As the landscape of business and leadership changes, we hear more and more people talking about what it means to be a mindful, conscious leader. We see articles and books regularly published, offering definitions and putting together the features and qualities of conscious leaders.
Working with emerging leaders and entrepreneurs, I find that the challenge isn’t that they don’t know the theory or the value of cultivating that type of leadership presence, but they’re lacking the how. It’s equally important to know both—where are you headed and how to get there. Let’s break down the what and the how of becoming a mindful leader.
The what: What is conscious leadership?
Cultivating consciousness is an inside job, and it requires a complete and judgement-free attention to the present moment. This is why we call it “leadership presence.” It is an embodiment of the qualities one possesses; it’s walking the talk, showing up, and taking the time to be fully present.
A mindful leader is one who knows how to look within and does it often. It really comes down to truly knowing yourself on a deeper level. I’m not talking about something mystical or spiritual. The goal is to become aware of the specific and unique “filters” through which we see the world, of the reactions we have, and of our habitual patterns.
The qualities of great leadership are not taught in school but cultivated through reflection, practice, and experience. They’re referred to as a state of being, rather than skills. Having a growth mindset, curiosity, kindness, open mindedness, a peaceful attitude, and a state of joy or flow are all attributes of a high level of consciousness.
Operating from that place allows leaders to navigate the constant demands and inputs they receive in a more effective way. At the end of the day, it’s not only leaders who benefit, but their organization and everyone else around them, too.
It is essential for everyone, not just leaders, to understand that our minds are conditioned to wander, and living in a world full of responsibilities and distractions doesn’t help. It really takes a conscious approach to be able to stay focused and on top of our game, without burning out and becoming disengaged or frustrated.
Self inquiry and heightened awareness also help leaders support and maintain their balance in every area of life—whether it’s their health, their relationships, their communication skills, or how they run their business. It isn’t easy to cultivate these levels of mindfulness, but with guidance and commitment to practice, everyone can develop the capacity to raise their awareness and understand the difference between moving through the motions of life and really being present and living consciously.
Leaders and entrepreneurs today are exposed to high levels of stress, and even though they’re surrounded with people, it still feels lonely to be at the top, knowing that the business and team are directly affected by their decisions. The pressure to do more and perform better is often detrimental and becomes one of the biggest reasons to turn toward mindfulness and seek support from coaches. Focused attention is their biggest power and their most limited resource.
The how: Mindful techniques to help you become a more conscious leader
Check- in with yourself: Take the time to tune in with your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. When do you get stressed? How do you react when you get triggered? What goes through your mind when you speak with certain people? Looking closely at your emotional responses is essential for cultivating mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Practice pausing and sitting with your emotions rather than quickly masking or numbing them. With time, you’ll become better at consciously regulating your emotions and choosing better responses.
Keep a small journal at your desk, make a note on your phone, or even set an alarm every few hours to do a quick scan of your overall state. This will keep you in the present moment and help you increase your awareness.
Build routines: Implementing practices to help you cultivate awareness on a daily basis is paramount in developing yourself as a conscious leader. As the day goes, a leader makes countless decisions and transitions quickly from one thing to another, which causes distraction and takes away the focus from the present moment. A useful practice to collect your attention back is to take a big breath every time you finish with a conversation or move from one room to another.
Give yourself the time to adjust before rushing into the next thing. Use the red lights in traffic or the line at the coffee shop to do a quick body scan and bring yourself to the present moment. If you have some more time on the weekends, try taking walks in nature, meditation, journaling, or simply sitting quietly and reflecting at the end of each day.
Become objective: Examine your biases and judgements to empower yourself to make better decisions. Use objectivity as much as you can, and always challenge your assumptions and beliefs. Our subjective views and strong emotions often trick us into making decisions we later regret. Pause and ask yourself, “How true is this belief, and what is another way to look at the situation?” With time, you will build the muscle of awareness in your mind and you’ll be able to better recognize your perceptions.
Become intentional: Set up your mind in the morning. Yes, things won’t always go as planned, but what you can control is your intention and the way you show up. We are responsible for what we put out there, not the outcomes. Setting intentions and visualizing how you want to be every single day will cultivate high levels of awareness and consciousness. Think about the way you want to handle different circumstances. What will your best self do? After a stressful day or a high-stake situation, set the intention to let go and quit worrying so that you can slowly build resilience and be back on your feet with a new set of solutions.
Become integrated: We are complex creatures; we have a holistic nature. Each one of us has an intuitive and a rational side and a masculine and a feminine energy. A key to effective leadership is integration. All conscious leaders know that and are able to embrace both sides equally. They have the ability to connect their head and their heart and use both.
In today’s world, we see how much of these so-called “feminine” qualities have been forgotten—empathy, vulnerability, kindness, passion, compassion, love. Their place in business and leadership hasn’t been honored for too long. We haven’t been able to drop down to our hearts and connect authentically with those around us. Take time to pause and recognize which side of you is leading most of the time. Most leaders tend to believe that soft emotions aren’t appropriate for their roles, but they forget that business is about people first. Carve out time for things that expand your heart and bring you joy. That way you’re not only going to increase your own happiness, but it will spill over the way you lead others.
Build sustainability across all domains of life: A conscious leader knows that his work isn’t everything, although it might seem a huge part of life. Prioritizing wellness, family, relationships, and fun is what brings fulfillment and helps you get even more motivated to be a better leader. Making sure there is balance across your areas of life will bring more ease and help you be there for others when they face challenges. If there is an imbalance in any area, that ultimately affects the rest. Showing others the importance of health and wellness in your own life as a leader can empower them to take stock of their own life and improve their overall performance.
Let go of the ego: When truly understand leadership, you know that it’s not all about you. This is the way to empower and develop others. A leader has the unique role to support and guide people to reach their potential and grow. They know that serving is not only their responsibility, but also their purpose. Build trust by having open and honest conversations with those you lead. Ask questions. Instead of demanding, listen deeply and hold space for others to really feel acknowledged.
Think of how you can add value to the people you interact with and help them realize their higher goals. How can you push yourself and everyone around you to raise the bar and aim for the next level?
Implementing some or all of these tools and practices will surely help increase awareness and cultivate mindfulness. Raising the level of consciousness with which you relate to the world isn’t an easy task. It requires time and commitment, but it will change not only your leadership style, but your whole life and hopefully the lives of those around you.