How to Be a Mindful Leader

Janice Marturano lived a high-energy, high-pressure life as a vice president and deputy general counsel at General Mills. Looking to restore her personal equilibrium during a rocky time, she discovered mindfulness meditation.

To her surprise, mindfulness and leadership quickly became intertwined.

Within weeks of beginning a morning meditation practice, Marturano became more aware of how she acted and reacted at work. She used mindfulness practices to become more focused in her conversations and decisions. Her days became more productive and priorities were met. Mindful leadership was making a positive difference in the quality of her work.

The Importance of Mindful Leadership

Now more than ever, being mindful leadership matters — not in some weird New Age way, but in a “this could make you more effective” way.

So often, we believe we can get more done if we switch to auto pilot and get through the day in a distracted, but somewhat scripted, routine. Sound familiar?

It’s not that scripts are bad, but an unchallenged, overreliance on them can be. Why? Because opportunities are missed and mistakes happen when we’re disengaged from our lives. Even on our morning drive to work, when we take the same route every day, it’s pretty dangerous to get too comfortable in that notion and stop paying attention.

This is especially true in the high-pace and complex world we’re navigating. While you might not veer over a lane into head-on traffic, you might do the organizational or social equivalent.

It feels counterintuitive, but slowing down can help you speed up because it can help you see what’s really happening, rather than playing a script that is full of assumptions that may or may not be true any longer. Mindful leadership helps leaders strengthen their ability to connect to themselves and each other, as well as strengthen their ability to skillfully initiate change.

Own Your Day Through Mindfulness

When Marturano first started to meditate, it wasn’t a part of her work life. “It was separate,” she says. “I mediated and I worked.”

Soon, however, she realized that if she incorporated mindful leadership in her day, it would affect the way she was working with her team. “I looked more clearly at how I was spending my day — much of it was spent on the loudest voice, not on what was most important. I was able to let go of things, which allowed my team to have greater responsibility. I had a new ability to hold ambiguity.

“Before this, I would have many days when I looked at my watch at 6:30 and thought, ‘I don’t know where the day went. I’ve been busy all day, but I’m not sure I could tell you what I got done today.'”

One day, Marturano looked at her watch and I realized she hadn’t had one of those days in a very long time. “I became even more curious about this connection between training the mind and cultivating leadership excellence and thought, if more people knew about this it would help them, the business, and maybe the community.”

Marturano shared her experience with colleagues at General Mills and eventually helped create the company’s Mindful Leadership training. Today, mindful leadership is a way of life at the company.

4 Fundamental Skills of Mindful Leadership

According to Marturano, mindful leadership requires the following 4 fundamental skills:

  • Focus allows us to sustain our attention as we solve problems. During mindfulness training, participants learn to focus their attention on something specific, such as their our breath — and then notice when their attention has wandered and redirect it.
  • Clarity helps us to see what is — not what we expect to see or what we hope will be. As we practice mindful leadership, we see our own conditioning, biases, and filters.
  • Creativity requires spaciousness. “When we are in the midst of all the thinking and busyness and the to-do lists, our ability to have that space is limited,” says Marturano. “In our practice, we begin to notice our capacity to be in what’s called open presence — to be with what’s here without getting caught up in it all.”
  • Compassion helps us to make choices with the understanding that we are all in this together. “It’s about cultivating deep, true understanding of what is here, including things that are complex and difficult and cause suffering, in our lives, others’ lives, in our communities,” Marturano says.

Mindfulness Through Meditation

As you start to make changes, people begin to see there is something different about your reactivity, your ability to let go, and your courage to say what is important to say, believes Marturano.

Ready to incorporate mindful leadership practices into your daily routine? For tips on how to get started — and apps that can walk you through it — read our article, How to Make Time for Your Wellness.

“When you are more present to be the best you can be, to be strong and courageous, to listen to what’s called for now, the ripple effect is much, much stronger and more powerful than you might imagine,” she says. “People will notice.”

We offer leadership development programs to help you understand how you can Maximize Your Leadership Potential. And our flagship Leadership Development Program (LDP)® equips managers and directors develop the resilience required to handle complex, rapidly changing conditions.


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