The word “mindfulness” was rarely used in my vocabulary; this is coming from someone who has worked as an editor and writer for the last 7 years. It’s critical we ask what it means to be mindful in today’s hyper-competitive world. More importantly, to understand how this fits into the narrative of a mindful leader in a corporate setup.
And why companies like Google, Intel, General Mills invest in mindfulness programs for leaders and employees alike. I remember a conversation with the Head of People Science at inFeedo; the first time “mindfulness” made an impact in my professional life. As someone who develops and reviews content in a SaaS company specializing in employee engagement, I often work across functions; a definite perk because I get to observe different personas in action on the floor. This leader in question needed my help reviewing the content for a deck that defined the drivers and its elements of our EN-EX Framework.
Out of the 7 drivers that affect an employee’s experience in the organization, inFeedo’s framework has one called ‘Senior Leadership’. I was curious to understand how a senior leader would directly impact a mid to junior level employee who may not even know who the CXOs are. He explained, while taking a break from the review process and playing pool for the next 30 minutes, that a senior leader when stressed or anxious is felt across the organization. It trickles down to each level, affects productivity, and results in employees walking away. In fact, a recent study revealed that 50% of employees feel leaders who cannot manage stress in a constructive way are ineffective. The same study states only 7% of employees think stressed leaders can lead teams effectively and a mere 11% feel engaged at work with such leaders in the organization.
Contrary to popular belief, slowing down in a hyper-paced work environment can go a long way in regaining productivity. The more I discussed, the more I realized why leaders practicing mindfulness often invest in thoughtful reflection and engage in dialogue with employees that further encourages higher quality interactions and openness in the work culture.
Revisiting what a mindful leader means to us...
While the formal definitions vary, the most recent academic way of putting this is: “an awareness that arises through paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. A 2019 psychological study called Mindful Leader Development uncovered the three tenets to being a mindful leader along with 2 additional tenets, which read as:
1. Mindful task management
2. Self care
3. Self reflection
4. Relating to others
5. Adapting to change
This research investigated how mindfulness trainings affect leader capabilities with a sample size of 13 leaders across 6 organizations that completed a 10-week workplace mindfulness training.
To put this simply: The manner in which you as a leader objectively pay attention and are aware of your influence on your employee’s well-being will determine if you practice mindfulness at the workplace.
The direct outcome: This will be evident in how open and honest your employees are when sharing feedback, and the overall productivity and satisfaction levels of your organization.
5 signs that make you a mindful leader
The intention here is not to preach; every leader has their own approach that works best for the organization. I did, however, find it fascinating and effective in our own context and in the way the many leaders we serve are practicing mindfulness through our product. Based on the elements under our Senior Leadership driver which are defined keeping in mind the principle of mindfulness, I breakdown the 5 signs:
Ask yourself: Are you approachable to employees within the organization?
If you are a curious leader, chances are you are highly approachable. The most effective leaders are those who gather information and are open to learning about all situations within the organization.
How this affects your employees: When you are perceived as approachable, employees feel more valued and aligned to the organization. In fact, a recent study noted employees feel like a citizen in the organization with approachable leaders encouraging feedback. 67% showed positive differences in performance with 88% rating supervisors who encourage sharing suggestions as approachable.
#2 Clear Directions
Ask yourself: Do you communicate the organization’s mission and vision clearly and what role employees have to play to achieve this?
Tying it with #1, communication is key and this means:
- Setting expectations and clearly communicating responsibilities to employees that increases the probability of them achieving the goals set
- Being hyper aware (and self aware) of operational realities within the organization while talking to your employees
How this affects your employees: While no one likes to be micromanaged, every employee wants to know if they are on track. Research states that employees who still do not have clarity from their leaders or managers feel disengaged and less than invested in the goals set for them. Perhaps that is why only 13% of employees across the world feel engaged at work.
Ask yourself: Do you take steps to ensure employees feel their opinions and ideas are heard and valued within the organization?
As highlighted in #2, being hyper (self) aware makes you not just mindful but also empathetic as a leader. It’s hardly surprising that most teams will have a mix of employees belonging to different cultures coming together to work towards a common goal. As an inclusive leader, you will need to:
- Articulate your commitment to diversity and inclusion (DnI) clearly; one of the ways to make this evident would be by driving and/or participating in different activities that encourage the same.
- Demonstrate cultural intelligence by being absolutely aware of the different demographics that are present at the workplace.
- Encourage team cohesion wherein you not just pay attention to the diverse schools of thought in a team, but also empower individuals depending on specific scenarios, exercises and projects irrespective of organizational hierarchies, thereby promoting meritocracy.
How this affects your employees: Deloitte’s study on inclusive leaders revealed that this directly impacts performance. Teams led by inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report high performance, 29% more likely to behave collaboratively, and 20% more effective in taking quality decisions. The same study also points out that a 10% improvement in the perception of inclusion improves attendance by nearly 1 day per employee in a year, reducing costs of absenteeism.
Ask yourself: Do your employees feel inspired by you to give their best at work?
In continuation to point #3, employees respond better to actions rather than words. Psychologists Kim Peters and Alex Haslam in their study I Follow, Therefore I Lead emphasized that employees should see leaders as “one of us”. The study further exemplifies that those who tried to convince others of their mindfulness and leadership capabilities were far less successful than those who chose to follow and stay on the ground, eventually rising to the ranks as leaders.
How this affects your employees: Besides improving productivity, collaboration, and problem-solving abilities within the workforce, McKinsey’s study confirms an inspiring leader who does rather than says accounts for 89% effective leadership.
#5 Regular connects
Ask yourself: Do you regularly interact with your employees?
And finally, summarizing the 4 signs highlighted above, leaders can only seem like “one of us” if they connect with employees on a regular basis. Famed Shark on Shark Tank and founder of The Corcoran Group Barbara Corcoran confirms the same, “ The most powerful way to build any relationship and make someone feel valued is to listen. Opening your ear to employees to find out what’s going right and wrong is smart business. You avoid many plane crashes by regularly asking people, “How’s it going?”, before really listening to their answer.”
How creating mindful leaders affects the organization and its employees
When you make an employee feel heard and valued within the organization, it leads to lowering:
- Regrettable attrition costs which is currently an average of $49 million annually.
- Cost of backfill which is currently $4000 per hire.
- Disengagement which is compounding to nearly $600 billion globally.
What is the philosophy you practice as a mindful leader within your organization? We'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.