Something significant is happening in the evolution of leadership. For some years now, mindfulness has been quietly gaining ground as an effective way to heal difficult work cultures and create a more sane and productive environment. Encouraged by a growing body of research, leading corporations and organizations are beginning to accept an alternative to just leading from the top down – it’s leading from the inside out.
Most of us deal with the same scenario each day, we get up in the morning to face an overhyped, highly-processed, lighting-fast world – and that’s just in our heads! It doesn’t get any easier when we arrive at work. We’re as busy as microchips, processing astounding amounts of data just to get through each moment. That’s challenging for anyone, but those in a position of leadership have the added pressure of acting as guides and creating conditions that result in productivity and success.
Like the morning sun, the idea of mindful leadership is quietly rising and beginning to impact a number of important areas in our society such as health care, education, government, finance and law.
“The global issues facing us are daunting. We can no longer afford to have leaders making reactive choices, or choices made with only partial attention…”
Those are the words of Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, Janice Marturano. A pioneer in the field of mindful leadership, Marturano had the distinct honor or being invited to speak at the World Economic Forum last year, where top leaders convened to discuss the most pressing global issues of the day. The fact that Marturano was invited to address this group speaks volumes about the growing acceptance of mindfulness practice in leadership circles. Marturano’s talk drew a capacity crowd and her workshop was at overflow. The meditation she led was a first for this prestigious meeting where typically full agendas leave little room for silence or stillness.
Writing in The Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, points to recent research in neuroscience showing that we focus our attention in many ways, drawing on different neural pathways. Goleman has grouped these modes into three broad areas of focus – yourself, others, and the wider world.
“Focusing inward and focusing constructively on others helps leaders cultivate the primary elements of emotional intelligence. A fuller understanding of how they focus on the wider world can improve their ability to devise strategy, innovate, and manage organizations.”
Mindful leadership is about developing skills that allow you to lead not only with a focused mind but also with an open heart. That’s a powerful combination. As a mindful leader, the intention is to bring your best qualities forward at every single moment and by setting that example, inspiring others to do the same.
Learning to arrive at stillness is key to the practice. By merely finding a space of stillness, breathing, and paying attention to what is already present in our experience, we tap into a core source of strength and character that serves us in many situations. Mindfulness training teaches us to be at ease with what is occurring in the moment. Instead of paying attention to how we wish things were – or how we fear they might be – we learn to work with the circumstances exactly as they are. That very realistic awareness is a useful skill. It acts to stabilize our churning emotions and informs our decisions when planning the best course forward.
Additionally, by stepping out of the running story in our heads and focusing on the present moment, we arrive at a clarity of thought that is often missing in high-stakes, high-stress situations. It’s precisely in those types of situations that we need to be grounded in our inner strength and view matters from a larger perspective. Over time, as we practice, a light comes on — we begin to realize that the complex and often confusing energetics of the workplace can also be experienced as an invitation to live more fully, compassionately, and realistically. We notice the rush and stress without becoming part of it, without contributing to it.
Today’s leaders face challenges that are increasingly more complex and therefore, more difficult to solve. Typical solutions that have been reliable in the past, either don’t work, or aren’t as effective as they once were. Mindful leadership is stepping up to bridge the gap with a resource that has been there all along – the higher faculties of mind and heart.
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