A leader needs clear thinking, and mindfulness can help you achieve that. It's a tool, and a smart leader doesn't leave a useful tool in the box. Some people have the idea that mindfulness meditation is simply about emptying your mind. And if you are someone who is attached to the image of yourself as a thinker, that may sound unappealing.
Yes, mindfulness meditation does involve quieting the barrage of thoughts, but with the purpose of helping to clarify and focus your mind. Mindfulness meditation also reduces stress, improves decision-making and enhances creative thinking. If you are in a leadership position — or hope to be — that’s a benefit you should not ignore.
It might help to see mindfulness meditation as a form of mental exercise. Like exercising the body, exercising the mind is necessary to keep it in good condition. It also helps to remember that although mindfulness meditation has Buddhist roots, there is a huge body of research which supports mindfulness as beneficial for a variety of mental and physically issues. As mentioned above, this includes stress reduction, more focus and creativity, but mindfulness meditation has been found to be helpful for people suffering from depression, anxiety, insomnia or chronic pain too.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, defines mindfulness as: “The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
While taking time out for meditation every day is beneficial, mindfulness can also be incorporated into your daily routine. Mindfulness, or living in the now, simply means shutting off frenetic thinking and paying attention to the here and now.
This could mean appreciating the scenery, or paying attention to the physical sensations your body is experiencing, but doing so without judgement. For example, on your walk to the coffee shop you pay attention to the breeze, the sounds around you, the sun on your skin and so forth. Sitting at your desk, you could simply “check in” with your body — feel the sensation of the chair underneath you, the texture of your desk, or pay attention to your breathing.
These do not necessarily have to be positive sensations. The point is to notice things without judgement. You could note that there is tension in your shoulders, but instead of feeling annoyed or stressed because of it, you simply accept that this is so — and then let it go.
It sounds simple, and it is with practice. As we all know, letting go is not something that comes naturally to leaders. But sometimes, to be a better leader, it is necessary.
That is why many blue chips and multinationals have made mindfulness meditation part of their culture. Google, American Express and Ford have meditation courses for senior executives to enhance their leadership skills.
Studies have found that as little as 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation results in more rational thinking when making business decisions. Think about that for a moment. As a leader, someone in charge of people — and possibly large sums of company money — the decisions you make come with significant responsibilities. The wrong decision can affect project delivery, team morale and profitability. Any tool that aids successful decision-making is certainly worth your while.