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20 February 2018
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Mindfulness and leadership

Mindfulness has in recent years become very popular. Some of you may have used this in your clinical practice or do this yourselves. We will look briefly at what it is and then consider the extent to which it could be applied at work and specifically to improve leadership skills.

Mindfulness – a brief introduction

Mindfulness simply means present moment awareness. There are over 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles published annually on the mechanics of mindfulness and its effects. It is all about the quality of our attention and awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading expert in mindfulness, defines it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”. He has done much to bring meditation practices into the mainstream, developing a programme called ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ (MBSR), primarily to help chronic pain sufferers who are dealing with stress, pain and illness.

Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University, co-founded Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as being as effective as drugs for preventing depression. Equally, mindfulness also works for the rest of us who aren’t depressed but want to keep up with the constant demands of the modern world

Ruth Baer defines mindfulness as “a type of awareness that focuses on the present moment with an attitude of friendly curiosity”. And according to Dr Danny Penman, mindfulness is “paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body and breath without judging or criticising them in any way. It is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future”.

For more on this and an introduction to meditation, see the Mindful website.   

Mindfulness and leadership

So what impact can mindfulness have on personal leadership? Damion Wonfor, an executive coach, summarises this succinctly.

This article on the Mindful website gives some suggestions on ways to be more mindful at work.  In addition there are more than 60 more articles there on mindfulness at work. There are work-related blogs on the Headspace website. And Michael West writes here about Mindful Organisations – Developing Flourishing Workplaces.  

The practice of mindfulness may also specifically benefit leadership. Richard Chambers from Monash University says: “At its heart, it helps us to get in touch with our own values, to sense our way inside, and really get clear on what's important to us, and what we'd like to express through our work. Obviously, learning to communicate mindfully means we communicate more effectively, we're better listeners, we're better communicators in general, so that has implications for leadership as well”.

There are currently 28 articles on leadership on the Mindful website. And to put this into context, Daniel Goleman in The Focussed Leader says that leaders need three kinds of focus:

  • Inner focus – the ability to monitor your own thoughts, feelings and emotions (and this is the basis for intuition and decision-making)
  • Other focus – the ability to empathise with others (the basis for all relationships and teamwork)
  • Outer focus – the ability to understand larger forces or systems (the basis for strategic thinking).

To improve the first of these, he says the way to forward is to practice mindfulness – such as in this short Harvard Business School video.  

The Harvard Business Review has published some useful papers on mindfulness – for example see Just 6 Seconds of Mindfulness Can Make You More Effective and Spending 10 Minutes a Day on Mindfulness Subtly Changes the Way You React to Everything and If You Aspire to Be a Great Leader, Be Present.

For more detail on mindful leadership, the Institute for Mindful Leadership has many useful resources:

Other resources






Online course:

How useful has this been for you? Have you used mindfulness in the past or do you use it now? Do you think it would be helpful to try out in future, particularly in the context of leadership? If you have any suggestions, views or comments, or any recommendations for other resources, why not share them on Twitter by joining the conversation at the FMLM twitter page, or on the FMLM LinkedIn group.

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