Leaders are hardly immune to the challenges facing their team members. The battle “to do more with less” and the quest to find more hours in a day are pervasive in today’s workplace environments. When you add family responsibilities to the equation, the juggle often feels overwhelming— regardless of your position in a company.
With the “glory” of leadership comes an additional layer of responsibility. You’re the one the team relies on to make quick and confident decisions—especially in high-stakes situations. Powering through the distractions, from both external and internal sources, isn’t an option. It’s part of a leader’s job description.
Meditation and leadership may seem like an unlikely pair, but incorporating a mindfulness meditation practice can profoundly impact the way you manage your internal reactions, the way you communicate with others and your overall leadership capacity.
Specifically, it can help you:
1. Clear the mental clutter
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
As a leader, you’re bombarded by noise all day long. In addition to incoming information from an ever-changing and increasingly competitive marketplace, leaders are also on the receiving end of myriad requests and complaints from others, including those with different agendas, goals and perspectives.
Cultivating the ability to respond—rather than react—is a critical leadership skill. It’s only natural to fall into patterned, reactive habits—especially when the going gets tough—but rarely is that ideal for responding to an emotionally charged situation.
2. Focus on the present
“People don’t realize that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.” – Eckhart Tolle
It’s easy to let your mind wander into the past in the form of rumination, regrets or even nostalgia. And that’s fine—in moderation. After all, mistakes are often the best teachers, and failure builds resilience.
In much the same vein, planning for the future is a strategic way to achieve your goals—in moderation. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get swallowed up in the spiral of worry, which manifests as stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout.
As a leader, there are only so many factors you can control and many more factors you cannot. One thing you can always control is your own mood, which is driven by your thoughts. Meditation trains you to stay in the present moment, resisting the temptation to let those thoughts travel either backwards or forwards in time.
3. Change your physiology
“Breath is the link between mind and body.” – Dan Brule
Learning to modulate your own physiology is one of the most powerful ways to manage your mood states and to lead with greater impact and influence. The easiest way to do that: breathe! Changing your breathing patterns can quickly and reliably produce a shift in energy.
When you feel triggered or threatened, you feel it— literally. Whether manifesting in a faster heartbeat, sweaty palms or butterflies in your stomach, your body increases its production of cortisol, which prompts the fight-or-flight response. While helpful to our ancestors being chased by tigers, it does little to fuel prudent decision-making in our day-to-day activities. In fact, stress hinders your ability to think clearly and detracts from your leadership capacity.
Meditation trains you to tune into your breath and to control its cadence, rather than allowing it to control you. Over time, the benefits become even more apparent. A study by the University of California, Davis proved a direct correlation between an increase in mindfulness meditation and a decrease in the production of cortisol.
Thinking of Starting a Meditation Practice?
The number one reason most busy executives fail to incorporate a meditation practice into their days is lack of time. It’s hard to imagine sitting still and “doing nothing,” particularly in a culture that encourages busyness. Meditation, a practice that involves being, rather than doing, creates space. This space enables growth, creativity, compassion and peace.
Start small—perhaps with just five to ten minutes per day—to create a sustainable habit. Once you experience the many profound benefits of meditation, chances are, it will become an integral part of your day and your leadership.
By Jody Michael, Founder and CEO of Jody Michael Associates, a boutique executive and career coaching company headquartered in Chicago, with offices in Atlanta, New York and San Francisco.