Catapult Your Leadership Now: Why Mindfulness is the Mother of All Leadership Skills
Each year, billions of dollars are spent on developing professional women. There are scores of trainings on how to better communicate, be more agile, how to listen, be a better mentor, be more creative, be less reactive, be visionary…the list drones on.
It's enough to make one's head spin.
The skill-sets needed today are unlike those championed decades ago. A new era of leadership is not only emerging, but compulsory. No longer will we (or do we) celebrate and promote the dictatorial, hard-ass leader who generates their power in threats and aggressive backlashes.
Instead, the visionary, the strategic thinker, the listener, and the collaborator, the female executive who weighs the balance of short-term gain with long-term needs rises to the fore. The woman who understands that as she leads, her decisions impact a greater whole - namely, the communities to which she is connected.
And while all these skills can be taught, there is one practice that underlies all. The secret, the mother of accelerators, if you will: mindfulness.
As defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is:
The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
And then there's meditation, one of the most powerful ways to foster mindfulness. Contrary to popular misconception, meditation is not about clearing the mind.
The nature of the mind is to wander, to have thoughts. No matter how often you meditate, the mind will wander, and thoughts will surface. It's what the mind does, even if you are the Dalai Lama. The power lies in training a new response to, and awareness of, the wandering.
Meditation is equal parts about habituating the mind back to the present moment as it is noticing when and to where the mind wanders, and bringing it back to the present moment without judgment. These essential aspects of the practice serve as the backbone to nearly every leadership skill women need to thrive.
Here's a peek at why mindfulness is the mother of all leadership skills.
Mindfulness fosters intentionality.
In meditation, the exercise is to habituate the mind back to the present moment, or back to an object of focus, again, and again, and again. That training builds the neuro-muscle, so that when our mind wanders or when our attention gets jerked away, in life and the boardroom, we can more easily refocus.
In meetings, it's natural to get caught up in our thoughts, critical points, or the impending presentation, detracting from fully hearing emerging specifics that might require a change in approach. This fostering of intentionality enables us to be with what is, instead of what we "think" is present.
Mindfulness mitigates reactive tendencies.
Reactive tendencies are significant inhibitors of effective leadership. Some leaders lash out, others shut down, while some "go along to get along." When we react, it is as though our brains have been yanked into a state of fear or anger, undermining our ability to respond thoughtfully.
When we have developed the skill to notice - without judgment, but with discernment - where our mind is and the state it is in, we are more likely to pause. That pause enables us to respond purposefully and intentionally choose the next best course of action.
Ultimately, that pause not only influences the response, but how it is delivered. As the adage goes:
It's not only what you say, but how you say it.
Mindfulness cultivates creativity.
As we step out of our reactive tendencies, often propelled by anxiety and fear, we open up space to create and innovate. Studies show that when fear and anxiety override the brain, it's like an orchestra gone wrong - you can only hear the out-of-tune violin and trombone. It's nearly impossible to hear anything else, never mind allow creative insight to arise.
Meditation not only enables us to acknowledge our reactive desires and choose a different action or focus, but also allows us to hear the rest of the symphony and the space between the notes. It is always in that space that insight arises.
[Related: Getting Creative to Remain Inspired]
Mindfulness facilitates broader perspective.
As the practice becomes more habitual, it inherently builds greater awareness. The act of noticing that the mind has wandered, without judgment but with full awareness, enables access to more information about ourselves, our tendencies, and the present moment.
This expanded perspective in turn fosters enhanced discernment. As researched by the leading thought leaders of The Leadership Circle, core leadership competencies of Strategic Focus and Systems Thinker require these skills.
Mindfulness increases emotional intelligence (EI or EQ).
The previous school of thought was that there was no room for emotions in the workspace. Now, research and case studies show that EQ is critical for great leadership.
Meditation increases EQ through enhancing the ability to pause and check-in before choosing a response, as well as through the development of consistent, nonjudgmental awareness. Both of these skills foster EQ's key components, including self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, and social aptitude.
fMRI scans of the brain further support this claim, as these scans show that meditation directly increases the activity in areas of the brain related to empathy and compassion.
Through a surge in research, including Harvard Studies, we now know that with only eight weeks, meditation can rewire and build areas of the brain - not just related to empathy and compassion, but also to memory and learning. It can also rewire areas related to stress.
But just like the gym, it is a practice that needs consistency. A response I hear is often, "I don't have the time," but it can start with a mere minute. Though the benefits are extensive in the leadership realm, a mindful practice impacts all spheres of life.
Mindfulness truly is the mother, the great support, the compassionate listener, the teacher of all critical leadership and ultimately life skills. You can't afford not to take the time.
A certified professional coach and facilitator, Rachel Tenenbaum has a background in neuroscience. Her focus is on leadership development and personal development in and outside organizations. She offers a global community meditation on Sundays - you can find more information here.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
I AM Living
In addition to speaking engagements, and my individual clients, I am currently working on harnessing neuroscience to create cultural and mindset shifts within organizations. What I love about this work is that while for the organization it creates critical shifts that impact the bottom line, the workshops facilitated also transform lives. THAT is exciting! I get to do this one-on-one every day and it is so much fun AND when brought into organizations, it impacts... Continue Reading
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