What is a leader? According to author and coach Tony Robbins, leadership refers to how we, as individuals, choose to lead our own lives, as well as inspire others to grow toward their best selves (Robbins, 2022).
There are many kinds of leaders in today’s world. Many of us have the potential to lead, whether professionally at work or informally in our own lives. Whether leading or collaborating with countries, communities, businesses, organizations, schools, families, or one-to-one relationships, leaders and emerging leaders can create impact in many ways—large and small, at macro and micro levels.
Good leaders bring out the best in people. At its essence, leadership is a skill set involving ways of thinking that we can all learn and utilize to empower others (Robbins, 2022). Many good leaders are strong collaborators who share responsibility with others as they resolve challenges and achieve their goals.
Our 21st-century world benefits when leaders interact mindfully and with compassion. Leaders who live and work with mindfulness and compassion have greater potential to inspire others, catalyze positive change, and promote well-being and effectiveness (Dreher, 2015; Goleman & Boyatsis, 2008; Lanaj et al., 2006; Neff, 2022).
Both mindfulness and compassion are booming topics of scientific inquiry (Goleman & Davidson, 2017; Neff & Dahm, 2015; Shapiro, 2020). Strong evidence links mindfulness with enhanced life satisfaction, positive emotions, compassion, and overall well-being. In the business world, many Fortune 500 companies have recognized the value of mindfulness and share it with their employees.
Practicing mindfulness can build greater empathy and compassion for yourself and others, which are important components of mindful leadership (Shapiro, 2020). Psychologist Kristen Neff, Ph.D., (2022) identifies three elements of self-compassion:
- Willingness to observe your thoughts and feelings with acceptance rather than getting lost in reacting or negativity.
- Being kind to yourself even when you fall short of your goals and desires or are suffering.
- Recognizing that imperfection, suffering, and inadequacy are part of being human.
Mindfulness and compassion are learnable skills you can practice and grow. To strengthen your skills for mindfulness and compassion, here are a few ideas:
1. Offer yourself self-compassion. These steps can be utilized any time you want or need to give yourself compassion and self-care (Neff, 2022).
Remind yourself of a circumstance in your life that’s causing you difficulty, challenge, or stress. Consider how you feel about this situation—your emotional and physical reaction.
Calmly say to yourself:
- This is a moment of suffering. (Or you might name the experience: This is stress. This is sadness. This is painful.)
- Suffering is part of living. (Or Everyone suffers in their lives; I am not alone; suffering is part of life.) You might gently put your hands at your heart center, your abdomen, or wherever feels soothing.
- May I be compassionate with myself. As an alternative, you might choose another phrase that feels soothing or comfortable for you, such as May I be well. May I be kind to myself. May I be whole and complete as I am.
2. Practice lovingkindness meditation. Practicing lovingkindness meditation, sometimes called metta meditation can soothe the mind, activate your capacity for kindness, and help you become present with kindness and compassion toward others (Dreher, 2015; Neff 2021; Salzberg, 2014).
- Sitting comfortably in a safe location, with your eyes open or closed (whatever’s more comfortable for you), think about or whisper these phrases: May I be safe. May I be well. May I be happy. May I be peaceful (Salzberg, 2014; Dreher, 2015).
- As you think of someone you care about or who has been kind to you, you can say to yourself—May you be safe. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be peaceful.
- Then you can add—May all beings everywhere be safe. May all beings everywhere be well. May all beings everywhere be peaceful.
3. Begin meetings and get-togethers with a moment of mindfulness. When opening a meeting, consider suggesting a 60-second pause for people (including yourself) to turn attention to the breath or a calming phrase. This brief practice can help people focus and become present right here, right now. For example, I am breathing in, I am breathing out; or As I take this breath, I am calm and present.
Mindfulness Essential Reads
4. Continue learning about leadership, mindfulness, and compassion. Life-long learning is a great way to continue to grow, gain new skills, and bring them to your organizations, relationships, and personal life. Some ways to continue learning include reading articles and books, listening to podcasts and TED talks, viewing videos, attending trainings and workshops, taking courses, and working with a leadership coach.
How can you strengthen your skills as a mindful, compassionate leader at work and in life?
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. No content is a substitute for consulting with a qualified mental health or health care professional.
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