersonal phenomenon in which the focus is within the individual’s behavior, mind, reactions, etc. They can also refer to interpersonal processes in which there is an interaction with people beyond the individual typically in reference to things like compassion or loving-kindness.
One of the main benefits a leader can expect from a mindfulness practice or training program is an improved sense of presence. Presence is often described as being “fully in the here and now”. This is distinct from states in which attention seems to be away from the present moment, such as distraction, absent-mindedness, daydreaming, worrying about the future, or ruminating about the past. A deeper sense of presence can be invaluable in many different ways including a reduction in multi-tasking, which tends to reduce efficiency and effectiveness and avoiding unhealthy and ineffective aspects of paying attention to the past or the future. More presence can even help to counteract tendencies towards ruminating on past failures.
An incredibly important feature of every mindfulness practice is intention. Keeping in mind, or remembering, the intention to keep one’s attention focused on a particular stimulus such as the breath, as well as remembering to return one’s attention to the breath when it has wandered away is one of the defining features of a successful practice. This skill of intention can easily translate into any leadership context in which leaders who might get easily overwhelmed by the myriad demands on their attention might find it valuable to learn how to hold onto their intentions throughout the day, throughout the year, and throughout any difficulties that will inevitably arise to serve as a distraction from one’s original pursuits.
Maintaining attention on any one thing for an extended period of time can be very difficult. In many meditation and mindfulness settings people need time to build the necessary skills that will guide their continued practice and development. In these cases self-compassion can be crucial in helping people to bring back, over and over again, a wandering mind without getting frustrated, demotivated, angry, and caught up in conceptual self-criticism. This practice of self-compassion can also go a long way in a leadership context. If leaders can take this compassionate attitude towards failures and bring it to their professional projects they may be more likely to persist in the face of repeated failures, without criticising themselves too harshly or giving up prematurely because of frustration. In addition to this, as leaders experience the value of being compassionate towards themselves they may become more compassionate towards their colleagues and subordinates. feelings such as compassion and loving-kindness are the purpose, or end goal of many mindfulness practices, it is not merely a means to attain personal goals.
For more on mindfulness and leadership consider checking out the references below, the leadership reading list on our website, or reaching out to learn more about our leadership development programs.
Neff, K. D., & Dahm, K. A. (2015). Self-compassion: What it is, what it does, and how it relates to mindfulness. In Handbook of mindfulness and self-regulation (pp. 121-137). Springer, New York, NY.
Reitz, M., Chaskalson, M., Olivier, S., & Waller, L. (2016). The mindful leader: Developing the capacity for resilience and collaboration in complex times through mindfulness practice. Ashridge Executive Education HULT.
Reb, J., Sim, S., Chintakananda, K., & Bhave, D. P. (2015). Leading with mindfulness: Exploring the relation of mindfulness with leadership behaviors, styles, and development. Mindfulness in organizations: Foundations, research, and applications, 256-284.