9 ways to be a more mindful leader
How many of your resolutions have you managed to keep to? Did you try Dry January? Did you manage to attend that workout class every week? If you did, then congrats. But if you didn’t, don’t worry, resolutions are supposed to be hard to keep. A while ago I made myself a promise to meditate every weekday for a whole year. I just realised that it’s been three years and I’m still going strong.
Four years ago I was struggling at work. I’d just relocated back to the UK with my family and going through ongoing personal health issues and some complex work dynamics. I was going to work every day and though I loved my job, I was being harrassed by a close colleague. I felt trapped, the chronic pain in my back wasn’t getting any better, and I felt like there was no way out. That was until I discovered a cute little app called Headspace, and found something that gradually but completely transformed my approach to work, my body, and helped me be a better dad to my kids.
The Virgin Atlantic SFO > LDN red eye was packed with the usual medley of stressed out families with screaming 18-month-olds, and spoilt holiday makers expecting another free drink. Bleary eyed and tugging the complimentary but rather ineffective blanket up tighter to cover my arms, I had run out of films to watch, and was trying the alternatives: TV shows, music, games when I found a thing called Headspace. it was an introduction to meditation. It was only 5 minutes so what could I lose? I watched as the narrator explained how our minds are like a busy road with thoughts passing through our consciousness like cars – we’re not in control, and how meditation helps create space – blue sky was his analogy – to cope with the busy lives we live. My first thought was ‘great, that will never work for me’. But I watched until the end and there was a free app, so I made a note to check it out. That note would change my life, if only subtly.
I downloaded the app and did the course. It took me two years to complete the 365 days challenge. Along that journey I’ve learnt a lot about how mindfulness can be applied to the world of work. But I know what you’re thinking because I thought it too. In fact here are all the reasons why I thought it wouldn’t be the thing for me:
- It’s hippy shit
- I don’t like the sound of ‘mindfulness’ what the heck is that anyway?
- It’s too hard – I can’t do it
- I won’t be able to make time
Whenever I’ve thought about not bothering, I just have to look at the difference between the days where I practice mindfulness (either through meditation or through other means) and the days where I don’t. For me, it’s like an insurance policy I renew every morning.
Looking back on what I’ve been trying to learn, here are a few ideas for how mindfulness can be applied to work and leading teams:
Appreciate your team
- When was the last time you appreciated the incredibleness of your team and their behaviours and loyalty? Appreciation doesn’t mean praise necessarily, it means acknowledging their efforts, how they are changing and maintaining a level of awareness of them as individuals and as a group
- One way to do this is to think of the idea of ‘noting’ e.g. ‘I’m sensing some anxiety in this meeting right now, does anyone else share that feeling
Become aware of your environment
- Our external environment shapes us more than we realise. Become aware of your surroundings, physical, emotional, and social. How is this affecting your state of mind, and those around you?
What are you resisting?
- What do you consistently resist? Being aware of this will help you understand bigger issues at play. Do you find yourself tensing up when a particular person raises an objection in the team or when an issue is raised? Notice these reactions – they will teach you about your own biases, which may, in turn, be influencing the overall culture.
What are you attaching yourself to?
- Are you finding yourself getting caught up in the situation and unable to regain control? You may be attaching yourself to an issue. Remember you are not your job, you are not your business.
What are you indulging?
- Are you giving one person too much attention vs another? Do you feel you have favourites in your team and is that affecting your decisions?
- Do you find yourself starting the day tackling the most enjoyable tasks or the hardest ones?
Depersonalise the situation
- Avoid saying ‘I feel like crap today’ – we become the labels we attach to our feelings. Instead, try noticing how you feel ‘I’m feeling stress right now.’ Emotions don’t last forever. In fact, rarely last much longer than a few minutes unless you indulge them. When you do, you feed them and that’s when stress builds up to unhealthy levels.
- Try the same with colleagues – avoid pointing blame and instead of saying “you’re really making me stressed” try saying “ok there’s some tension here, why is that?”
- Acceptance is one of the key ideas of mindfulness and applied to the context of work it is important both as an individual to accept failures and limitations, fear of the unknown or of competition, and a big one is accepting change as resisting it will only cause additional problems for the team.
Focus on serving others
- We are often the most unhappy when we are solely focused on our own problems and our own point of view
- Happiness at work comes from a balance of a perspective of how we can help others be successful and do well at work, and what’s right for us
Ask yourself: What’s your intention?
- At the start of each meditation session, the Headspace app asks: ‘what’s your intention for today?’ Reminding yourself of this question at the start of each day or even at the start of a difficult meeting can be a great way of priming yourself for a better outcome.
I’d love to hear if any of these ideas resonate with you.
Here’s some resources for stepping into Mindfulness:
One of the best and most accessible authors is Thích Nhất Hạnh. Try these short books:
What resources have you found useful? Leave your thoughts in the comments.