Become A Mindful Leader: Slow Down To Move Faster

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on

Mindfulness is hot right now–Hollywood hot, Davos hot, Main Street hot.

Actress Goldie Hawn led a panel at Davos on the why mindfulness matters; director David Lynch has an entire foundation dedicated to bringing meditation and mindfulness practices to veterans and other trauma survivors; public schools from California to Maine are teaching basic principles of mindfulness to their students. And, of course, there’s the Search Inside Yourself program at Google , established in 2007 to teach employees core elements of a mindfulness practice: train your attention, develop self-knowledge and self-mastery, and create useful mental habits.

For business leaders, encouraging mindfulness is more than just being tuned in; it’s a strategy to improve personal and company-wide performance and productivity, both of which support overall organizational resilience. As Kate Pickert wrote in a February TIME cover story (“The Mindful Revolution”), “most leaders…feel besieged by long work hours and near constant connectivity. For these people, there seems to be no time to zero in on what’s important or plan ahead.”

Mindfulness practices are useful because they help you become aware of, and then to rewire, how you interpret and react to what happens. You then have a much greater capacity for fresh, creative thinking on all fronts, from product development to hiring policies to creating a workable daily schedule. (Read more on managing stressful thoughts and beliefs.)

To be clear, mindfulness isn’t about not checking Twitter for a day. Evgeny Morozov of the New Republic writes critically of the simplistic trend to think of mindfulness as a disconnection from social technology in order recharge and regain productivity. While he sees a rather grand purpose in mindfulness — re-evaluating the purpose of all this technology on a cultural level — entrepreneurs have a specific, meaningful stake in mindfulness, too.

Consider mindfulness a powerful lifelong strategy for entrepreneurs. As paradoxical as it sounds, you’ve got to slow down sometimes in order to move at the speed your demands and ambitions require. As an entrepreneur and leader, you don’t just want to keep pace; you want to innovate and push boundaries. To be creative in this way, you absolutely must reclaim mental and emotional territory from the stress of overwork and hyperconnection, as well as the other factors that burn you out personally and organizationally — difficult colleague relationships, failed ventures, the demands of family and work, economic uncertainty.

Being a Mindful Leader

Harvard University professor Ellen Langer, an expert in mindfulness research, has found that mindfulness helps leaders reframe any potential crisis.

“Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. [It] helps you realize that there are no positive or negative outcomes,” she said in an excellent recent Harvard Business Review interview. “There’s A, B, C, D, and more, each with its challenges and opportunities…You can be mindful, you can be mindless. You can win, you can lose. The worst case is to be mindless and lose. So when you’re doing anything, be mindful, notice new things, make it meaningful to you, and you’ll prosper.”

To boost mindful leadership, Langer first recommends imagining that your thoughts are totally transparent to those around you. If they were, she says, you’d bring much more awareness to each thought. You’d be more inclined to perceive people and their actions with a fresh perspective, rather than stay mindlessly stuck in negative assumptions and judgements.

When you practice and model mindfulness, and find ways to encourage mindfulness at work, you and your employees build greater individual resilience. In turn, your organization becomes more supple, creative, and resilient, too.