Lead the way

Boat Steering Wheel_Joseph Barrientos_Stocksnap

Working at the intersection of mindfulness and business, I’m very familiar with skepticism. Doubt, polite inattention, and a fair amount of side eye are old acquaintances of mine. While mindfulness has captured quite a bit of spotlight in the business world lately (see Google, Aetna, and Salesforce, to name just a few), there are still plenty of people out there who associate any sort of quiet, stillness, and especially meditation with being disconnected from reality, where big ideas, decisions and money are made. We’re supposed to be agitated to prove we’re working hard, and if you stop moving or fail to respond for even a few seconds, you’re going to be left behind. So they say, anyway. You don’t have to be psychic to know I disagree, but you may be surprised as to why. 

No matter your industry, role or function, business is stressful. Attempting to plan for an uncertain future, developing strategies for growth against odds, collaborating with people whose priorities may not seem to totally align with yours, and on and on…every day is full of reasons for your blood pressure to skyrocket. Even little daily stresses can begin to compound, activating your body’s “fight or flight” response without ever giving you the opportunity to diffuse the perceived “threat.” Keep this pattern up and you’ve got chronic stress, and the litany of ailments that can produce.

You can see where I’m going with this. Taking a few minutes to catch your breath or engage in some mindful movement can help deescalate your physical stress levels, which can yield meaningful results both for your immediate sense of well being, and also your long-term health. But like I said, you saw that coming. There’s more to it, though.

Mindfulness teaches you to manage discomfort, which work-related stress definitely brings with it. It gives you the perspective and the skillset to take a beat in between your internal reaction to a stressful situation, or even a difficult person, and your external reaction to them. In other words, it helps you keep your cool. It puts you in a better frame of mind for making decisions, thinking creatively, and developing innovative solutions. You’re less likely to overreact, or respond reflexively in a way that you later regret.

So really, mindfulness makes you powerful.

The reason mindfulness is such a perfect compliment to business is that it can simultaneously diffuse, clarify and empower in challenging circumstances. Mindful leaders are better at making holistically informed decisions, they are more compassionate yet clear with their teams, and they are more present during complex – even heated – conversations. Perhaps their biggest superpower? They’re not perfect, and they know it. There will be days when they aren’t as clear and present as others, and they know that’s ok. They don’t amplify the difficulty with self-judgment and negative baggage. They let it be, find their breath, and give themselves the space to try again. They’re more likely to offer those around them the same opportunity, to make mistakes and to grow from them. They instill trust, build loyalty, and reward authentically.

The key to this magical leadership kingdom? You were born with it. Stop, breathe, notice, repeat. Breathe in, breathe out. Keep going, and for just a few minutes, just do this. No incense, no chanting, not a monk or a meditation cushion in sight. It takes less time that you think, and offers benefits that will pay dividends for years to come.

Photo credit: Joseph Barrientos

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