'Elevating the Experience'

How mindfulness builds a strong leadership presence

Posted by Nina Mostafa on 29/11/16 15:50

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According to research conducted by Harvard University, about 47 percent of us spend our waking hours thinking about something other than what we’re doing. What this means is that we are not present or conscious in the moment to fully listen, connect and engage with events, opportunity and people around us; all vital elements to being an effective leader.

The Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University claims that mindfulness enhances the qualities organisations need. Qualities such as increased brain-wave activity, enhanced intuition and better focus. All also vital elements to being an effective leader.

Mindfulness contributes to raising your awareness of self and of those around you. It increases your ability to be mindful of your emotions, reactions and therefore, your behaviours. These are all exemplary qualities to have as a leader.

It increases your ability to be mindful of your emotions, reactions and therefore, your behaviours.

To be an effective leader, leaders are taught to lead via the three vital pillars of leadership:

  1. Leading from within
  2. Leading by example
  3. Leading others

So what if as a leader, you practise mindfulness? How much more engaging would your leadership presence be? How much more effective and focused would you be as a leader?

A mindful and focused leader is a leader with a strong leadership presence. Someone who can lead better towards his or her vision via a structured business strategy.

Let’s look at how mindfulness can boost each pillar of leadership.

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Leading from within: Self-awareness

In order to lead from within, a leader must first develop self-awareness. This is about knowing who you are more than your likes and dislikes. It’s about knowing your characteristics, personality traits, what drives you and ticks you off, and what motivates you. And it’s about being secure in that knowledge. For only from this secure knowledge, can you then lead from within. This is because you stop second guessing yourself and make decisions with conviction and wisdom, even in challenging situations.

It’s about knowing your characteristics, personality traits, what drives you and ticks you off, and what motivates you.

Learning by parking the ego and taking time to self-reflect helps you to achieve this sense of self-awareness. This is why mindful leaders understand the importance of being grounded and centred to achieve self-awareness, and vice versa.

Centred being and being centred

In yoga and meditation, being centred is the search and practice to achieve balance between the two polarities of being human. It is about finding a middle ground to respect both the outgoing, extrovert, active side and the ingoing, introvert, receptive side. Being and staying centred means that you are grounded and secure in your emotions and who you are as a person.

It is about finding a middle ground to respect both the outgoing, extrovert, active side and the ingoing, introvert, receptive side.

Mindfulness can help you achieve this. Being mindful means that you are aware and conscious of everything that is occurring around you at the present moment, including your own emotions, thoughts and physical sensations. The combination of mindfulness with being centred means that you take ownership of those emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations while neither projecting them onto others nor excessively reacting to the moment.

When you are centred, you are better able to deal with difficult events, such as conflicting priorities or challenging conversations. You are also better able to have conversations that ensure you assert yourself positively and that demonstrate a desire to collaborate with others. When you are centred, you are also more able to stay grounded and see the logic, facts and data in situations for what they are, rather than react to them, which means that decisions you make come from a more, focused, secure and informed source.


Leading by example: Authenticity

In order to lead by example, a leader must be authentic. What’s more, leaders need to practise authenticity at a consistent level, otherwise, it defeats the whole purpose of being authentic.

Mindful leaders know the importance of bringing heart, soul and passion into their work. They practise Simon Sinek’s philosophy of ‘Start with Why and that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” These leaders approach situations with real experience and with honesty. Leaders who lead by example walk the talk and show the way.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

And as identified by leadership author Karl Moore in his Forbes article, authenticity in leadership presence is a critical component of leadership. This is what makes you stand out as a leader in the new organisation.

Mindful leaders understand the importance of clarity of mind and thought to stay authentic and passionate. They are not led astray by white noise and remain motivated to stay true to the cause of their passion.

Emotional and mental awareness

According to ‘A Guide to Understanding & Practicing Mindfulness’, “when you are mindful, your awareness is in the current moment. You become keenly aware of yourself and your surroundings, but you simply observe these things as they are. You are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not react to them in the way that you would if you were on ‘autopilot’.”

Having a sense of emotional and mental awareness in the workplace means that you are not draining your energy reacting negatively to every single incident that occurs. Exercising mindfulness allows you greater control over shifting targets or deadlines and an ability to better run your time rather than letting it run you. As a leader, this is important because you want to remain authentic and motivated while possessing the agility and ability to lead your team no matter what life throws at you.

Clarity of mind and thought

Being mindful and having mindfulness gives you the ability to gate keep negative white noise from entering into the heart of your thoughts. It gives you the skill to stay focused and authentic so as to have clarity in any situation. This is important when making key decisions that resonate well with goals and objectives, rather than decisions made as a result of feeling pushed to the edge or under duress.

There’s much to be said about taking a deep breath. You’d be amazed how much it helps. Getting to a state of zen is indeed a bonus. But even just breathing hearty breaths from the diaphragm can work wonders to calm the nerves and allow you to manage your state. Apart from assisting in better state management, it also aids in keeping your focus.

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Leading others: Compassion

In order to lead others, a leader must practise compassion. The very act of leading others involves interpersonal relationships, so if a leader is unable to value the quality of the relationship, how are you meant to lead? Mindful leaders therefore appreciate the need to build skills that create a culture of communication, humanity and empathy essential for nurturing others and allowing them to flourish to the best of their ability and performance.

Mindful leaders therefore understand the importance of practising Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence

Author, professor and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, Jon Kabat-Zinn said: “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”

Emotional Intelligence guru Daniel Goleman supports Professor Kabat-Zinn’s philosophy. He writes that “there are no emotional hijacks in open awareness – just the richness of the moment.” Listening and empathy are strong elements that work hand in hand when demonstrating Emotional Intelligence. Whether in a professional or personal sphere, it provides you with the ability to intuitively tap into any situation you face on a deeper level. This kind of insight is priceless for any leader. It gives you the ability to build trust, connection and rapport, and gain respect from your peers and those you lead.

Mindfulness builds a strong leadership presence

Authors of the book 'Own The Room', Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins are executive coaches who help clients find their signature voice in order to build a strong leadership presence. They describe signature voice as ‘a unique leadership presence that is confident, authentic, and effective’. Authenticity is a hot topic in leadership research and is seen as a critical component. The authors define leadership presence as “the ability to consistently and clearly articulate your value proposition while influencing and connecting with others.

Your personal brand and your leadership presence inevitably becomes a part of your signature voice. And vice versa. For a leader, authenticity, consistency and credibility lead to the ability to build trust, resulting in a positive personal brand, while compassion leads to the ability to maintain that trust resulting in a strong leadership presence.

Since mindfulness promotes being present in the moment, it certainly bodes well to practise mindfulness to feed a positive personal brand and a strong and influential leadership presence.

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Topics: opinion, listening, leadership, performance, influence, conflict resolution, managing nerves, leadership presence, personal brand, stress reduction