Making it work

How to be a mindful leader

By Gerald McGroarty,

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Leading teams isn’t always easy. Never has been, never will be. But thankfully, that hasn’t stopped us from trying.

How to be a mindful leaderOne of the key attributes of any leader is dedication to continuous improvement. It’s the one constant in differentiating the good leaders from the great.

As a leadership instructor with the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, I’m always impressed by the focus and determination displayed by leaders trying to better themselves. My students are always open to any tip, strategy or advantage they can get their hands on to raise their game.

There is certainly no shortage of pundits and experts offering their advice on the latest concepts and theories for building your leadership acumen. I like to think any leadership book is going to serve up a few nuggets of wisdom, so when I came across a new title that rattles my cage I feel compelled to share it with you.

This brings us to today’s dose of Making it work.

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently purchased a copy of a great leadership book called Mindful Leadership: The 9 Ways to Self-Awareness, Transforming Yourself, and Inspiring Others by Maria Gonzalez. By great I mean it was great to read a book that captured a different perspective on leadership which, ironically, didn’t rattle my cage but did the complete opposite — it gave me peace of mind — which is exactly what it was supposed to do!

Mindful leadership is all about being in the present moment. It might seem counter-intuitive, with so many leaders focused on vision and strategy, but the theory behind it is this: If we become more self-aware, live in the now, understand our emotions, meditate, de-stress and apply a calm, cool and collected approach to situations we’re faced with every day, our world will dramatically improve.

According to author Maria Gonzalez, being mindful isn’t an inherent trait we’re born with: “Mindfulness is a skill; a skill that requires training the mind,” she writes. “Consequently, unless one is trained, one is less likely to exhibit the skill when in a position of leadership. I would like to clarify that my definition of a leader is anyone who is in a position to influence another person for any period of time.”

There are no shortcuts to being a mindful leader, but straight from the book, here’s a quick look at the nine keys to being mindful:

  1. Be present. Mindful leaders live in the moment. It doesn’t mean the past or the future isn’t important; they are. What it does mean is now is the priority.
  2. Be aware. Mindful leaders have a strong sense of self-awareness and understand the key stressors or indicators of their and others’ emotions.
  3. Be calm. Nothing gets in the way of good, sound, logical or rational thinking than emotion. Mindful leaders understand that a sense of calmness is the key to resolving issues or conflicting situations.
  4. Be focused. Distractions can be the Achilles’ heel for many of us, but a mindful leader who is focused on priorities – on what matters, on what needs to be done – is a leader who gets results.
  5. Be clear. Striving for clarity is one of the key success factors for effective teamwork and leadership. A mindful leader has this trait and understands the positive impact of clarity.
  6. Be equanimous. Mindful leaders understand that certainty is never certain. They accept things as they are and don’t waste time and energy in areas that are not in their control.
  7. Be positive. Mindful leaders have a can-do attitude that is infectious and inspires others. They appreciate that the lens they look through will have a long-lasting effect on the team.
  8. Be compassionate. Mindful leaders are empathetic and genuinely care for others. They know it takes great strength and courage to be compassionate toward those who are being led while having no assurance of the outcome.
  9. Be impeccable. Mindful leaders understand and accept responsibility for their actions, knowing full well they are in control of their own success. Being impeccable means having integrity and being honest and transparent.

Whether you’re leading a large team in a high-intensity environment or parenting in an equally demanding home, being mindful is critical to helping you and your team (or your family) reach a higher level.

The book is well laid-out to help you understand and apply the strategies and techniques of becoming more mindful. Gonzalez has also gone one step further, by developing an app for iPhones, iPads, Androids and tablets that supports the teachings in the book. Simply put, various strategies on meditation, stress and living in the moment are only a fingertip away.

I asked Gonzalez what the impact of her book has had on leaders. “There are many benefits that leaders who strive to be mindful cite,” she said. “The key thing they mention is that they are more effective in every aspect of their lives, both professionally and personally. They have better relationships with colleagues, clients and their families and friends. In a nutshell, they also describe getting more fulfillment from life. Being present and aware enables them to be in the moment and enjoy their lives. From a business perspective, being in the moment means you can see opportunities that you may not have previously or otherwise seen. And from that perspective, it becomes a competitive advantage.”

If you feel you are already a mindful leader, congratulations. But if you think you could use a little help to become more mindful, you may want to check this book out.

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