How to bring mindful leadership practices into your org structure

Cover Image for How to bring mindful leadership practices into your org structure
Charlotte Austin
Charlotte Austin

It will come as no surprise to hear that stress has been on the rise globally over the past decade (reaching a dizzying peak during 2020). Both at home and at work, people are looking for ways to help reduce the worry and anxiety of modern life, while increasing creativity and a sense of purpose. Where a 2018 study conducted online showed that just over 15% of Brits had engaged with mindfulness as a concept, a quick google search for ‘mindfulness’ today now yields over 500 million results.

As individuals continue to reevaluate their priorities post-pandemic, a lot of focus has been placed on how workplaces can adapt to better meet the needs of their employees. To keep teams engaged, companies need to think beyond short-term wellness perks and adopt a longer-term strategy into their management style to provide the authenticity, transparency and flexibility employees are looking for. Enter mindful leadership: a key tool in strengthening employee health for the long term.

What is mindfulness leadership?

Mindful leadership is a specific management style that takes the core principles of mindfulness, namely self-awareness and compassion, and applies that to a corporate or leadership setting. In doing so, mindful leaders aim to develop more authentic interpersonal relationships with their employees and colleagues, ultimately leaving them feeling seen and heard during their interactions and more engaged in their work.

While it might sound easy to adopt this style of leadership, the qualities required to effectively lead in this way take time to cultivate and require company-wide buy-in to apply as a management style across the organisation. An important part of this leadership philosophy is also to give the same consideration to oneself—a lead by example methodology, which requires managers to feel comfortable continuously working on their own self-development and communication style.

What are the benefits of mindful leadership?

Similar to other mindfulness practices, mindful leadership helps individuals to reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm to better navigate their professional responsibilities without fear of burnout. Research conducted by the Mindful Workplace Alliance found that implementing mindful leadership training in the workplace had a profound effect across different areas of the organisation, from increased employee wellbeing, creativity and productivity, to lower levels of overwhelm and a drop in absenteeism. In fact, software company SAP reported a 200% return on investment, with team engagement and leadership trust increasing along with it.

When LinkedIn implemented mindfulness into their leadership structure, they felt the benefits most keenly in their talent acquisitions—acting as a magnet for highly skilled applicants who saw mindfulness practices as an important company benefit. For existing employees, investing in mindful leadership training can be effective in rounding out traditional styles of management training, creating more successful leaders that are better equipped to handle future growth.

The clarity that mindfulness can bring to an organisation isn’t just restricted to senior leadership though—junior employees feel the benefits of a more present management team too. A mindful leader is more open and approachable, encouraging better communication with employees and a keener awareness of their needs. This flow of frictionless communication and trust can have countless benefits, from increased confidence to greater engagement in the overall company mission and leadership. So, whether you’re asking your team to step up in presentations or meet a stretch goal, you know they’re ready to give their best back to you.

How do you become a mindful leader?

According to Dr. Keren Tsuk, CEO and author of ‘Mindfully Wise Leadership’, there are 5 key qualities that form a mindful leader:

1. Compassion

To build trust within teams it’s important to first lay a foundation of compassion. This can manifest in a multitude of ways, from organising team lunches and regularly checking in on your team’s career development, to really honing your onboarding process to make new starters feel supported. Compassion is also about breaking down walls, showing your team how you overcome problems and letting them know help is at hand if they need it.

2. Authenticity

Dynamic teams need direction and feedback to be responsive and not reactive—that’s where authenticity is key. Mindful leaders need to open up channels of clear communication so employees feel seen and heard, especially when navigating challenging or complex projects. Similarly, being transparent, for example, admitting to an error in judgement, sets a precedent that it’s ok to make mistakes if you then take ownership of it and right the ship. Authenticity ultimately cultivates a crucial sense of belonging that’s needed for teams to manoeuvre more easily in a fast-paced environment.

3. Intuitiveness

How many times have you been told to listen to your gut? It’s easier said than done unless you’ve honed the ability to really listen to your intuition. Cultivating a stronger bond with your inner self means taking the time out to notice your patterns, ways of thinking and feelings without judgement (just as you would if you were meditating). It’s only once you’re able to see how your thoughts and feelings manifest into actions, that you can stop and assess how you truly feel in the moment and make decisions with clarity. Being intuitive allows you to filter rational and pragmatic choices with bigger picture thinking, for example being able to sense that a particular decision doesn’t align with your goals or values, and instil a sense of confidence in your team.

4. Presence

Between emails, phone calls and instant messaging, being present can sometimes feel like an impossibility. However, cultivating presence can have a profound effect on both leaders and their teams. When we’re present, we can tune into what’s going on around us more effectively, from reading body language to noticing if we’re stretching ourselves too thin. Great work doesn’t get done if you’re simultaneously trying to respond to an email, talk to a colleague and listen to a podcast. Likewise, if you’re checking your phone during a one-to-one, you’re effectively telling your report that you’re not listening. So, next time you’re in a meeting, make a point of turning off distractions, actively listen and participate—your colleagues will thank you.

5. Flexibility

The culmination of compassion, authenticity, intuitiveness and presence is a flexible mindset; that is, the ability to step back from reactive behaviour and be able to pivot without hardship. Flexibility is all about breaking down black and white thinking, and stopping yourself from labelling experiences and outcomes as good or bad. Instead, mindful leaders are more resilient to change, developing autonomous teams that can bend to evolving business needs without breaking. Creating a culture of adaptability, particularly in volatile global markets, is something every business should be trying to encourage.

How to implement mindful leadership in the workplace?

Introducing mindful leadership can be done in a variety of ways but best practice is to familiarise your organisation with the concept of mindfulness first. Organise mindfulness workshops, drop-in sessions, or access to further resources so everyone can feel the benefits for themselves. Once your organisation has established mindfulness as part of the wider work culture, invest in leadership training for your most senior managers and influential employees. The trickle down effect will permeate all layers of your org structure if your managers are bought into this leadership style. Create playbooks and update your recruitment materials to let new starters understand how things operate from the get go. And finally, regularly check in with employee engagement so you can provide extra support where it’s needed.

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