Mindfulness has proven to be a powerful tool for leaders. Chief executives at large corporations like General Mills and Aetna have embraced the practice, implementing company-wide initiatives such as meditation and yoga to guide employees in becoming more mindful. The programs have resulted in happier workplaces, but have also increased profitability and sustainability. At The Bailey Group, mindfulness is one of four disciplines on which our consulting practice is built.
In an earlier blog, “Five Ways ‘Type A’ Leaders Practice Mindfulness Without Meditation,” I wrote about my own experience with mindfulness. Receiving a cancer diagnosis immediately after losing my dad whipped me into a knotted mess of raw nerves and hampered my ability to “keep calm and carry on” in my role as a senior level leader. A psychologist trained me in the practice of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which was pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. The practice enabled me to strike a balance between emotion and logic so I could continue to be effective in my role.
But what about leaders who find themselves on the opposite end of the continuum—more logical than emotional? Think Lieutenant Commander Data of “Star Trek.” Though wise and respected, as an android it was difficult for him to understand human behavior. Until an “emotion chip” was installed, Data typically responded to sensitive situations by spewing out facts and figures. Many of us have worked with similar leaders. Does mindfulness work for CEOs and executives who tend toward logic?
The answer is yes. Here are three mindfulness tips for logical leaders that are inspired by Lieutenant Commander Data:
1. Observe emotions.
Data longed to experience emotions so he could be more human-like. He remarked, “I would gladly risk feeling bad at times, if it also meant that I could taste my dessert.” Humans are equipped with emotions for good reason. Emotions help us avoid danger and motivate us to take action. They help us better understand, engage and influence others—critical for leadership success. And the act of noticing our feelings without judgment shifts us into the present, providing us with valuable perspective.
The takeaway: Being mindful of emotions enables us to appreciate what it means to be human and to truly live in the moment.
2. Acknowledge failure.
Data once awkwardly acknowledged failure by exclaiming: “Apologies, Captain. I seem to have reached an odd functional impasse. I am, uh … stuck.” My colleague Danielle Paulson authored a blog on post-traumatic growth that emphasized how “setbacks and failure actually turn out to serve as catalysts for opportunity, personal and professional growth, and renewed optimism.” Owning our failures and embracing our imperfections not only makes us more emotionally resilient, it teaches us to have compassion for others.
The takeaway: When we humans reach an impasse, practicing mindfulness allows a clearer perspective that helps us get unstuck and enables growth.
3. Rest purposefully.
Data once asked Beverly Crusher, “If you had an off switch, doctor, would you not keep it secret?” We are well aware that rest is critical for recharging the human body, but when stress and tension get the best of us our capacity for sleep often suffers. Who among us hasn’t wished for the ability to flip a switch to shut down the flurry of activity in our head? Paying attention to breathing and how the body changes physically in the moment as we relax—without being critical—enables the mind to reset so we can get the rest we need.
The takeaway: Mindfulness practice is the secret switch for quieting the human brain and powering down.