Mindfulness and Leadership

December 28, 2016 by School of Medicine Webmaster

Having recently gone through a very memorable election, it seems a good time to consider how practicing mindfulness might contribute to being a successful leader.  One of the principal ways is related to the importance of emotional intelligence to leadership.  Almost 20 years ago, Daniel Goleman published a seminal article in Harvard Business Review entitled “What Makes A Leader?” (HBR Nov/Dec 1998).  In it he stated “…when I calculated the ratio of technical skills and IQ to emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels. Moreover, my analysis showed that emotional intelligence played an increasingly important role at the highest levels of the company, where differences in technical skills were of negligible importance.”

So what is emotional intelligence?  It has been defined as how we manage ourselves and our relationships with others.  Daniel Goleman’s current model of emotional intelligence includes four components that build on each other: self awareness, self management, social awareness and relationship management.

Self awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It includes the ability to be aware of and to describe feelings, knowing the reasons for these feelings, and knowing how these feelings affect actions.  Mindfulness, intentional present moment nonjudgmental awareness, is a key factor in cultivating this type of self awareness.   Often when we are learning to be leaders we focus on learning the cognitive and technical aspects of our roles.  These primarily involve thinking and doing, with less emphasis on how we are feeling.  Yet how we are feeling often influences our decisions and how we interact with others.  Bringing our attention to our present moment experience can add an understanding of our emotional state.  Once we acknowledge how we are feeling, then we can choose how to respond, rather than just reacting to the feeling.   The key to being able to move from reacting to responding is pausing, putting space between the stimulus and our response.

A way to remember to do this is with the acronym STOP.  The S stands for stopping or pausing. The T stands for taking a few breaths. The O is for observing our present moment experience without judgment and with kindness, and the P is for proceeding with awareness.  This is the basic recipe for implementing self awareness and self management, two of the fundamental aspects of emotional intelligence.  As with all skills, improvement takes practice.  One type of practice is to consistently do this in the moment, applying it throughout the day. The other type of practice is through more formal periods of meditation which are often required to actually alter the neural pathways in the brain that then make practicing this in the moment much easier.

So if we wish to cultivate this type of leadership, we can start by placing more emphasis on just being rather than on always thinking and doing.  We can slow down a bit to pay attention to our present moment experience without judging it, perhaps even bringing some kindness to ourselves in the moment, especially if what we are feeling is difficult or different than what we wish it was. Once we do this, then we can decide what the most skillful way to act might be and, in doing so, maybe inspire others to do the same.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings