Mindfulness for Leaders: Improving Management Practices

February 8, 2018 by Maggie PennMaggie Penn

Leadership is essential to any successful work environment. Managers are in charge of not only running a productive team, but ensuring that there is a positive environment in which their team can work. Recently, the concept of using mindfulness to create this sort of workplace has gained popularity.

While it is easy to write the myriad of articles off simply as a passing trend, there is an increasing amount of data suggesting taking time out of your day to breathe and meditate can have concrete, positive results.

A small sample of the studies that are currently available on the subject:

So, why is this relevant? In a recent study composed by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, the number of Americans who reported “significant daily worry” has only increased over the past few years. If happy employees are more productive, then it is in a manager’s best interest to focus on creating a workplace the employees enjoy. According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.—one of the field’s foremost experts and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program—the surest way to decrease these concerns is to increase attention to people’s mindful wellbeing.

Creating a mindful environment in an office goes beyond posting a picture under the #MindfulnessMonday tag on social media; it is a daily—arguably constant—thought process change that needs to occur. (Let the warranted aversion to the word change ensue!) While mindfulness can take time to integrate into your daily routine, the eventual practice can be effortless. To assist in the adoption process of mindfulness practices, managers can use the seven pillars of mindfulness outlined in Professor Kabat-Zinn’s best-selling novel, Full Catastrophe Living.

[Further Reading: How to Be a Better Leader]

First and foremost, being a mindful manager requires a person to allow themselves to go about their day free from judgement. This, of course, refers to negative judgements—such as, “My employee is slacking,” or “This is a bad idea”—but, less obviously, refers to positive judgements as well. The belief that one idea is better than another implies that there is a universal goodness or badness established.

However, the perception of an idea as good or bad is completely subjective. As a mindful manager, it is your task to react to all situations with objectivity in order to allow new ideas a chance to surface. By becoming aware of your judgements, both negative and positive, a manager can more effectively evaluate situations as they actually are. A common complaint a manager might receive is, “This isn’t working.” By acknowledging this as a judgement, and proceeding to take an impartial look at the problem the employee is actually raising (e.g. a step in the workflow needs attention), an effective manager can reframe challenges into opportunities.

An initial way to help integrate a non-judging practice into one’s management style is to pay more attention to what is happening now, versus what the end goal is; to be non-striving. Looking at a project by its individual steps instead of racing to meet the larger end goal can help break down a seemingly daunting task.

By also being accepting of realistic timelines and expected workloads, you relieve some of the employees’ anxiety around delivering beyond their bandwidth. (A project management tool like LiquidPlanner can help with this!) In meditation, acceptance is the practice of viewing the present as it actually is, free from judgement. In management, upholding this idea can foster a sense of confidence.

Throughout the mindfulness process, having patience with yourself and others is key. Amongst employee frustrations, missed deadlines, and other daily workplace mishaps, a patient manager can be a guiding force to bring the rest of the office to a similarly calm and focused mindset.

[Further Reading: 9 Things to Do Right Now to Motivate Your Team]

Doing so requires a certain amount of trust. It is essential you demonstrate you have faith in not only your employees, bu...

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