We know from leadership research that successful leaders stand out and achieve extraordinary results because they have higher self-awareness and are better at managing their thoughts and feelings. And because they are able to remain focused and tolerate ambiguity when others get derailed.
Both of these are skills that can be trained. Both relate to emotional intelligence and resilience.
What does this mean?
Essentially, effective leadership does not require heroic John Wayne style quick-shot action. Anyone can learn to develop the courage to stay calm and to really look, listen, and think through what is genuinely the most productive action in a difficult and challenging situation. More often than our traditional, action-man-oriented perception of leadership would let us believe, jumping to the first best solution ends up being an inferior way to lead than proactively uncovering different interpretations and perspectives and taking the time to hear the voices of different stakeholders. Especially the ones that disagree with our world view.
How can we translate this knowledge into action and enable leaders to stand out, systematically and reliably?
This is where the science and evidence-based application of mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is all about managing our own attention and awareness in the most productive way possible – in other words, staying psychologically open to experiencing a situation, rather than judging it prematurely, and facing situations with the psychological flexibility that we need to do well and succeed in today’s ever more dynamic and complex world. In fact, mindfulness really comes into its own during high-stress, unpredictable situations. And it is a skill that can demonstrably be raised with training, rather a personality trait that only few people possess.
Essentially, mindfulness is a valid and reliable approach to develop these critical leadership skills of emotional intelligence and resilience in the face of complexity and uncertainty – and as my own and other mindfulness scholars’ research suggests, it is an innovative and effective way of developing these increasingly important skills for today’s leaders.
This ability to remain calm (as a cucumber) in the face of the storm, dealing with difficulty and ambiguity in a level-headed, resilient, and emotionally intelligent way, is a key skill for today’s leaders.
So how about pausing for one moment now:
Before moving on to the next thing that grabs your attention, stop. Ask yourself, what do you notice – about the thoughts in your head, about how your body feels right now, about how your day is going? Then remind yourself of what’s important for you today. Finally, make a conscious decision to make your next move in line with that renewed awareness.
About the author
Jutta Tobias researches and consults on personal development, mindfulness, and leadership in collaboration with executives and in blue-chip companies across Europe, North America and the Middle East. She has created a variety of online materials on workplace mindfulness, including a free course on Mindfulness at Work in 7 Steps. Her work has been published widely, and she was recently featured in the Swiss TV documentary Die neue Achtsamkeit – Mindfulness erobert die Businesswelt.