06/26/2014 12:16 EDT | Updated 08/26/2014 05:59 EDT

Leading Effectively Begins with Mindfulness

Portrait of confident businesswoman with business people in background

Your second quarter is coming to an end and your sales team isn't closing the deals it's forecasted. As expenses outweigh the current cash flow, your CEO is forced to prune the organization and puts the pressure on you to perform. You take the stand and demand immediate compliance from your team and explicitly set a high standard for performance -- will this leadership style yield the results you require?


According to Daniel Goleman's work shared in Harvard Business Review's "Leadership That Gets Results," these two leadership styles, coercive and pacesetting, have the most destructive overall effects on the climate of organizations and teams. Both stifle every index of employee engagement and the leader's sphere of influence.

So how do we choose a leadership style?

There are thousands of leadership guidebooks available, providing a breakdown of every angle of leadership and the most effective leadership styles for any situation. However, something that none of these books will do is build your inner ability to lead from a space of intention and choice aligned to your values, to lead mindfully in the most challenging of scenarios. The moment when you need to be at your most effective, an established mindfulness practice can be your greatest guide.

Studies have shown the exciting health benefits of thorough training in mindfulness and even brief periods of taking a purposeful pause. Now that we know the strength of mindfulness in developing self-regulation and self-awareness competencies to combat stress, there is increasing focus on the cognitive, social and emotional benefits of mindfulness. The US Army's Mind Fitness Training Institute states that the practice of mindfulness builds attention, mental agility, emotional intelligence, resilience and situational awareness. This is essential for today's VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) organizational landscape.

Today's organizational structures are increasingly socially dense, requiring rapid communication to match ever-evolving technological advancements. Currently, productivity within organizations is amplified to a level beyond any other in human civilization. These advances coupled with shifting customer demands are requiring organizations to pivot their business processes regularly. Companies not willing to adapt to these changes are allowing the opportunity for more agile organizations to take their highly skilled knowledge workers and eventually, their clients.

Just as leadership advice abounds, so does organizational advice, though again, none of these will develop the direct inner resources required to succeed. Hay Group in "Effectively Leading in a Matrixed Environment" states that the essential skills needed to lead in a highly connected organization are: empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness. Hay Group follows up in the study report that these skills are extremely hard to find in todays workforce.

Mindfulness practice broadly develops self-awareness and our ability to self-regulate. Mindful leadership is about using the competencies you cultivate in practice to lead with intention and choice, grounded in ethics. As a ship in turbulent waters, mindful leadership manifests as staying steady in the face of adversity and maintaining your leadership rudder amidst difficult decisions -- by practicing mindfulness we develop the ability to make the choice as to which leadership style to engage in the moment. Rather than reacting and standing on our heels in challenging situations, we've developed our inner resources to move towards difficult situations and lead in a more grounded, caring and deliberate way.

As I've moved through leadership roles, my mindfulness practice has been pivotal to effectively lead. I feel that a leader that leads mindfully maintains their focus through responsive decision-making and alignment with their values. They foster a sense of clarity by being stable and having the ability to look deeply into what is happening in the present moment. They breed innovation by cultivating the internal resources to pivot skillfully. Finally, they embody compassion by listening attentively and responding in a way that considers the basic reality that we are all interconnected. Ultimately, these abilities stem from inner strength that is developed and reinforced through contemplative practice. A great leader is one who creates positive change and this change must begin from within.