Greater mindfulness can make you a much more effective leader. It will give you better insight on both employees and customers, and help you make better decisions. That advice comes from Charles Francis, author of Mindfulness Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding True Inner Peace and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute.
Sounds good--so how do you achieve greater mindfulness? Meditation is certainly one powerful way to do it, and it comes with health benefits, including better cognition, a stronger immune system, and possibly greater longevity. But there are other mindfulness techniques you can use during the workday that will dramatically boost your leadership skills by helping you tune in both to yourself and those around you. "We're trying to achieve greater awareness of ourselves, of our relationships to other people and to the rest of the world," Francis explains.
Whether or not you meditate, consider using these simple techniques throughout your workday. See if they don't improve your abilities both for managing employees and for dealing with all the challenges that come your way:
1. Stopping and breathing
"We just stop whatever we're doing and take three to five mindful breaths," Francis says. A mindful breath is a slow, deep breath during which you focus your mind on your breathing. This extremely simple technique is particularly effective when you're feeling upset or stressed. But because of the way our minds spin along, gaining speed as we zoom through the workday, it's useful any time. It will help slow your speeding mind and improve your concentration, Francis says. "As our minds become agitated, it's hard for us to focus," he explains. And it's a time investment you can make on even the busiest of days, since the entire process takes no more than about 15 seconds.
2. Mindful walking
Mindful walking is a form of mindfulness meditation that you can do without making time for it in the course of your day. "Most of us do a lot of walking," Francis notes. "Instead of allowing ourselves to get lost in thoughts of the past or future, if we pay attention to our walking, we're calming our minds."
Again, this is an extremely simple technique. While walking, focus on one sensation of your walking, perhaps the feel of your feet making contact with the floor or ground. If that's not enough to fully engage your attention, count your steps from one to five, then go back to one again. "You want to try to keep your mind in the present moment, and keep stray thoughts at bay," Francis explains. If you're not in a hurry, keep a slow pace so as to slow your mind. You can do this any time, while walking from one part of your office to another, or for a few minutes during a break, especially if your workplace is near a park or other good walking spot. Mindful walking will bring you some of the same benefits that seated mindfulness meditation will.
3. Attentive listening
How often has this happened: You're introduced to someone new and a few minutes after learning the person's name, you have no idea what it is? "The reason isn't that we have a bad memory; we didn't store it in our memory to begin with," Francis explains. "We're usually thinking about what we're going to say--none of us wants an awkward silence. We're thinking ahead, and in the process, we miss that the person told us their name."
Instead, Francis suggests looking into the person's eyes and listening mindfully to what he or she is saying. "Don't allow yourself to be distracted by whatever else is going on in the room, things you need to do, or things that happened before," he says. This technique is likely to have a big impact on your relationships with customers, employees, and anyone else you speak with.
"When you're engaged in a conversation with someone and you know that person is listening to you, you feel a greater connection," Francis says. "Think about it: If you feel like your manager appreciates what you have to say, then you feel like a more valued member of the company and you're probably going to put more effort into your work. You're going to want to be there, and your interactions with other people will be better as well."
On the other hand, he says, "If we feel like our manager isn't interested in us, we're not going to be great around other people. Either way, it has a ripple effect."
4. Mindful speech
The other side of attentive listening is being mindful about how we express our thoughts, Francis says. "We often don't think much about the impact our words will have or how other people will understand them," Francis says. "We talk about what we want in the manner we want, and people from different cultures or even different regions may interpret the things we say in different ways."
Speaking more mindfully takes a little time and practice to develop, he adds. "Often we simply react to what someone else has said. Someone says something, and something else pops into our mind right away. We don't necessarily think about the consequences of our response." So the first step, he says, is to take a few seconds' break before we speak. "By pausing a little, we can think a little more about how we can respond in a way the other person understands better."
Often, he adds, not just what we say, but also the tone of voice, gestures, and mannerisms that accompany our statement can make a big difference to how that statement is heard and understood. So once again, Francis recommends slowing down. "If we're more calm and speak a little more slowly, we subconsciously infuse a more peaceful content into the conversation. That really helps keep the stress level down in a work environment."
The next step in mindful speech is to tune in to how your speech, and your presence in general, is being received. That skill can take a while to develop, Francis says, even for him. "I started paying attention to how people seemed to feel when I was in their presence," he says. "Did they feel at ease? Tense? Indifferent? I noticed that sometimes people seemed to feel a little tense. It wasn't real anxiety, but people felt a little guarded, and I could see that."
With some careful observation, Francis realized that comments he intended as humorous were making others a little uncomfortable. "They felt guarded and didn't want to say anything that would open them to being ridiculed," he explained. "I started paying attention to the words I used and to my demeanor. I tried to be more loving, kind, and respectful. When I'm around people, I try to pay attention to what's happening with them. When you learn to put people at ease, especially in the workplace, you create more harmony and better communication."
5. Writing meditation
Francis's final workplace technique is what he calls writing meditation. While some meditation experts recommend journal writing as a mindfulness technique, Francis takes a different approach. He invites students to simply write out the words of a meditation or affirmation by hand for 10 to 15 minutes a day. (If you want to give it a try, you can download the text here.) That's all you have to do, he says. "The words imprint themselves on your subconscious, so that literally after a few days you find yourself behaving differently without any conscious effort. What it does is change our attitude and our feelings about people in general. If we see the world in terms of people who are out to get us, and we need to get them before they get us, this will change our attitude."
It can have far-reaching effects, he adds. "When our feelings about others change, the way we deal with them will naturally change. It helps us heal wounds from the past, because it helps us forgive people who've harmed us. It's a very powerful tool that can help us tremendously in the workplace." With a calmer frame of mind, you can concentrate better, become more creative, and gain a greater ability to see the big picture, he adds. "Think of the impact these tools can have on a leader," he says. "Leaders who can see the far-reaching consequences of their actions, and those of their organizations, become more than just leaders. They become visionaries."