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Are you a Mindful or Mindless Leader?

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Delighted to hear some Irish parliamentarians are taking the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course.  It follows the UK mindfulness initiative that has been running for some years.

An inter-parliamentary group was established to promote and embed mindfulness in Westminster.  However, given the history of recent Brexit negotiations one wonders just who is practising it.

From an external observer’s perspective what is happening in the UK stems from a lack of trust and clarity on all sides which is frustrating progress.   The UK Mindfulness initiative demonstrates the intention is there, and it is a step in the right direction.


Why mindfulness is essential for leaders?

Scandals like Audi, closer to home the Irish banking crisis were avoidable events. Lack of consciousness in the decision-making process is a factor that often is not given enough attention   Exclusive focus on financial gain, with no due regard for the wider community leads to bad decisions.  Never more than now is there a need for a framework to support conscious decision making.  Bad decisions cost.  It is estimated that the cost to Audi is running into the billions including fines, retrospective fits, legal class action and reputation for selling cars rigged to cheat on emissions tests.

Leading is complicated and demanding, and mindfulness won’t solve every challenge.  However, mindfulness introduces an element of common humanity and humility to the decision-making process.  The obsession with shareholder value exclusively at the cost of the societal and environmental damage is coming back to haunt us.

The ESRI figures indicate work-related stress has doubled between 2010 and 2015, environmental issues are of growing concern, and there is an ever-increasing gap between the haves and have not.

Many organisations I work with have management competency frameworks which provide training paths for managers. Standards topics covered include business theories around performance, people management skills and communication skills, mindfulness however as a management competency is not common.


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about becoming more tuned into the present moment.  The present moment may be difficult with lots of opposing views to contend with, but mindfulness teaches us to take the laser focus away from our negative biases and prejudices and address the situation in a clear focused non-judgemental way.

Mindfulness nurtures self-awareness which contributes to being more emotional tuned into ourselves and others.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading authority on mindfulness defines mindfulness as ‘…paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment non judgementally…’

Mindfulness provides a framework for conscious decision making.  A leader is anyone in a role which influences and inspires a team.  It may be a team of two or thousands, and leaders tend to work in complex environments.

Information overload, dealing with diverse personalities cutting through politics and addressing the tasks on hand are just a few of the daily challenges, leaders face.  Mindfulness helps leaders to stay focused intellectually tuned in and maintain the presence of mind to make good decisions.


Mindfulness has many benefits, but the following are ones that are essential for today’s leaders.


The benefits of mindfulness practice


The ability to bounce back in the most demanding environments.  Stress is part of all jobs, and if not, managed Hans Selye demonstrated in the 1960 causes manifestation of serious health problems.

Additionally, emotions are contagious. A leader, who displays stress symptoms on the job impacts the performance of employees.  Simple mindful practices reduce cortisol levels and rebalances the body in stressful situations.



Mindfulness nurtures self-trust.  Once we begin to trust ourselves, we learn to let go and trust others.  I regularly witness environments in the workplace where a lack of trust frustrates processes so much that a toxic culture develops.   We get stuck because of a lack of trust.  Often the business environment is so stuck in processes we don’t dare; we over analyse to a point which causes paralysis.

Leaders who bestow trust in their employees nurture enhanced decision making instead of cultivating practices that get bogged down in politics and defensiveness.

Mindfulness promotes trust and enables people to be their true selves.  This, can be challenging in an environment where performance matters, return on investment is tracked, and people are looking to pursue their agenda, often to the detriment of others.

Clarity of Thought

Research demonstrates meditation enhances clarity of thought and focused decision making. Meta awareness is about turning inwards, the ability to feel body sensations, thoughts and emotions.  To come down from the head, use our intuition over impulse.  It enables a person to stand back, to pause and soak up the nuances of the situation.

In the midst of competing agendas and large volumes of information, a true leader is one that deciphers relevant information and makes a decision with clarity and confidence.

It is in times of turmoil barriers are built. The mindful leader stands back, listens to people and is tuned into the dynamics of the environment to pursue the right decision.  Mindfulness nurtures these skills.


Mindfulness teaches us to be true to ourselves. It’s not just about calmness. It helps to acknowledge the good and not so good in ourselves.  Authenticity is essential when leading people.  Leading as opposed to managing; with a good leader, people don’t need to be managed, they are inspired.

Authentic leadership allows people to grow.  The bright sparks in the team do not threaten good leaders, they push away the cloud of politics, and they let the great ideas shine through.

Too often, I’ve witnessed organisations stunted by politics and fear.  The result is that people become disengaged, good people leave and low morale pervades the work environment.



Now in the era of Brexit and the rise of intolerance, authentic leadership is more in need.  As an observer of the Brexit negotiations, lack of trust, and no one listening to each interest group results in factions so entrenched that it threatens the wellness of the nation.

Mindfulness is not the panacea to all our woes, but I believe if more leaders pause, step back and listen, better decisions will be made for the greater good.  I applaud those Irish parliamentarians for participating in the MBSR programme and encourage more business leaders to explore mindfulness.  If you are interested in a mindfulness taster session, please contact me.

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