3 Ways to Be a More Mindful Leader

Being aware of your surroundings can help you become a more mindful leader. These tips can help get you there.
March 17, 2017

What can mail-order mattresses, adult coloring books and meditation apps teach you about leadership? The answer might surprise you, because these seemingly unrelated things are all part of one of the biggest trends in business today: mainstream mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the idea of adopting exercises or habits that allow you to be more aware of your surroundings (and yourself) to improve your performance by gaining more focus, calm and energy. And it is going mainstream.

Big brands as well as startups have propelled the mindfulness industry to become more popular. There are entire conferences dedicated to the topic and some business leaders are publicly advocating for more focus on it within corporations.

Despite this attention, you might still be wondering whether mindfulness is really something you can fit into your busy work day filled with urgent demands and looming deadlines. Since I first wrote about the trend of mainstream mindfulness back in 2014 in my annually published book of trend research called Non-Obvious, the ecosystem of what is described as the mindfulness industry has become a fundamental cultural force.

Finding ways to be more mindful in the midst of all the other demands on your time can easily seem like an indulgence. Perhaps it is—but it doesn’t have to be one that takes up a lot of excess time.

—Rohit Bhargava, CEO and founder, The Non-Obvious Company

Yet mindfulness is about more than lunchtime meditation or joining a yoga class. It is about getting a new perspective on the things you do by developing daily habits that allow you to combine powerful introspection with a more open mindset.

To help you to do this and add mindfulness to your daily routine, let's focus on three core lessons and tips I have shared in workshops with busy executives and entrepreneurs.

Tip #1: Be More Present

Meditation and yoga can seem intimidating to start. It is not always clear what to do and we can't all hire private instructors or visit yoga studios. The good news is there are more apps and tools like Headspace and Smiling Mind that can help you start slowly by focusing on your breathing patterns and how to bring more calm to your day.

Recently, American Express OPEN Forum launched The Psychology of Change program, which aims to help entrepreneurs deal with change based on their leadership style. (To discover your own leadership style, you can take the quiz.) The program offers four meditation podcasts that, depending on what type of leader you are, can help you to overcome an obstacle unique to your leadership style.

Another technique for training yourself (and your colleagues) to be more present is to intentionally take a “resetting" break at the start of a meeting by observing a two-minute long moment of silence. The thought of a 120-second pause may not seem like long, but maintaining two full (timed) minutes of silence can actually feel like an eternity.

During that time, you might find your brain funneling through all the daily minutiae (Who's picking up the kids? What are we having for dinner?). But then try allowing your mind to settle on the topics at hand: What is this meeting actually about and why am I here?

The goal is that everyone becomes able to participate in the meeting with less mental distraction and feels more centered to focus on the task at hand.

Tip #2: Make Art

Some of the most successful people in the world allow their minds to wander and explore their creative side by making art. Their ability to tap into this side of their brain may allow them to be more creative and come up with new concepts that others might not.

One way to do this is to take time during your next long conference call to try “meditative coloring." The term is a somewhat ceremonious way of describing the sense of calm that people may feel when taking a break simply to put pen to paper. The act of coloring in a coloring book designed for adults can be a separation from the daily stress of their lives and their devices.

If you are not a fan of coloring books or worried it might seem a bit juvenile for your workplace, you can also take up time-honored hobbies such as sewing or scrapbooking, which seem to be experiencing a resurgence right now. No matter what you try, the point is that making art in any form can be a way to relax and clear the mind.

Tip #3: Get Better Sleep

There may be a growing acceptance that sleeping longer is a strategy for success in everything from career focus to weight loss. Given the attention on sleep, it is not surprising that the industry around helping you get better sleep is also growing rapidly.

The global market for sleep aids and technologies is expected to top $84.9 billion worldwide by 2021, according to BCC Research, and a new range of companies are reinventing the process of manufacturing and delivering mattresses—as well as how we think about getting the most from ours. All this innovation is helping remind us about the important connection between sleep, performance and being at our best as leaders, employees and people.

Wondering how to find more time for sleep? Rather than stressing about how to get to bed sooner, one way is to focus on getting better sleep rather than simply increasing how long you are in bed for. Mindfulness exercises may help you fall asleep sooner, and using sleep tracking apps and technology can help you understand the ratio of deep to light sleep, which may help lead to a better understanding of your sleep patterns.

Finding ways to be more mindful in the midst of all the other demands on your time can easily seem like an indulgence. Perhaps it is—but it doesn’t have to be one that takes up a lot of excess time. Even five minutes a day can help you be more present in the conversations you are having and be more productive by being intentional about how to spend your time and how you save it.

If there is a single reason why mindfulness has gone mainstream, it may be because it can work. In a world filled with distractions, there can be few more powerful arguments than that.

Photo: iStock