How To Be A ‘Mindful’ Leader

New leadership theories embrace a more subtle way of managing that includes an ability to pause, listen and reflect. Here’s what can be gained—and how to get there.
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In this turbulent and competitive marketplace, a crucial benefit of mindful leadership is not only recruiting talented employees but also retaining and engaging them. Being a mindful leader enables this.

A mindful leader needs to embrace tensions, and the modern workplace is full of tensions. There are tensions between long term and short term decision-making, between employee needs and organizational needs, between speed and quality, and more.

The central tension that managers need to embrace right now is between what I call the “doing” mode and the “being” mode.

As leaders, we have learned that we continually need to deliver results, be active and have the right resources at hand. This, obviously, is the “doing” mode, a traditional-leadership way of approaching organizational aims. However, new leadership theories have embraced a more subtle way of managing that includes an ability to pause, listen, reflect, be present with what appears, deal with uncertainty and go forward from a place of tension. This is the “being” mode.

Being a mindful leader and holding this tension manifests in an ability to better listen to our employees’, our customers’ and our own needs, and, from this place, to create services and products that add value. It’s the ability to listen deeply to our employees, engaging them and enabling them to fulfill themselves, grow and evolve, be creative, and for the organization to be innovative and thrive.

To start, let’s begin with the human side of our organizations.

First, create a workplace that nourishes and enables employees to bring their complete selves to the job.

See your employees beyond their functional roles and invest time and energy in creating rapport with your employees and between them. Be sure to set one-on-one meetings with individual employees as much as possible. At the beginning of the meeting, check in with them. How are they doing? What’s their state of mind? Listen to them nonjudgmentally. If some of your employees are going through a challenging time at home, listen compassionately. Listening doesn’t mean you need to offer a solution. But dare to be there for them and empathize with their situation so that they feel seen and appreciate your presence and understanding. Ask them what they need from you. How can you help them? There is a good chance that the employee will offer the right solution, and that this solution will emerge from the space that you create.

Second, promote a sense of community and a deeper connection between your team members.

This can start with a meeting where everyone can share a personal experience they had during the week. Create opportunities for nonrational learning experiences based on emotions and emotional connection between people. Allow people to know each other more broadly and prioritize their feelings and emotions. Create space for informal connections over coffee breaks. When people feel seen and sense a deeper connection with others, mutual support and goal achievement will follow.

Third, promote trust among your employees and encourage self-management.

This approach allows team members to create their own personal connection with work and aspire to their own goals. Allow employees to define their own boundaries through presence, listening and empathy. If there is a problem to solve, try to prevent the creation of bureaucratic procedures and service level agreements; often these result in people hiding behind procedures. Encourage creative processes using direct communication and interpersonal relationships based on mutual support and compassion.

Fourth, create a workplace that cherishes a flow experience.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “flow” is a mental state of functioning in which a person is completely immersed in a sense of energy, focus, engagement and enjoyment of a creative process. In order to foster an engaging workplace in which this is possible, get to know your employees. Be attentive to their needs, and explore their different motivations, and the areas where they want to develop and grow their own skill set. For example, an employee who feels underutilized and wants to develop in another area could be provided with a new job description or set of project goals aligned with their growth potential and personal aims.

Finally, managers play a key role in balancing team needs.

Managers need to hold the tension between the organizational growth opportunities and their employees’ wishes and abilities, so that true flow can be achieved. For example, if you have an opportunity to send an employee to a conference and they are nervous, start with that employee. Talk to them about their ability to adapt to this new opportunity, critically examine how they will handle any challenges that arise together and discuss how that employee might grow out of this experience. Make sure that the employee’s anxiety is lessened. Finding the right balance between the employee’s abilities and the opportunity through compassionate dialogue can increase the flow experience and in turn, benefit the workplace.

Being a mindful leader who embraces the tension between the doing and being modes will increase the energy, creativity, and meaning of work for your team members. Doing so will increase the retention and engagement of your employees as you promote mutual trust and support for everyone on your team.

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