Mindfulness is spreading in popularity and there has been an explosion in the number of apps, books, website etc available over the past few years. I was a leader in the education sector for 17 years and over the last few years of that, I began a mindfulness practice. I started mostly because I was aware of the negative effect that stress was having on my wellbeing. I knew that I was in danger of burnout, and really wanted to avoid that. My new practice supported that, but as my mindfulness journey progressed, I noticed that there were other, pretty significant benefits. I started to notice, for example, the way that I had been moving around the building, in a whirl of thoughts, not picking up all the important things going on around me. I began to be more mindful as I walked through corridors, and started to spot more positives in what staff were doing and also saw an increase in the number of meaningful, short conversations I was having with staff, pupils and parents. On the flip side, I also became more aware of things that weren’t in line with our vision and values and needed attention. I also managed to stop myself from ‘multi-tasking’ which made me less stressed and more productive.
So what is mindfulness?
The master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally’.
Liz Hall, author of ‘Mindful Coaching’ brings in the expression ‘mind-body-heart-fullness’ because it is about much more than just the mind.
Meditation and mindfulness aren’t the same. Mindfulness practices can include simple things like noticing your breathing, scanning the body for sensations/tension and sitting in the garden taking in the information from your senses. If you want to have a go, I’ve posted a really short (under 2 mins) breathing exercise on my YouTube channel https://youtu.be/-RyMCnUMpSc
How does mindfulness support leadership wellbeing?
I’m now a leadership coach, and one of the most common problems leaders bring to coaching sessions is overthinking and worrying excessively about things. People frequently get tangled up in thoughts, and when you’re a leader and you’re really passionate about your organisation and the work it does, the stakes become higher and the rumination more destructive. You run through events that have passed, analysing everything you did and said and you plan conversations in the future where you set things straight and sort things out. All this usually happens when you’re trying to relax in the evenings, weekends and on holiday, which gives a double whammy of wellbeing challenge – the pain of the rumination itself and the loss of relaxation time!
When we practice mindfulness, we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings as just that, thoughts and feelings that are passing through. We gain a sense of detachment, realising that thoughts don’t define us and don’t have to be believed or acted upon. If we notice and accept a feeling and pass through it, research has shown that it takes around 90 second from start to finish. The reason that negative feelings often seem to stick around for a lot longer is because our thinking minds take us into a loop, revisiting the triggers, sometimes fighting the feelings themselves and often judging ourselves in the process.
Mindfulness helps build our awareness of thoughts and feelings, so that we notice them arising, accept them as they are and let them pass through. It can also help us ‘fill our cup’ as we notice and feel grateful for all the good things around us. Our senses help us connect with nature and humanity.
How does mindfulness improve leadership effectiveness?
1. Strategic thinking
Although strategic planning is essentially about creating a strategy to move towards goals in the future, it works best when strongly rooted in the present, in deep evaluation of where we are right now, as an organisation. It’s about taking in information, from all our senses, as well as our gut instinct and having conversations where we listen to understand rather than respond.
Implementing strategy is about making things happen in the here and now – supporting the team with challenges that are arising and noticing what’s needed.
Reviewing strategy is about evaluating how things are now – asking questions like ‘where have we shifted to?’ You notice the impact of your actions, or the lack of it. You become aware of where you’re aligned with your values, and where you’re not.
Multitasking is an unproductive and stressful way to work. When we do things mindfully, we make an active choice to bring our attention to a task, noting its purpose and how it aligns with our values. We can bring our full attention to the task, making it happen more quickly and effectively.
3. Better relationships
Being fully present in conversations builds deeper connections. Listening is a key leadership skill. If we can still our thoughts and quieten our ego, then we can truly listen to understand what the other person is saying and bring a spirit of curiosity to the interaction. Creativity and possibility are born out of being able to speak without interruption.
Mindfulness plays a big part in my current role as a leadership coach. It helps me to be fully present for my clients in our sessions, and listen fully and actively to what they have to say. Furthermore, it helps me empower my clients. I help leaders to build their awareness of their own feelings and thought patterns. When they notice negative thought patterns we can explore together where they came from and how they are getting in the way. Similarly, with self-doubt, we can examine the limiting beliefs that are barriers to personal growth and development. I help leaders develop their emotional agility – recognising and naming their feelings, accepting them as they are and being kind to themselves as they move through them, which in turn helps them to be compassionate and skilled in dealing with emotional moments that come up in their work.
If you are looking for better wellbeing and effectiveness as a leader, coaching with me could really help. Please get in touch by booking a complimentary consultation chat, using this link https://calendly.com/mrstcoaching/complimentary-consultation?month=2022-08
Mindful Coaching – Liz Hall, Kogan Page 2013
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness meditation for everyday life – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Piatkus, 1994
Resources you might find useful:
· How to Be a Productivity Ninja – Graham Allcott
· Emotional Agility – Susan David
· Atlas of the Heart – Brene Brown
· Healthy Minds Innovations
· Insight Timer
This is particularly useful for RAIN practices – recognising, allowing, investigating and nurturing emotions.