There are many contexts in which you might be called to assume a leadership role: as the CEO of a company; as the captain of an athletic team; as an elected official in a state or national government; as the chair of an academic department; as the president of a board of directors; as the organizer of a neighborhood watch group; as the mother or father of children – to name just a few.
Whether you aspire to be a leader in business, or in your community, or in your family, there are certain traits – qualities of effective leadership -- that will serve you well. These include things like clarity, confidence, integrity, patience, good communication, the capacity to support a team, to inspire action, and to bring forth the best in others.
As it turns out, the practice of mindfulness can nourish and amplify every one of these leadership qualities. Mindfulness is your “cheat code” – the secret ingredient that super-charges your leadership skill-set. So what exactly is mindfulness, and what makes it such a powerful tool?
What Is Mindfulness?
The word “mindfulness” – which is the English translation of the Pali word sati – means, quite simply, “keeping something in mind.” It refers to the capacity to remain focused on a specific object or field of attention; and being alert enough to know when we’ve become distracted; and committed to returning to this object, whenever our attention wanders.
The practice of mindfulness is often approached via what are know as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which together provide a systematic protocol for cultivating mindfulness of every aspect of our human existence: our body and breath; our feelings; our thoughts and internal images; and our perceptions of the external world.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
As we bring our attention back, again and again, to our chosen object (for instance, the breath, physical sensations or emotional feelings) our moments of mindfulness become a stream of mindfulness: an effortless flow of concentration, which brings with it many benefits that can greatly enhance your leadership prowess.
The Soul Of Leadership
In his book, The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness, Deepak Chopra turns the word “leaders” into an acronym, with each letter representing an important quality of a leader. So now let's explore how mindfulness can enrich and empower each of these qualities.
L = Look and Listen. An effective leader has excellent communication skills – and this begins with the willingness and ability to perceive clearly what others are doing and saying. A powerful leader also can envision the “big picture” – and can see clearly what actions are required in order to manifest this vision.
With mindfulness training, our capacities of perception become more steady, clear and precise. We’re able to see more clearly because we’re distracted less often. Hence, both our communication skills and our capacity to manifest our largest visions are enhanced.
E = Emotional Bonding. A powerful leader inspires devotion from those that are on his or her team. Mindfulness training enhances our emotional sensitivity – allowing these bonds to be more satisfying and productive.
A = Awareness. The thoughts, words and actions of a skillful leader all flow from self-awareness and the awareness of others: He or she is sensitive, perceptive and intuitive. Mindfulness training heightens our self-awareness: We become more intimately aware of our social identities, i.e. the various roles that we play. At the same time, we tune into the aware presence – in the core of our being – that remains constant throughout life’s transitions. This becomes a great reservoir of stability, calmness and clarity – even in the midst of the most tumultuous situations.
D = Doing. Great leaders are decisive. They act with power and precision and they inspire action in others. The deep levels of concentration, clarity and equanimity developed via a mindfulness practice support this capacity directly.
E = Empowerment. A good leader supports, facilitates and empowers his or her team – and each member of it. Their upbeat attitude and passionate engagement become infectious: everyone around them is uplifted by their presence. One of the often-overlooked aspects of a mindfulness practice is the energy that it generates. With regular practice, your levels of enthusiasm and engagement with all aspects of your life will be heightened – making it natural to inspire those around you.
R = Responsibility. Effective leaders are confident in their abilities – and are able to act with honesty and integrity for the greater good. They’re not afraid to take responsibility – and then follow through on it. The sensitivity, clarity, spacious calmness and vibrant energy that arise from mindfulness practice are perfect fuel for this kind of confidence.
S = Synchronicity. A potent leader is open to receiving insights and guidance from a larger intelligence and power – which tends to manifest as auspicious coincidences. A mindfulness practice makes us intimately aware of our part in a larger whole: i.e. how our bodies and minds alike are deeply interdependent with their surrounding environments – and ultimately with the entire universe. Seeing this clearly opens us to a flow of potent universal energy – the kind of deep and true “charisma” that this of great benefit to anyone in a leadership role.