This article first appeared in Academic Leader on April 30, 2015 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

We live in a world of distraction. Technology bombards us with new information every second of the day, making it hard to focus on any one thing. Yet one of the most critical leadership skills is the ability to focus. Focus leads to greater effectiveness, better judgment, increased self-awareness, and stronger social connections.

Mindfulness is about focus. It is intentionally paying attention to the present moment. When we are mindful, we are aware of our inner experiences, our thoughts and emotions, and what is going on around us. We more readily notice when our minds starts to wander, which allows us to refocus our attention on the task at hand or the conversation in which we are engaged.

Mindfulness gives leaders calm, clear minds. A sense of calm is gained from being in the moment, as opposed to fretting over the past or worrying about the future. A calm mind enhances our ability to make good decisions. We see more clearly the pros and cons of different options.

Leaders who are mindful have greater self-awareness. Instead of getting carried away by their emotions, they notice how they are feeling, and this awareness lets them choose how to respond. The ability to regulate our behavior and respond more thoughtfully gives us greater confidence when facing difficult situations.

Mindful leaders are also better listeners, which increases their understanding of the people with whom they work. Greater empathy allows them to act more compassionately by addressing the needs and concerns of others. Acting compassionately builds stronger relationships.

So what can you do to become a more mindful leader? Many people associate mindfulness with meditation. Meditation is a formal way of training your attention. The practice of focusing your attention on something like your breath and refocusing each time your mind wanders is an excellent way to strengthen your attention muscle.

But meditating is not the only way to become mindful. Mindful leaders find ways to build moments of mindfulness into their daily lives. There are countless opportunities to be mindful throughout your day. Some include:

  • Slow down. Try walking more slowly, eating more slowly, driving more slowly. This will allow you to notice more of what is going on around you.
  • Don’t multitask. You cannot do two or more things at once. When you think you are multitasking, you are really switching your attention back and forth between different tasks. You are not focusing.
  • Control technology. Rather than letting technology control you, decide when you will check your email by scheduling times throughout the day. Turn off notifications so your mind isn’t yanked out of the present moment each time you hear a ding.
  • Go outside. There is always so much to see in nature that it pulls your attention into the present moment. Take walks or eat lunch outside when the weather is nice.
  • Use cues. Choose something you already do to serve as a cue to take a mindful pause. It could be each time you sit down to work at your desk or when you are transitioning from one place to another. Use the cue as a reminder to take a few slow, deep breaths and observe your thoughts and feelings. Then proceed with calm awareness.

We have never before experienced the amount of distraction that exists today. Mindfulness helps us handle distractions in a more skillful way. It gives us calm, clear minds, leading to better judgment and smarter decisions. It increases our self-awareness, giving us greater control over our actions. It improves our relationships with others by increasing our empathy.

What will you start doing today to become a more mindful leader?

Recommended Reading

Scott Eblin, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative (Wiley, 2014).

David Gelles, Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

Janice Marturano, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

Chade-Meng Tan, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) (HarperOne, 2012).