Critical capabilities of mindful leaders
Mindful leadership is more than a passing fad. It is a response to a world that desperately needs the characteristics of mindful leaders.
Consider this from the Institute for Mindful Leadership:
Mindfulness is often defined as ‘nonjudgmental, moment to moment awareness.’ As leaders, it can also be thought of as the cultivation of leadership presence. Being present is quite a complex assignment in a world and global economy that measures time in internet seconds, conceives of the past as the most reliable tool for analyzing and assessing how to proceed into the future, is increasingly interdependent and relational, and dedicates little or no time toward the development of presence in its leaders. But presence can be cultivated and is necessary for a leader to bring all of his/her mind’s capabilities to leadership.
In short, we need mindfulness because we need presence, and we need presence because:
1. Decisions are having to be made faster and faster
2. The future is less determined by the past than ever before
3. The world is more connected and more complex than ever before
By being present in every given moment, mindful leadership lets us see every moment for what it is. We don’t try to rush from one decision to the next, nor do we try to make several decisions all at once. Erika Garms, in Practicing Mindful Leadership, writes of the power of mindfulness in helping us master our attention—something vitally important, given neuroscientists have shown that multitasking is not possible.
Mindful leadership lets people identify that strong inclination to react and the narrowing of focus under stress. It allows one to understand that “not knowing the answer” for a while is OK and enables the quiet and spaciousness needed to see clearly and respond.
Mindful leaders are better able to make decisions based on the facts and objective considerations, pausing to interrupt that reactive, decision-making process that is so often based on narratives rather than facts.
Mindful leadership allows leaders to develop self-awareness and self-compassion. As Bill George puts it, these traits make people:
…better able to cope with high levels of stress and pressure. They maintain the capacity to empower people to perform at a very high level even under very difficult circumstances. Authentic leaders never let their organizations lose sight of a shared sense of purpose and common values. With the unity that results from this alignment and consistency, organizations are able to take on very challenging goals, overcome great difficulties and adverse circumstances, and achieve exceptional results on a sustainable basis.
George frames the need for mindfulness as a double action. The first movement is that it moves us away from what he calls “failed leadership”—leaders who lack self-awareness and so sacrifice their values in the pursuit of success and its rewards (money, power, and recognition). The second movement is that it moves us toward what he calls “authentic leadership”—leaders who understand that the purpose of their leadership is serving their customers, employees, and investors, not their own self-interest.
“Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.” — Socrates
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