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Mindfulness is a very common topic today, with plenty of advice about how to be more mindful. Have you ever wondered what this is all about, or why it is important to you as a leader?
First of all, what is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says that “mindfulness is the awareness that comes when we pay attention—on purpose—in the present moment, while suspending judgment.”
Judgment gets us in trouble. Snap judgments or assuming certain things about other people can lead to misunderstandings, bias and negative conflict. As a leader, you need to be open-minded and resist that temptation to judge.
In an article about how being mindful can make you a better leader, Bruna Martinuzzi writes:
“Practicing mindfulness reduces stress and boosts our ability to concentrate and have greater clarity. Practicing mindfulness enhances your leadership presence. We can all sense when we’re in the company of mindful leaders: They exude a calm demeanor and have a sharp focus that helps them connect with people in the moment.”
Sometimes the only assignment I give to my clients is just to notice. I want them to pay attention to whatever is the topic of our coaching, e.g., their communication, emotions, listening style, asking open-ended questions, what happens when certain people lead meetings, how others communicate, or what the group does.
I want them to get better at being aware, and you cannot be aware if you are not present. Not in the future or the past, but in the present. Yet this kind of noticing takes practice.
How do you practice being present?
It may be easiest to start by observing other people’s communication style, posture or questioning technique, it could be anything. You have plenty of ways to do this: in person, on video calls, by watching television or YouTube, or by listening to radio or podcast shows. Become a student of human behavior just by noticing.
What do you notice? What stands out as unusual? What trends do you see over and over again? What correlations can you make?
Log what you see by writing it down in a notebook or journal. The act of writing will help you pay even closer attention. Then discuss your findings with your coach, or whomever you want to share it with.
The next step is to observe yourself. Let’s take getting in touch with your emotions. First, create a simple log where you list throughout the day who you interacted with, what the topic was, and how it made you feel. Name that emotion.
After two weeks of capturing this data, you have more meaningful insights to discuss with your coach or someone else. What did you discover? Were you listening actively? What happened when you gave someone your full attention? What changed as a result? Look at what triggered you. Identify the emotions that came up when you were around a certain person. What can you do about that?