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Mindfulness as a Leadership Competency, Say What?

For some, the words "mindful" or "mindfulness" conjure up images of people meditating on mats, on a spiritual quest. These words and this concept can feel "out there" or "woo woo" to many. Contrast this with the term leadership, which conjures up images of power, strength, business results, influence. At first glance, one might think that each concept has nothing do to with the other, but in my view, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Following are three reasons why I believe that the principles and practices of mindfulness are fundamental leadership competencies.

  1. Mindfulness teaches us about "leading self" - Its not a coincidence that most leadership development programs start with a foundational program/education around "leading self". This makes sense - we can't expect to lead others until we are proficient at knowing and leading ourselves. The practices and philosophies of mindfulness help us to cultivate a DEEP awareness of ourselves, our habits, thought patterns, what makes us tick and where we get stuck. We get off "autopilot" and onto a path of observing ourselves as we truly are. From there we can notice what is working and not working in our life and leadership practices. Its scary but empowering work.

  2. Mindfulness cultivates "beginner's mind" - We do this by approaching each thought, reaction and experience with curiosity, awareness and without the judgment we bring from prior experiences. When we lead with this mindset, we are curious and thereby create the conditions to learn from others and to approach problems from a different lens. When we don't engage in "beginner's mind", we are relying on our past experience as the guide and we are less open to diverse perspectives. In doing so, we close ourselves off to new and different possibilities. How limiting in a world full of wonderful possibilities.

  3. Mindfulness puts self-compassion at the forefront - A fundamental tenet of mindfulness is that we practice "loving kindness" or compassion toward ourselves. So in our noticing of our own thoughts, experiences and reactions, we don't judge ourselves. Instead we treat ourselves with acceptance, non judgement and kindness. We strive to "make friends with" our very imperfect human self who inevitably messes up. This is the opposite of feeding our "inner critic" who often works on overtime to point out where we went wrong and what we could or should have done. There is a powerful translation of self-compassion to leadership - when we are able to be more compassionate with ourselves, we are able to be more compassionate with others. Doesn't the world need a bit more compassion these days?

Leading self, beginner's mind and more compassion - once again, I can't help but think, those are some powerful "soft skills".


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