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traits of a mindful leader

5 traits of a mindful leader

To really embody mindful leadership it’s important to think about the traits that you value the most. The more we are able to embody those characteristics, the more it becomes a part of who we are – our human fabric. In my position as a mindful leadership trainer, I often get to talk to people who are at the very start of their leadership journey, who are still deciding what sort of leader they want to be. And I often get asked ‘What are the traits of a mindful leader?

Defining the characteristics of mindful leadership then can be quite difficult because it’s not a ‘one size fit’s all’. When I talk about mindful leadership, a lot of people go straight to picturing a CEO, or a corporate high flyer who is in charge of hundreds or thousands of people.

But for my mind, mindful leadership is more available than that, and it relates to everybody. It’s how we show up for people in any environment; whether that’s in the boardroom, at your kids sporting event or within your local community group . Mindful leadership is understanding that to be an effective leader of others, we first have to learn how to effectively lead ourselves.

Although mindful leadership has an element of action, as with any style of leadership, it is more a way of being. These 5 traits, which are common in most mindful leaders, may give you an insight into what that way of being looks like. 
traits of a mindful leader

5 Traits of a Mindful Leader

1. Awareness

If leadership starts with self, we first have to have an understanding of what’s happening within us. Dan Goleman, who literally wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence, says self awareness is the keystone of Emotional Intelligence. If we aren’t aware of whats happening with self, how can we effectively lead others. We would be more susceptible to mood swings, irrational thoughts, bias and poor decision making. Mindful leaders are self aware enough to realise how their thoughts and emotions affect their leadership. 

2. Calmness (particularly under pressure)

A mindful leader has a sense of calm that shines through, particularly during hard times or even during a crisis. This isn’t always a natural ability, but is often cultivated through practicing mindfulness over a number of months or years. A mindful leader will notice when things are starting to get heated and self regulate so they don’t get caught up in the stress of the situation. This skill is particularly useful when leading others, as the leader often sets the emotional tone for the rest of the team. 

3. Attention

Another sign of a mindful leader is someone who is willing to stop whatever they are doing, no matter how busy they are, and give you their full attention. I remember the first time I noticed this many years ago with one of the senior leaders I worked for. Despite the fact I knew she was extremely busy juggling many urgent tasks, she always stopped typing on her keyboard and physically turned towards me whenever I entered her office to ask my questions. If a leader chooses to multi-task their way through a conversation, what message is that sending their team? Unfortunately they run the risk of making their team feel unappreciated or even undervalued.

4. Authenticity 

This is a trait that has gotten a bad wrap over the last 5 years because some people feel it has been overused in the leadership space. But I think a mindful leader, who is conscious of their own strengths and weaknesses, still tries to be as authentic to themselves as possible.  If we strive to be too much like a mentor or someone we admire as a leader, it becomes tiring and difficult to maintain if it doesn’t match who we are as a person. The best leader you can be is the best version of yourself. We can absolutely look to others as an example, but we have to shape our own style to be true to who we are as a person. 

5. Gratitude 

A mindful leader doesn’t focus on the things they don’t have (resources, time, budget etc), they are grateful for the things they do have. It’s easy to get caught up in negativity where there is an environment of people who are constantly complaining about everything. A mindful leader is able to recognise that negative culture, but doesn’t feel the need to join in with the ‘me to’ attitude. Rising above it, and even trying to lift the gratitude of others, is another trait mindful leaders have.

As I started my list, my intention was to keep the list as short as possible, but for me mindful leadership is so much more than just 5 traits! What do you think, what other characteristics do you think are common in mindful leaders (comment below)?

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Reflective Practice

Reflective Practice using Gibbs Reflective Cycle

One of the best tools I have found over the years to develop my leadership capability is reflective practice. Reflective practice is looking back on an event or a period of time with the intention of learning from it so we can improve for next time.

I am a firm believer that leadership can’t necessarily be taught in a classroom, although there are certainly models, theories and discussions that can be shared, the real learning happens in our day to day lives. We learn leadership by our actions, internal feedback, external feedback and reflecting on past situations. It’s about contextualising the lessons for your leadership style and situation. This is where reflective practice can help.

There are basically two ways of doing reflective practice: formally and informally. The focus of this post is going to be on the more formal approach, in particular by following a step-by-step method called the Gibbs Reflective Cycle.

Gibbs Reflective Cycle

Figure 1: Gibbs G (1988) Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

The idea is to use this model as a guide to write about each of the headings in a journal or notepad. Each heading is a prompt to write what you noticed about different aspects of the event in question.

Description: What actually happened? This is where you give a factual account of the information at hand, noticing any subjective stories that are coming through. Try and remain as objective as possible.

Feelings: What were you thinking and feeling, both before the event and during it. Often we don’t look back to how our mood may have impacted the way things played out. Maybe we had just had a fight with our spouse. Maybe we couldn’t find a carpark near the office so had to drive around in circles for half an hour. These things could have shaped your feelings during the event, even though we don’t think about them at the time. And also reflect on what were you thinking and feeling during the situation?

Evaluation: What was good about the situation, and what was bad about it? We tend to think just because overall the situation didn’t go as well as it could have that everything must have been bad – but that’s not always the case. For example, the fact you had the difficult conversation despite it’s outcome is a good thing because at least it’s now out in the open. 

Analysis: What sense can you make of the situation? Here you can be a little more subjective as you try and figure out what actually happened during the event you are reflecting on. Look for clues as to why the other person responded or behaved the way they did for example.

Conclusion: What else could you have done in the moment to change the course of the outcome? If the situation was negative, what steps could you have taken to bring things back on track? For example, if the other person escalated during a difficult conversation, did you escalate as well? Could you have been more mindful in this situation to affect a different outcome?

Action Plan: And if this situation arose again, what could you do differently next time to achieve a better result? What steps could you take before the situation to make sure things turn out better?

Reflective Practice

In the examples I gave above, the situations were mostly negative. However you can just as easily use the Gibbs Reflective Cycle for positive reflection. Reflect on a situation where things went really well and think about how you achieved it, and what you could do next time to get the same, or an even better results.

I write more about reflective practice and how to get the most out of your reflective practice in my new book The No-Bullsh*t Guide to Mindful Leadership. This book is full of simple yet effective techniques for being a more mindful leader.

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Rob Hills TEDx Canberra

TEDx Canberra Mindfulness Presentation

Recently I had the honour and pleasure of presenting a workshop to the TEDx Canberra Salon on Saturday 25 March 2017. The theme of the TEDx Canberra event was Empower and exploring what it means to be truly empowered? Where does ‘empower­ment’ come from? How do we empower ourselves? So, sticking with the theme, my workshop was titled ‘Empowering your life 1 mindful minute at a time’. 

Rob Hills TEDx Canberra

During the workshop we explored what it means to use mindfulness as a way of empowering people to be more present in their lives. This is not only for their mental wellbeing, but also to enhance their relationships with the people as well. And we got to do that in a really practical way, with lots of activities and suggestions for how people can start applying this in their own lives.

My passion is showing people how they can be more mindful and the many benefits it offers. I love the feedback I get when people tell me how mindfulness has helped them.

And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of time to start being more mindful. I’m a strong believer that we need to make mindfulness fit our lives, and by starting small we can do just that. You don’t need to carve out massive chunks of your day to be more mindful. You can be mindful in a minute.

Have you checked out the new 1 Mindful Minute video series? Click here to watch. 

mindfulness discussion

Thankyou TEDx Canberra

It was such an awesome experience and I loved working with the amazing TEDx volunteers who ran the event. If you haven’t yet heard of the amazing work that TED and TEDx’s do around the world, I would encourage you to check them out!

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Mindful Leadership Rob Hills

How to stay mindful during difficult conversations

As a leader we have to engage in difficult conversations on a regular basis, no matter how easy going we think we are. There’s asking people to do things they don’t want to, saying no to requests and conversations around performance management; all of these things have the potential to turn into difficult conversations. The question is, how do you remain mindful during these difficult conversations so you can thoughtfully engage with the person, but still get the right outcomes for everyone involved?

 

Difficult conversations - mindful Leadership. Rob Hills.
Difficult conversations are not uncommon in the workplace.

 

Evolution has basically equipped us with two options when it comes to conflict; fight or flight. When faced with conflict our brain automatically starts preparing us physiologically to either engage our enemy or retreat to safety. Blood begins to head towards our limbs and large muscle groups so we are ready to run (leg muscles) or fight (chest, arms and legs). The heart starts racing and our palms begin to sweat. Our breathing rate increases.

 

To learn how mindful leadership can reduce stress in your workplace click here.

 

This may have been useful in the days of the dinosaurs, we really only had two options, but in a modern world there aren’t too many prehistoric predators roaming our offices (despite what you may think of some of your colleagues). There is actually a third option – use our mind. Unfortunately we haven’t yet evolved enough as a species to get a physiological response for increased brain function during times of stress. So at the time when you really need your brain to function at it’s peak, you can barely string two sentences together because your body is busily preparing you for good old fight or flight.

 

What about mindfulness?

 

Using mindfulness during difficult conversations gives us the opportunity to override our body’s natural responses so we can be more calm and more focused. This state of heightened consciousness allows us to become more aware of what is causing our negative thoughts and emotions. Being aware of this negativity enables us to self regulate to a more productive state and have a better conversation.

 

Our subjective minds have a tendency to take over when we are in a negative state and go into ‘story mode’; our brains make up stories to fill in gaps so we can make better sense of what is happening in our world. The problem with these stories is they are often one sided and inflammatory and make difficult conversations even harder.

 

The first step in become more mindful during difficult conversations is to notice when it starts heading down a negative track and realising that you want to get off that train as quickly as possible! For some people it’s noticing the physiological response; the breath, the racing heart or the feeling of anxiety. For others it’s a voice in their head that says ‘this isn’t going how I expected it to’. At it’s worst it becomes painfully obvious when the build up of emotional energy explodes out of our bodies in the form of yelling, insults or aggressive behaviour.

 

To learn why you don’t need to be a monk to be mindful click here

 

Noticing these thoughts and emotions before they do any damage can be half the battle so make sure you give yourself credit when you notice early. Try taking a few deep, calming breaths to help regulate your thoughts and emotions. Make sure you stay present to the conversation, but keep focused on slowing your breath and staying calm.

 

What do we really want?

 

Our overall goal in these situations should be to respond, not react. However, this is difficult if we are not able to regulate those negative thoughts and emotions. There is a great quote by Victor Frankl that says “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. Give yourself the opportunity to choose your response instead of giving in to your reactions.

 

Mindful Leadership Rob Hills
Our goal during during difficult conversations is to respond, not react

 

Now that you are calmer and more mindful try and negate some of these stories by asking yourself a couple of key clarifying questions;

  • What is your intention for this argument? Is it to be right? Or is there a bigger picture?
  • How will this conversation affect your working relationship if it is not handled correctly?
  • Will this matter a year from now? Often in the heat of battle, we can’t see the forest for the trees, so maintaining perspective is tough. Taking a longer-term view gives us perspective to know whether this is important in the big scheme of things.
  • How would this look from the other person’s perspective? How have you contributed to this conflict? Stephen Covey says we should “seek first to understand, before being understood”. Use your active listening skills to find out what is really at the heart of the issue for the other person (hint: sometimes it’s not just the words they are saying).
  • What is the right thing to do in this situation? This powerful question should give you clarification on whether you back down or stand your ground. You need to choose your battles, but do it for the right reason.

 

Could difficult conversations be opportunities?

 

At this point it might be useful to think of this conversation as an opportunity for you to practice your communication skills and staying more mindful. That subtle mindset shift can often be enough to redirect your energy away from hostility to the challenge of communicating more thoughtfully.

 

Hopefully you will find these ideas useful when you find yourself in difficult conversations. Don’t forget these skills are like a muscle that will need to be exercised regularly if you want to improve. You may encounter hiccups along the way, but be gentle with yourself and others and keep trying. Remember, practice makes perfect!

 

Have you checked out the new 1 Mindful Minute video series? Click here to watch. 

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Rob Hills Mindful Leadership

How mindful leadership can reduce stress in your workplace

As leaders we tend to have a lot of information constantly going around in our heads. So much so that it can feel like there is no more room to fit anything in! We are thinking about the things that have happened in the past; tasks we have been given, things we have agreed to do or even things that may have gone wrong. We are also focused on what’s happening in the future; looming deadlines, upcoming presentations or difficult situations we may have to manage. With all these things going around in our heads there’s little wonder that workplace stress is on the rise.

 

One of our key responsibilities as leaders in any workplace is monitoring and managing workplace stress. There are so many different factors contributing to stress in the workplace; long hours, heavy workload, tight deadlines, poor leadership, change, and the list goes on. The rise of stress in the workplace is the reason the World Health Organization has dubbed it the “health epidemic of the 21st century”.

 

As leaders we have a responsibility to our organisations to ensure our teams are productive and running as efficiently as possible. Our role is to ensure the never-ending cycle of tasks and projects are completed on time and on budget. However, if we focus purely on output it can be to the detriment of our greatest asset – our people! There needs to be a balance of completing tasks and monitoring those around us for signs of stress and fatigue. As leaders, we need to ensure that we are not only looking after our own mental well-being, but also for those we lead.

 

According to Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat Zinn, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally”. Mindful leadership then is just extending this mindfulness practice to the workplace and incorporating it into your leadership style.

 

Mindfulness reduces stress in the workplace
Mindfulness means paying attention in the present moment

 

Mindful leaders manage stress

 

A mindful leader is someone who manages stress within themselves and others to produce optimal outcomes for their team and their organisation. They are better able to self regulate their emotions and the emotions of those around them. This enables them to make better decisions in ever increasing complex and challenging work environment. There is so much research available nowadays that shows how mindfulness can reduce stress levels, lowers blood pressure and can restore a sense of wellbeing.

 

Incorporating mindfulness into your leadership practice enables you to become more aware of what is happening in your world, both internally and externally. It involves ‘checking in’ regularly throughout your day to notice any stress or negative feelings that may be creeping in or taking over. We use those signals to let us know how we are travelling and whether now may be the time to take a moment to focus on bringing the stress levels down.

 

When you notice you’re feeling stressed, it gives you the power to choose what comes next. Do you keep pushing through the anxiety to make sure you can check another thing off the list, or do you take a moment to just breathe and try and re-centre yourself? So often we choose to ignore the sense of unease or the feelings of stress because we are either too busy to notice or it feels like we have no other option than to just keep going.

 

Take a micro break

 

Just stopping for a minute to focus on our breath or taking a short mindful break is enough to regulate your stress levels and restore a sense of calm in your day. Some people think when I talk about mindfulness in the workplace I mean meditating on the boardroom table. They think I’m asking them to sit barefoot in full lotus position in the middle of their office. This is not the case at all.

 

Mindfulness reduces stress in the workplace
You don’t have to meditate on the boardroom table to be mindful!

 

You can be more mindful without any one even noticing. One of my favourite ways of ‘catching my breath’ throughout my day is to pick a spot on the computer screen and just allow my gaze to soften. Then I just breathe. I let go of any tension in my body and I just focus on the physical sensations of my breath. In the 5 years I’ve been doing this, no one has noticed or commented (but I’m sure they will now!). I have found by doing this practice for one minute just a couple of times a day, I feel less stressed and more at ease at the end of even my most hectic days.

 

As a leader people look to us to set the standard. If we are thriving on ‘busyness’ and not proactively showing positive self-regulation techniques throughout our day, how can we expect our people to feel comfortable to do the same? What culture are you promoting in your people and in your organisation; a culture of ‘busyness’ at all costs and output is king. Or would you rather create a culture of wholeness, where we look after one another and ourselves and together we can achieve great things – but not at the expense of our mental or physical health. The standards we set affect our teams and our organisations – make sure they are the right ones!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 4 December 2016. You can see the original article here

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Rob Hills Mindful Leadership

You don’t have to be a monk to be mindful

As a person who teaches leadership for a living, one of my specialist areas of interest is Mindful Leadership. When I first mention mindfulness, it’s really interesting to see the different reactions I get from the participants. I often see their faces change almost immediately and it’s usually one of three reactions;

• A knowing look or a nod of someone who has practiced or experienced mindfulness before
• A look of fear like ‘whoa I didn’t order any of that!’
• Or a confused look that says ‘you’ve lost me a little bit?’

 

Some people haven’t heard of mindfulness before, or aren’t really sure of the terminology, so after a brief explanation they then usually fall back into one on of the first two categories above. Most times it’s the first one because the majority of people have had experience with being mindful but didn’t really know what to call it.

 

But what is it that causes fear amongst even the strongest of our future leaders?

 

In my experience it is a misconception about what mindfulness actually is. Some people seem to think to be mindful you have to meditate in silence for 4 hours a day and wear long robes and join a monastery. In fact I even had one gentleman ask me once ‘Don’t you have to be a monk to be mindful?’

 

You don't have to be a monk to be mindful
Monks Meditating

 

Mindfulness is just bringing more moment-to-moment awareness into your day. It’s focusing on the present moment rather than worrying about things that have happened in the past or being anxious about what may happen in the future. It’s also being fully immersed in one activity rather than trying to juggle multiple things at once (and usually not doing any of them particularly well!).

 

To learn how mindfulness can reduce stress in your workplace click here

 

After our session on Mindful Leadership, most of the class can see the benefits and commit to being more mindful in their daily lives. But every now and then there is someone who still isn’t quite sure and may have even more misconceptions about what mindful is and isn’t. So I thought maybe we could clear these up while we are on the subject.

 

You have to be religious to practice mindfulness.

 

Although mindfulness is said to have it’s roots in a number of ancient religions, mindfulness is not tied to any religion nor do you have to be religious to practice. Mindfulness does not require any religious books, studies, talismans or beliefs; it is simply being present in the moment – whatever that looks like for you.

 

Mindfulness is trying to blank the mind.

 

The mind is built to think and we are constantly having any number of thoughts consciously or sub-consciously. The aim of mindfulness is not to blank the mind but to allow thoughts to come and go without getting caught up in them. One of the best analogies I have heard to describe this is that you are sitting on a platform watching trains pull into and out of the station. The aim is not to get onto any of the trains but just watch them come and go. If you get on a train, you never know where you are going to end up. It’s exactly the same for thoughts.

 

 

Mindfulness - Train Station
Watching thoughts is like watching trains pull in and out of a train station

 

Mindfulness is a relaxation technique.

 

However, relaxation is often a by-product of mindfulness. When you are striving to relax, if something goes wrong (or just different to the way you planned it), you are going to get frustrated and you may try harder which won’t feel very relaxing at all. Too many times we are wishing for things to be different or judging what is happening in the present moment. By wishing for things to be different you’re saying you aren’t content or happy with the way things are. So just let go of your expectations and just be.

 

Mindfulness will make me weak.

 

On the contrary, by practicing mindfulness we are actually strengthening our minds so we have greater control over thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is like going to the gym for our minds. Every time you remind yourself that you are not being mindful, and to come back to the present moment, is like doing one bicep curl in the gym. The more times you catch your mind wandering and refocus, the stronger you get. This in turn can help us become more resilient against stress, anxiety and even depression.

 

Mindfulness is just another passing fad.

 

Mindfulness has been around for centuries and will be around for centuries to come. Although there has been a spike in interest in mindfulness, particularly in the last decade or so, it’s not something that has just risen up out of the shadows overnight. When people practice mindfulness they begin to experience that the concepts are incredibly simple, but not necessarily easy. However they soon find that the effort in harnessing the mind is worth the peace you experience when you are living more mindfully.

 

Want to try a quick and easy way to practice mindfulness using the S.T.O.P. technique click here

 

I hope this clears up any misconceptions about mindfulness, but if it doesn’t please feel free to comment below. I’d also love to hear about any other experiences with these or any other misconceptions.

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Rob Hills Mindful Leadership

Being more mindful starts with S.T.O.P.

One of the questions I get asked a lot from people who are new to mindfulness is around techniques they can use during stressful situations to help them calm down. They may be overwhelmed because of a high workload and tight deadlines, becoming anxious at the thought of a big presentation or dealing with a difficult conflict in the workplace.

 

Being more mindful starts with S.T.O.P.

 

These people don’t want the long-winded answer about how they should take up a formal meditation practice or even enrol in a mindfulness course – they just need something to help them now! Something to give them a little peace in an otherwise stressful day! I usually tell them ‘You just need to STOP!’.

 

To learn how mindful leadership can reduce stress in your workplace click here.

 

 

Stop sign leadership
Being more mindful starts with S.T.O.P

 

Using a short acronym like STOP makes it easier for us to remember, which means we are more likely to use it regularly. You can do this technique in a relative short time frame and you don’t need any specials tools to get you started. A lot of people that I have trained over the years love this technique and have had a lot of success implementing it, both at work and at home. It is so simple, yet so powerful.

 

S stands for Stop.

When you become aware that you are feeling stress or anxious about something that’s happening. Try and catch yourself in the act, even if you are mid sentence or in the middle of telling yourself how awful something is going to turn out. You can either say the word ‘STOP’ out loud or you can just say it to yourself. Stop worrying, stop being anxious, stop ruminating.

 

T stands for Take a few breaths.

Now that you have stopped give yourself an opportunity to take a few deep mindful breaths, really focusing on inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.

 

O stands for Observe.

You will notice as you start to breathe deeply you immediately release some of that negative tension that your negative thoughts have already built up in your body. Become aware of that tension and negative energy and slowly release those too as you continue with your breath. Whether you have balled up your fists, clenched your jaw or are just holding on tightly to something – it’s time to let that go and breathe through it. Just observe your present experience including thoughts, feelings and emotions without judgement.

 

P stands for Proceed.

Allow yourself to choose the best possible way to proceed in this moment. Do you need to shake it off, make a cup of tea or just remember that this too shall pass so you don’t need to hold on so tightly.

 

To learn why you don’t need to be a monk to be mindful click here

 

Just noticing that you are feeling stressed or anxious is the first step in becoming more mindful. The more regularly you use the STOP technique the better you will become at regulating your own emotions, feelings and thoughts. You will find after a while that just by saying the word STOP, you will become more aware, automatically release some of that negative energy and feel calmer.

 

Why don’t you STOP now and give it a try!

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