Mindfulness: A Powerful Leadership Practice

In today’s accelerating business climate, leaders are taxed with assimilating a constant onslaught of information, typically around the clock, and are required to do more with less. In the last 10 years, the number of leaders who identify job stress as significant in their lives has doubled. According to the U.S. Department of Health, 70 percent of work-related physical and mental complaints are linked to stress. This is especially critical because leaders are simultaneously challenged to be more innovative, strategic, and productive. Leading at today’s breakneck pace requires clarity, resilience, and energy.

More and more, leaders are looking to improve not just their skills, but their “states of being,” as well. One of these states of being is mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment.” Recent neuroscience research points to the criticality of this for leaders. 

In her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova explains that the brain is constantly assembling data from the inner and external worlds and monitoring that data for what’s worth attending to. Because leaders are faced with managing more priorities in less time, they need the ability to decipher what’s most important. Attention is a limited resource.

Mindfulness practice, even in small amounts, increases mental focus, depth of thinking, and attention span. It also enhances mood and reduces stress. More and more, organizations are recognizing the power of mindfulness and supporting employees by providing mindfulness tools, training, and “laboratories.” Their goal is to help leaders become more effective, resilient, and mentally sharp. Despite common misperceptions, mindfulness techniques can be simple, accessible and quick. Body scanning, deep breathing, centering, and even “portable” mindfulness practices can significantly enhance mental, emotional, and physical health. Mindfulness resources include The Institute for Mindful Leadership, www.instituteformindfulleadership.org and The Mindfulness Institute, www.themindfulnessinstitute.com.