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.
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.
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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