Created by Susanne Stock

Mindfulness: Esoteric nonsense or leadership approach of the future?

The topic of ‘mindfulness’ is one of the major trending topics that is being discussed among executives. It is accompanied by wide-ranging promises: stress-resistant, resilient employees, burn-out prevention, relaxation & wellness and maybe even a kind of inner 'enlightenment'.

To be honest, what do you think when you hear the term ‘mindfulness’? When I started to study this topic a few years ago, I was very curious on the one hand but very sceptical on the other. I was afraid of esoterically withdrawn meditation nerds with woolly socks and sing-song voices.

Fortunately, my curiosity prevailed at the time and I am grateful for the encounters with people whose authenticity, willpower and zest for life have inspired me and showed me that mindfulness has nothing to do with a lack of worldliness - on the contrary. "Mindfulness means being attentive in a special way: intentionally, in the present moment and without judgment," says Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has made mindfulness sociably acceptable in the Western world through his years of research and stress management courses.  

In today's promotion of 'Mindful Leadership' seminars, the image of woolly socks is now being replaced by bare feet. I see a manager in a suit, but with bare feet, sitting cross-legged in a meadow and meditating. A nice image and at the same time I believe that this continues to cause misunderstanding.

Leaders ask me: How does regular meditation practice in the business world help me when it gets really stressful? When it comes to making quick decisions? Or should I get out my meditation mat during a conflict-laden meeting with my team and meditate for 10 minutes?

Future researcher Matthias Horx writes in his future report 2016:
"The concept of mindfulness cannot be understood without using the word personal effectiveness:
mindfulness looks inwards without neglecting the outside world."

To be a mindful leader means not only to dwell on the inner vision and to perceive one's own needs but also to be able to see my surroundings more clearly and to respond emphatically to the needs of others. This conscious attentiveness helps me to get out of my 'inner autopilot' in difficult situations and to act consciously instead of just reacting automatically. By doing so, I increase my personal effectiveness and can increase the number of options for action that are available to me. At best, I also help employees and colleagues to turn off their autopilot, constructively resolve conflicts and see more options for solutions.

Especially in team meetings and conflict situations, some very pragmatic mindful leadership interventions can help to increase the effectiveness of a team:

Check in:

  • Together with the team take a conscious moment together to arrive in the meeting. Twenty seconds of silence is enough. Then you start a short intro-round in which everyone answers the questions:
  • How present am I here (on a scale of 1-10)? What is important to me in this meeting? How do I want to get involved?

Presence:

The simple rule of turning off the phone and laptop and removing it from the table ensures presence and focus on the meeting goals. This makes meetings much more efficient and stress-free. Every change of focus consumes a lot of mental energy and causes internal stress levels to increase and possibly even cause negative emotions that have nothing to do with the current meeting. At the same time, it is a form of appreciation when participants can actively listen to each other and ask meaningful questions or make references to other contributions.

Meta-communication instead of reprimands:

Mirror back to your team what's going on. For example, if it happens that some are looking at mobile phones or having heated discussions that are not effective, describe to your team what you are (mindfully) aware of at this moment, such as, "I just noticed that the discussion is being run by two people here in the room and I haven’t heard anything from the other team members for 15 minutes and that some have started looking at their phone. What do we need to work together to clarify the existing differences and come to a decision as a team?" This type of meta-communication describes what you perceive at the process level and communication level without being reproachful or judgmental. In this way, the team has the chance together to turn off autopilot mode and to find a new way of dealing with each other and solving problems.

Creating security and defining clear rules for dealing with each other:

The well-known Harvard concept of negotiation worked according to the basic rule: "Hard on the problem, soft on the people". Only when team members can rely on personal attacks being a 'no-go' in the resolving of conflicts can a team develop constructively. This psychological security provides a basic relaxation in the team that allows anyone to freely express their opinions - without fear of disdain or counterattacks. As a leader, you reinforce this secure base by demanding clarity and diversity just as much as unconditional appreciation and respect from all those involved and their perspectives.

Check-out:

  • End your meeting with a short learning loop: "How do we feel about the result? How do we feel about the way we cooperated and communicated today? What do we wish for our next meeting?
  • In this way, you support your employees in closing the meeting well - not only objectively but also emotionally. This form also makes it easier to move on to the next meeting and face the next business and/or emotional challenge.

For me, these leadership interventions are now less about woolly socks and more about fulfilling the leadership role more authentically. For me, the curiosity was worth it. And what about you?


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