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Mindful Leadership: Your Connection

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Clarity, focus, creativity, and compassion: these are the fundamentals of mindful leadership according to Janice Marturano, founder and executive director of the not for profit Institute for Mindful Leadership and author of Finding the Space to Lead. Janice whilst a VP and deputy general counsel at General Mills, found herself burning the candle at both ends and eventually reached a point in her career/life where she no longer felt 'connected' to what mattered. Following an executive mindfulness retreat, Janice experienced a significant shift in her leadership capabilities (and her life) and was so impacted by the program that she initiated a mindful leadership program within the company.

Michael Bunting, founder of The Mindful Leader and author of the same book has spent over 16 years teaching mindful leadership to business and government. Michael suggests 7 disciplines of mindful leaders which are summarised as: presence, accountability, mindful values, mindful vision, curiosity/innovation mindset, empowering and nourishing others. Michael believes that your effectiveness as a leader can be strengthened through mindfulness offering 'positive and meaningful impact'.

A regular mindfulness practice has been linked to improvements in each of the fundamentals and disciplines mentioned above and more. Yet in some circles its' contribution remains criticised. Studies have demonstrated significant changes in brain structure, behaviour and emotional intelligence and those who adopt a regular practice and persevere through any of the doubt, soon realise the innate potential mindfulness offers. As a leader how can you harness the potential of mindfulness so that it contributes to your leadership impact?

Leadership is no longer solely about leading others, it's about leading yourself and managing the complexities and uncertainties of the workplace (and life) during a time when organisations are rife with change. Leaders need solutions for todays problems and they need support beyond 'strategic imperatives' and 'leadership competencies'. Above all else, leaders need to be and feel connected to their teams, their customers and most importantly themselves.

Having worked with multiple leaders across a number of organisations this past year, and from my personal journey, I have found that the most significant impact of mindfulness lies within this "connection" to self and others. It's easy and more common than not to get caught up in the busyness of work and life, resorting to autopilot to get things done. Unfortunately what this can lead to is an erosion of empathy and connection to the self and others.

Perspective What mindfulness offers is an opportunity to press the pause button in order to gain some perspective (Langer, 1992). As a leader you need to offer an unbiased perspective, avoiding mindsets that limit, and if you're connected to your thoughts, behaviours and feelings there's a better chance of cultivating this.

Decision Making As a leader the number of decisions you make in a single day prove to be not only exhausting but borderline overwhelming. Unless you're connected to yourself and connected to others, all of these decisions only become cumbersome and feared, resulting in poor choices and potentially burnout.

Emotional Intelligence As a leader you need to rely on others for their guidance, support and following, and if you neglect to have that connection to self and others, your emotional intelligence (EI) in terms of self-awareness, self-regulation and insight suffers. Mindfulness has been demonstrated to raise EI and improve relationships (Siegel, 2007).

Stress Management The reality is 85% of Australian workers will experience work-related stress over the next 12months resulting in 20 million sick days. Termed the 'silent killer' stress can lead to a number of chronic conditions and can likewise become detrimental to your leadership capability. Learning to manage perceptions of stress and equipping yourself with the resources to adequately recover from stress is mandatory. Being connected to your 'self' allows you to recognise the physiological and psychological manifestations of stress as soon as they appear and respond in a way that supports your perception and your recovery. Mindfulness has been linked to lasting decrease in psychological symptoms related to stress, anxiety and depression.

Empathy A newcomer to the list of leadership must-haves, empathy is what separates the great from the good. In a project run at Google to determine what produced the most effective teams, empathy was singled out as a necessary capacity which afforded psychological safety, improved collaboration and enhanced problem solving. From healthcare workers to CEO's, practicing mindfulness can increase levels of empathy and compassion; mindfulness creates a platform for connecting to ones' self and to others in an authentic, unbiased, supportive manner.

So where do you begin? You're time-poor as it is and adding yet another 'productivity hack' to your list of things to do seems daunting. The good news is you can add mindfulness to your day without it taking up any additional time! Start with a mindful breath ~ you're already breathing, just pay attention to the air as it enters and leaves, breathing in and out of your nostrils. 6 seconds is all it takes to initiate the 'relaxation response' which releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into your system calming everything down, reducing reactivity, slowing your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Apply mindfulness to everyday activities such as showering, brushing your teeth, eating or walking. If you want to take the next step, there are a number of APPs and resources available to begin a regular mindfulness practice which can be found here.

The thing about mindfulness is like anything that you what to improve, it needs to be practiced, and practiced deliberately and regularly. Mindful leadership does offer the individual and organisation a myriad of benefits through connection and if done right, it has the ability to sharpen your mind and strengthen your business.

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Kirsten works with individuals, teams and organisations to raise performance, engagement and well-being through initiatives in mindfulness, positive psychology and neuroscience. Contact her today to run a mindful leadership program within your organisation!

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(4), 822.

Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, et al. Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation, Psychosomatic Medicine , 2003, vol. 65 (pg. 564-70)

Gratz, K. L., & Tull, M. T. (2010). Emotion regulation as a mechanism of change in acceptance-and mindfulness-based treatments. Assessing mindfulness and acceptance processes in clients: Illuminating the theory and practice of change, 107-133.

Langer, E. J. (1992). Matters of mind: Mindfulness/mindlessness in perspective. Consciousness and cognition, 1(3), 289-305.

Lazrus, Sarah et al. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 16(17): 1893–1897.

Siegel, D. (2007). Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience, 2 (4): 259-263.

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