By Susan Robertson – May 8, 2018

Using mindfulness and meditation as a leadership practice.

The Heart of Leadership

For more than half my life I have meditated every day.

In today’s terms, I practice mindfulness. Normally, my meditative practice consists of quieting my mind through breathing exercises, allowing myself to let go of stressful emotions, and opening myself to deeper insight and perspective. Something meaningful often comes to me, and today was no different. This time, while meditating and hiking in nature, the words showed up: “the heart of leadership.”

The words kept turning over and over in my mind… “the heart of leadership . . . the heart of leadership . . . the heart of leadership. . .”

What does the heart of leadership have to do with meditation, mindfulness and mindful leadership?

The Heart of Leadership

The heart of leadership means leading with feeling, compassion, transparency, and authenticity, combined with the wisdom of experience and knowledge.

The strongest leaders are inspirational while driving performance. They maintain the broader perspective while managing a large amount of complexity and detail. Leaders understand their business and create efficient processes while remaining open to (and excited about) challenge as well as spurring innovation and continuous improvement. And, leaders need to develop and empower people, while avoiding costly mistakes. This requires the wisdom of knowledge, deep insight and resilience.

Amazingly, mindful meditation, as a practice, is one of the best ways to develop these leadership traits. It is not hard, but it does require consistency.

Why Mindful Leadership?

As leaders, our day is filled with constant distractions. Our inbox fills up with hundreds of emails, all requiring our attention. There are mini-crises (or perceived crises) that sometimes demand immediate solutions. The ability of leaders to slow themselves down on the inside is critical in order to gain mental clarity, perspective, and focus, all of which are paramount to good decision-making.

A 2017 study of leaders conducted by author Michael Chaskalson, CEO of Mindfulness Works, Ltd., showed that training executives in an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MSBR) program and teaching mindfulness techniques helped executives improve in the areas of empathy, focus, perspective, emotional regulation, and adaptability.

Mindfulness-Based Stress-Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness as a meditative practice is the tool that helps leaders slow down inside and reflect before acting, which helps leaders act more purposefully and make better decisions.

Mindfulness, as a meditative practice, is a way of:

  1. Relieving stress
  2. Releasing emotional triggers that cause derailing behaviors
  3. Gaining a broader perspective on the issues at hand
  4. Finding new and transformative solutions

Mindfulness helps us take a step back, observe our own actions and reactions, and change our consciousness from a reactive mindset to one by which we gain a more balanced point of view.

Stepping back and taking a non-judgmental, calm and non-stressed perspective allows us to see ourselves and the situation in a new way. This can help us find innovative solutions and plot a focused course. Mindfulness helps us to stay in the present moment and not become reactive. Mindfulness helps us make purposeful choices about our behaviors and the decisions at hand.

The Bottom Line of Heart-based Mindful Leadership

These practices are no longer outside the mainstream. As Monica Thakrar of the Forbes Council points out, “Large companies, such as Google, Aetna and General Mills, have been implementing large-scale mindfulness programs over the past few years.”

She notes that thousands of employees have gone through these corporate-sponsored programs, and data indicates that practicing mindfulness accounts for definite improvements, including increased productivity, faster, more effective decision-making, improved listening skills, and reduced stress levels. (Forbes. The Forbes Council. Monica Thakrar. June 27, 2017.)

Aetna, a pioneer in mindfulness-based training, found that “team members who participated in the training (mindfulness training) added roughly 60 minutes of productivity per week, which they calculated was worth about $3,000 per year per team member.” (4 Ways Mindfulness Improves Your Productivity. Huffington Post. December 6, 2017.)

Developing a Mindfulness Practice

As an executive consultant, a yoga practitioner, and a meditation teacher, I find that when I help managers and leaders develop a mindful, heart-based meditative practice, they become more:

  1. Compassionate
  2. Empathetic
  3. Confident
  4. Peaceful
  5. Secure

Developing these qualities helps leaders gain a deeper perspective on the issues they face. They are able to better balance leading with heart and driving for results.

“Take 5”

Developing a meditative, mindful practice is not as difficult as you might think. Nor does it need to take a lot of time. Many of the leaders I work with feel like they don’t have enough time in the day to add one more “to-do” on their list. As they learn meditative, mindful practices they realize they can practice in as little as 5 minutes per day. Consistency is key, so doing it on a regular basis is what makes the difference.

Here are four ways to meditate to cultivate mindfulness, reduce stress and become more heart-centered:

  1. 10-second breath. Using an app-based meditation timer, you can set the timer to inhale for 10-seconds followed by a 10-second exhale. Do this for just 5-minutes per day.
  2. Body relaxation with long-deep breathing. Slowing down your breath to a slow pace focus on relaxing each part of the body, start with the head, face, neck, and shoulders. Inhale focusing in the thought “peace” or “serenity”, exhale with the thought of “let go” or “relax”. Allow your breath to become longer and deeper each time. Then focus on and allow the back, torso, abdomen, organs, hips and all the way down to your feet to completely and totally relax. Again, you can do this in 5-minutes.
  3. Take a nature time-out. In the middle of the day, take 5-minutes and go outside and walk in nature.
  4. Gratitude Breath: Long deep breathing focusing on all that you are grateful for in your life.

By practicing mindful meditation and stress reduction, you can allow yourself to step back, reflect, and become a heart-based wise leader.