What is Mindful Leadership and do we really need it? In the past decade, Mindfulness has become an integral part of employee engagement for companies like Google, Intel or Goldman Sachs, proving that Mindful Leadership is now more than just a mere buzzword or trend. It’s not only the big corporates with deep pockets that are venturing into Mindful Leadership, but also many SMEs that have started drawing the benefits from a concept that can be put into practice with literally no budget at all.
Today’s working world may be driven by pragmatism and functionality but that does not mean that there is no space for awareness and communicating your feelings. I would rather argue that we need more space for feelings and awareness because everything is so efficient and fast nowadays. Technology enabled tools may have increased connectivity and simplified work processes, but they have also led to a reduction of human contact. Boundaries between work and leisure time have become super unclear because working remotely has become so much easier due to digitalization. Seriously, who actually remembers the last time they left their laptop at the office during the weekend? All of these factors end up crowding our mind and ultimately lead to one thing: us not being able to “switch off” and relax. Sound familiar? Especially managers experience one or the other sleepless night, because they are responsible not only for themselves, but also others. This is exactly why being aware and mindful has become so popular.
There are mindfulness practices that may seem too esoteric or are even seen as a waste of time by some people (“I could have written four Emails during that mindfulness session”), but the concept itself has found extensive support in the past decade and is already an integral part of many working cultures in other, non-Western, parts of the world. Following up on our interview with Reiner Kraft, we would like to dive into the concept of awareness and what it takes to be a mindful leader in today’s business world.
What is Mindful Leadership?
The intention of Mindful Leadership is to embrace a mindset of present awareness and mindfulness as an underlying foundation to all your thoughts, words, and actions.
Think of mindfulness and awareness as two mental “add-ons” that will enhance your already developed capabilities and maybe even unlock some new ones. Some benefits may include a higher resilience to stress, more effective as a leader, better self reflection and being able to work with more focus. Janice Marturano, former vice president of General Mills and founder of the Mindful Leadership Institute, is (you might have guessed this) also a huge advocate of Mindful Leadership. In her book Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership (2015), she describes mindfulness as a form of being present in the moment, regardless of anything else, be it fear, anxiety, or hope of what you might gain out of this situation. For Marturano, all mindfulness requires is for you to be conscious of the moment you are in and not let external influences or thoughts corrupt it.
But how does one get there? Much like any other skill – say playing guitar or working out – you will have to train mindfulness and awareness on a regular basis in order to become good at it. Only once you have put constant work in, will you reap the benefits for you and your organization. As a foundation for this, Reiner Kraft has developed the Seven Pillars of Mindful Leadership.
Basic Principles of Mindful Leadership
As a foundation on which you can build your mindfulness training, Reiner Kraft has developed the Seven Pillars of Mindful Leadership. This is of course only a guideline, since every person or company has to decide for themselves how and in which capacity they want to implement this training. Here are the pillars we found to be most important for ourselves.
Consciousness Growth and Mindset Shift
First of all, you need to make sure that you develop a certain level of mindfulness yourself before you try to transfer it to others. How and to what extent you develop your own awareness is up to you. It also does not necessarily have to happen in the context of expensive leadership training. As mentioned at the beginning, Mindful Leadership can be trained on a very small budget, for example through daily meditation accompanied by an app.
The Mind – Cleanup and Upgrade
Kraft’s second and third pillars of Mindful Leadership include a heightened understanding of character and body, the conscious expansion of one’s strengths and the mental elimination of one’s weaknesses.
The abovementioned expansion of consciousness allows our strengths – but also weaknesses and negative thoughts – to become more present. The identification of these weaknesses and strengths is part of the second pillar. The goal is to know all negative and positive aspects of one’s own character and to actively perceive new thoughts and habits.
After having identified these strengths and weaknesses, the next goal (the third pillar), is the conscious minimization of negative thoughts and habits and the further identification and development of strengths. In other words, it is not enough to simply know oneself, one must also make use of this knowledge and actively improve.
Cultivating “Forgotten” Qualities
The “forgotten” qualities that Kraft refers to are those that have always been inherently part of you, but are either dormant or have never been properly trained or activated, such as gratitude, empathy or appreciation. Putting work and investing in these qualities initially increases the expansion of consciousness, but also acts as a catalyst for all other pillars and thus accelerates the process towards Mindful Leadership.
”Why am I Doing This?”
The question as to why Mindful Leadership is important can be answered with three words: purpose, vision and mission. The purpose is determined by the inner motivation: “Why am I doing this? The vision is the ideal picture of the future to work towards. This vision of the future should also be aligned with the aforementioned purpose. The mission is the way to get said purpose, the metaphorical road if you so will. According to Kraft, this comprises short-term tactical steps and long-term strategies that serve to realize this vision and fulfill the purpose.
How to Measure Success
If you are a friend of spreadsheets and numbers, we have to disappoint you here. Putting a number on your progress is extremely difficult. Rather, the progress improvement can be observed through other attributes such as higher receptivity and better concentration. In particular, however, employee feedback is one of the most effective ways of measuring whether you have developed as a leader.
Is an Investment Worth it?
Expensive Mindful Leadership training or even the transformation of a meeting room into a meditation room is useless if your workplace culture is toxic from the outset. Intense mindfulness training in a toxic environment will only enable employees to effectively block out the external environment for a while. An investment is therefore only worthwhile if the existing culture is already receptive to such a change. If you feel that the culture at your workplace is not ready for this, There are several ways to change this, read more about this here.
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Once the course is set, Mindful Leadership training can have a positive impact on the team and the company as a whole. In particular, managers who might have attracted attention due to their lack of empathy, for example, can benefit from such training. This requires that managers are self-reflective enough to see that they need to change and it also requires that the remaining management and the rest of the employees must be open to ideas and changes in this regard.
After weighing the small cost of investing in mindfulness against the potential impact of not doing so, there is really not much reason not to try it. From our own experience, we can say that the 15 minutes we invest in it every day are worth more than the four emails we could have written in the same amount of time.