I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and reading) about mindfulness in leadership; or to coin a term gaining popularity in the business world, “Mindful Leadership”.
For the uninitiated, “Mindful Leadership” is an ideology inspired by eastern practices focused on positive introspection and growth in ones’ ability to “be in the present moment” while increasing one’s capacity for patience, tolerance, and personal fortitude. In a leadership context, it is the cultivation of mindfulness in oneself and others in the workplace.
One of the main tenets in Mindful Leadership is in creating a positive work environment with focus and meaningful productivity. The objective is to help those under a manager’s or supervisor’s care to channel their talents and efforts on what really matters, thereby aiming to minimize “mindless activity” (“busy work”) which usually generates much activity but yields little or no meaningful results.
Mindful leadership aims to cultivate focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others, the last as the embodiment of servant leadership. Further, the goal to understand that self-development for leaders – as well as those around them in the workplace – is crucial.
It is important to point out a distinction which should not be overlooked: as managers and leaders, we are in the service of others, particularly those who report to us. At the risk of painting this ideology with a broad brush, it is really about bringing out the best in our teams and employees.
It is about understanding how our mindfulness influences other people in the workplace.
In project management, the ideology of mindful and servant leadership, a previously overlooked, yet critical, skillset for the successful project management has become quite apparent in the latest edition of the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). The topic has spurred countless blogs, articles and conference keynote presentations within the project management community.
While reading through the veritable reams of literature on mindfulness and Mindful Leadership I remembered a quote from a book I read in my early twenties; a book “before its time” published in 1936 and still relevant today. The book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, remains a top bestseller with the 3rd edition recently published in 2011, updated for the digital age. The narrative contains some (rather self-evident) fundamental truths about handling people. One memorable quote from the book has always stuck with me:
“We are all united by one single desire — to be valued by another.”
A decade after Mr. Carnegie’s book was first published, there came “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs“. This was a new theory in psychology proposing that, first and foremost, our basic needs are for physical survival (food, water, shelter, rest & safety). Going beyond that are the needs which motivate our behavior such as belongingness, esteem (feeling of accomplishment) and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities). This theory has been used in HR models and by motivational speakers for decades to help evaluate ways to increase productivity by understanding what truly motivates a person, employees in particular. (Would it surprise you to know that money, power and status are not at the top of the list?) What motivates employees is being valued and being given the opportunity to exercise true passion in their work.
It occurs to me that these fundamental truths about what drives us, both at the workplace and in life in general, represents an important aspect of mindful leadership.
Studies have shown that the positive effects of supervisors’ mindful leadership style were in direct correlation to reduced employee dissatisfaction, accompanied by a measurable uptick in better work-life balance and improved overall job performance ratings of the employee(s).
The return on the investment of adopting mindful leadership into an organization inevitably leads to increased employee satisfaction and motivation, leading to a healthier (and happier, less stressful) work environment and increased productivity. That, in turn, leads to…well, you can see where I’m going with this.
In the end, perhaps one of the most important keys to Mindful Leadership is to always remember that everyone in the workplace (or in your life), whether it is obvious or not, wants to be valued. Everyone needs to have some feelings of autonomy, accomplishment, competence and a connection with other people. Mindful leadership cannot be truly achieved if employees’ “basic psychological needs” are not also being met. I think deep down for all of us this rings true, likely because we’ve all “been there” at one point in our life or career.
But if those needs can be met, mindful leaders could soon realize the otherwise untapped, full potential of their employees and others in the workplace.
And deep down, as leaders, we all know this to be true.
Have you been seeing mindfulness being practiced within your organization? If so, how has it impacted those in the workplace — and you?