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Centered Leader Series: Benefits of Mindfulness

Finding your physical center, as I talked about in the last post, is only the first step in the practice of centering. Centering is about getting in touch with your physical, emotional and spiritual core in order to stay calm in a crisis or during stressful times. Emotional centering isn’t about a mantra or credo—it is about mindfulness. Mindfulness is being fully present and engaged with others around you.

The Definition of Mindfulness

When a team member with a matter of conflict approaches you, think of the issue as a teaching and learning opportunity rather than an attack. The creator of the martial art of Aikido, O-sensei writes, “Always remain positive, calm, settled, and full of power, centered”.

Centering is at first physical–finding your one-point through focus and breathing. Next, centering is emotional. This can be achieved through the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness originated over 2,500 years ago with Buddhist practices of self reflection and contemplation. Over the last decade mindfulness has seen its popularity increase substantially as it starts being embraced by large organizations. But what is it exactly? There are a number of definitions, but in general it is focused on keeping one’s attention in the present moment while not judging or rejecting what is occurring at the moment. Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your surroundings and giving respect and an open mind to others around you. Mindlessness, defined as being on autopilot and going about life based on the assumption that what has happened in the past will happen again can be considered the opposite of mindfulness.

Mindful Listening Exercise

One key to mindfulness is the humble act of listening. It’s a powerful way to extend love towards others. People want to feel heard because this affirms their worth. It’s also a learning opportunity for us. Often we miss the opportunity when we become angry or defensive. When we are mindful and listen to others, our emotional state is curious and eager to extend help.

When you listen to others quietly with an open mind, it doesn’t mean that you’ll give up your power and give in to their demands. You may still disagree. Listening doesn’t cost you anything, but you stand to gain tremendous respect and loyalty as a centered leader if your team feels like you genuinely care about their interests, even if you ultimately find that their interests are in conflict with the team’s goals.

Becoming mindful

There are many ways to achieve mindfulness. I will continue to look at Aikido as a path that has been less explored than others, such as yoga. However, this does not make it better or worse, simply a path.

Regardless of the path you choose, it takes a lot of energy to resist tension. We waste energy when we tense up against a threat. Controlled relaxation focuses on harmonizing with the energy instead of resisting.

In Aikido, all energy, including that of an attack is considered good. Practitioners learn through constant repetition how to remain calm and centered in the midst of various kinds of attacks. We aren’t loose, like blobs, but we aren’t tensing against this external chaos, either. By focusing our energy on our center and not actively resisting exterior chaos, we cannot be moved and we can control our emotional reactions.

While we usually don’t have physical conflict in the conference room, it can feel at times like we’re being emotionally pushed around. What’s ironic is that it takes more energy to tense up against a stressful situation or conflict than it takes to relax. Aikido teaches us that this massive amount of energy that we put forth to resist weakens us. So just as mentioned in the prior article on physical centering, when you feel your emotions rising focus on your one-point, breath and strive to set emotion aside. This is certainly easier said than done, but the more one practices the easier this becomes. Start with small things that don’t bother you or matter too much in the grand scheme of life and work your way up to more substantive items.

It benefits not only ourselves but also our whole team when we are emotionally centered leaders. Keeping calm, relaxed and listening is how we practice emotional centering.

Other resources:

Headspace is a great app for practicing mindfulness. They call themselves “your very own personal trainer for the mind.”

Michael Chaskalson, wrote an excellent book called The Mindful WorkplaceHe also runs seminars on and offline.

David Gelles, Mindful WorkThis book is an interesting read about how many American corporations are adopting mindfulness as part of their overall employee wellness programs.

Next up, in our Centered Leadership Series, I’ll talk about confronting fear at work and how you can apply certain techniques to make you a better leader.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]