A mindful leader can respond to change with focus and clarity, and avoid repeating the same mistakes
by Cheryl Rezek http://bit.ly/15M4lLs
What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well as concurrently viewing that moment from a more strategic standpoint.
Developing a more aware and considered approach helps leaders to respond to situations (whether internal thoughts or external events), rather than react to them. It encourages a less critical view which, in turn, creates a more flexible and attuned response. When there is less clutter and fewer distractions within one’s own head it is easier to gain clarity and perspective; mindfulness allows one to both notice more detail and see the bigger picture.
A mindful leader can reduce disorder by bringing focus and intent to the situation. By acknowledging and accepting change, the leader can step back, observe and respond with composure and purpose.
Sometimes our past experiences or immediate reactions will interfere with our ability to view the present in an unbiased way. Once we acknowledge this, we can quieten internal commentaries and assumptions. This process of stepping aside from ourselves allows us to decide what approach will best support the situation at hand, and the agendas and strategies of the organisation.
Dealing with change
If leaders realise that change is inevitable, they can encourage sufficient resilience in individuals, teams and organisations. To lead knowing that change is inevitable – though unpredictable in its timing – allows for flexibility, and a realisation that what worked in the past may not necessarily be appropriate today. This helps to safeguard an organisation from disillusionment and destruction by enforcing outdated rules and processes.
Research on mindfulness suggests that it can also help to:
• reduce the cost of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress
• improve cognitive functioning, memory, learning ability and creativity
• improve productivity and improve overall staff and business wellbeing
• reduce staff turnover and associated costs.
Mindful leadership is not a patronising fad implying that, if we are calm, everything will be fine. The reality of our working world is that all may not be fine. What mindfulness can do is develop a thinking, emotional and instinctual mind so that the leader can do the best for self, team and organisation.
The full version of Cheryl Rezek’s article can be accessed free-of-charge by Public Leaders readers for a limited time on the International Journal of Public Leadership.
Dr Cheryl Rezek is a consultant clinical psychologist, workshop leader and author of Life Happens: Waking up to yourself and your life in a mindful way and Brilliant Mindfulness: How the mindful approach can help you towards a better life.
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