Among the most significant qualities demonstrated by effective leaders is the ability to make meaning of their experiences by interpreting the deeper insights that can be gained from daily interactions in the workplace, especially when times are challenging.
This reflective quality is like a muscle; it develops when exercised and atrophies when not. It’s the one leadership muscle that requires you to practice mindful working, so the flow of your day is intentional, rather than series of “bush fire” events that consume your attention and sap your energy. Mindful working allows you to become the centered leader on which others can depend.
As you engage in mindful working, the benefits will become evident. You’ll feel more balanced; you will become less reactive and more thoughtful as events in the workplace unfold; and you’ll be far more able to effectively manage stress. There are a number of actions that you can implement immediately to become more mindful at work:
Know who you are
For many of us, work is a large part of our identity, and our connection to the organization is often a way in which we describe ourselves to others. But, the best leaders I know realize that they’re more than their job title or company affiliation. They operate with a defined set of values that align with their identity, and those values are the anchor that tethers them to their own true north. In challenging situations, they are able to act with authenticity and centeredness.
Take action: Write down the five values that matter most to you and be able to articulate what they look like in action. When you’re venturing outside the zone of those values, you’ll know it immediately.
Develop an introspective practice
Research has consistently shown the benefits of an introspective practice. Whether it’s taking time to quietly gather your thoughts before a meeting or engaging in mind-stilling practices such as meditation, reflection is a leader’s ally, right down to the cellular level. Studies prove, for example, that meditative practice leads to changes in the concentration of gray matter in the areas of the brain that are associated with learning, memory, emotional control and insight.
Take action: Find an introspective practice that works for you, be it meditation, yoga, running, hiking, or a quiet walk in the park. Regardless of the form of practice that you use, introspection helps you make consciously driven decisions.
Every workplace is ripe with stressors that can periodically derail your sense of centeredness and prevent you from working in a mindful manner. One of the first changes you’ll observe when things are stressful or hectic is in your breathing pattern, which can become shallow, or in some cases, you may find yourself holding your breath. But breathing is what sends oxygen to your brain to combat stress by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, so you need to breathe most effectively when events at work are most challenging.
Take action: Dr. Emma Sepala of Standford University, who has done research on well-being at work, has studied the effects of breathing on stress reduction. In a helpful video, Sepala demonstrates how to practice mindful breathing in just five minutes. Watch it below, or go here.
Practice task presence
Daily workday demands and looming deadlines can falsely lead you to believe that multi-tasking is the only way to get everything done. Yet, the real result is that your attention to any one activity is diluted, reducing the quality of what you might otherwise produce.
Take action: Going forward, try giving full attention to one task, meeting, issue, person or challenge at a time. Turn off electronic devices that can pull your attention in other directions and be fully present to the moment you’re living. You will see that this practice allows you to become more productive and a better problem-solver because it improves your ability to listen and exercise focused thinking.
Schedule a 20-minute meeting with yourself
Many leaders I know take time to plan for the coming week by carefully mapping out their schedule and listing the objectives to be achieved in the days ahead. The very best leaders I know do more than that. They take time each week for a private meeting, where they are the only attendee. That time is used to reflect and answer the question, “What did I learn about myself through all of my experiences this week?”
They practice a form of contemplation that I call “work-inspired reflection,” which allows them to make meaning of their experiences, learn more about their own leadership and plan for how they want to apply that learning in the future.
Take action: To get started, create a calendar hold for a weekly 20-minute meeting with yourself (it’s usually best to do this at the end of each week). Mentally revisit the prior week, day by day, reflecting on key experiences and interactions. Record your insights in a leadership journal that you keep for that specific purpose. Keep those journal entries short and simple by bulletpoint-listing one to three insights that you’ve gained about yourself. Then take a moment to reflect on how you will apply those insights to the actions you will take the following week. Over time, you will create a new habit, one that allows you to be more effective at work and evolve as a better leader.
Let lightning strike
It’s not enough for you as a leader to practice mindful working; you need to encourage your team to do the same. Obviously, sharing your methodologies with your team begins to make the practice of mindful working a part of the culture. It’s even more helpful to create situations that inspire the team to become more reflective.
Take action: Build reflection into team meetings by creating a “rapid-fire lightning round” process at the end of each meeting. During this phase of the meeting, each person is asked to quickly share one insight that they gleaned from the meeting. The process doesn’t take much time and can be a powerful way to encourage presence and intentional focus, making meetings not only productive, but a learning experience for your team.
One of the ultimate benefits of mindful working is that it increases your own level of engagement at work and fuels your sense of thriving. You have everything to gain from leading from this very centered place.
Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.
When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or her blog.