Is mindfulness the key to being a better boss?

As HR professionals, we’re aware of the importance of emotional intelligence – but mindfulness could be the ultimate in brain-training for better personal and professional outcomes.

We’ve all done it. In a fit of fury or just plain annoyance, we’ve hastily typed a snarky email to a colleague and hit ‘send’ – without first thinking of the repercussions.
It’s known as action addiction – often when things happen we want to fix it, immediately. There’s even a neurological incentive to do so – we get a hit of dopamine from feeling like we’ve taken quick, decisive action.
It’s human nature to act before thinking, right? It is, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The concept of mindfulness is not new – in fact as a concept it is more than 2,500 years old.
However, its relevance to the corporate world is increasingly being recognised thanks to recent developments in neuroscience.
Detailed brain scans show that mindfulness practice changes both the physical structure and activity in regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation, memory, learning and decision-making.
In addition, mindfulness practice reduces reactivity, giving us a bit of space to choose our responses rather than reacting automatically. These capabilities are critical for effective leadership and, with mindfulness training, they can be enhanced, regardless where you’re starting from.
“Mindfulness practice is essentially attention training combined with attitudes which promote awareness and self-control,” said Eric Winters, trainer and coach, Chocks Away Mind Skills Consulting.
“The result of mindfulness is greater awareness – of self, others and context – and less reactivity. These mindfulness skills are foundational to greater emotional intelligence.”

Being relatively new to the corporate world, there are lingering misconceptions about mindfulness. It is not, for example, an approach to empty the mind. It’s also not something to make you feel better – nor does it require odd sitting postures or chants. The objective is not to reach some sort of ‘enlightened state’. It’s simply a skill to improve our ability to make better choices and live and work more effectively.
For HR professionals, being aware of your own state, your intuitions and strengths, and having a greater ability to manage your emotions and behaviour, supports the notion of authentic leadership – that is, being able to more consistently walk the talk.
“Teams respond well to people they experience as genuine,” said Winters. “Relationships with teams improve as people sense they are truly being listened to rather than neglected or taken for granted.”
Mindfulness also develops empathy for others, a vital trait for sustaining productive working relationships. And noticing how others respond to your leadership is valuable feedback in recognising what’s effective and what’s less helpful leadership behaviour.
Mindfulness is a skill which can be learned in either in groups with a mindfulness teacher guiding practice or by listening to a recording guiding your attention, and it requires daily practise to maintain.
Top mindfulness tips
  • Don’t feel that you need to fill up all your time with doing. Take some time to simply be. When your mind wanders to thinking, gently bring it back to the flow of your breath.
  • Recognise that thoughts are simply thoughts; you don’t need to believe them or react to them.
  • Notice where you tend to zone out (eg, driving, emailing or texting, web surfing, feeding the dog, doing dishes, etc.). Practise bringing more awareness to that activity.
See the full feature on mindfulness in the upcoming issue 12.7 of HRD Magazine.

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