8 habits of mindful leaders

How can you be a more mindful leader? Consider these 8 practices for bringing more mindfulness to your work day and team - to boost well-being and innovative thinking
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The most important weapon in an IT leader’s arsenal is actually his or her brain. Yet the always-on, high-stakes nature of today’s corporate technology environment can take a toll on your mind.

What is a mindful leader?

Mindfulness – the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations – can provide some relief for your brain. For a leader, this is particularly important since stress will trickle down to your team, affecting factors such as morale and innovative thinking.

What’s even better, mindfulness practices sustained over time can actually reshape the brain.

In their 2017 book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson reviewed hundreds of behavioral and neuroimaging studies related to mindfulness and found that regular sessions of mindful attention have a soothing effect on the brain’s amygdala – the emotional center of the brain.

A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia and the Chemnitz University of Technology, aggregating results from more than 20 neuroscience studies, identified at least eight different regions of the brain that were impacted consistently by mindfulness, including the hippocampus, which is often associated with resilience. 

[ Is mindfulness for you? Learn from a CTO who was skeptical but now makes mindfulness a daily habit: Mindfulness: 3 ways leaders can get started. ]

Many CIOs find a daily meditation practice can be beneficial – and there are plenty of apps and YouTube videos for those who would like to incorporate that into their routines. However, IT leaders can also practice mindfulness in a number of other ways during the course of the workday. Try one or more of these ideas:

How can I be a mindful leader? 8 daily practices

1. Take a moment with your calendar

Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, first started incorporating mindfulness in her professional life by taking time for what she called a “leadership reflection” within her calendar each day. She takes a few minutes to be more intentional about what she will prioritize, asking herself if what is scheduled is necessary and making sure she has set aside some open time each day.

Amy Jen Su, managing partner and co-founder of Paravis Partners and author of the forthcoming book “The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self–Every Day," suggests looking at tasks with an eye toward what you want to prioritize, elevate, tolerate, or delegate.

[ How does your EQ stack up? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ]

2. Stop multi-tasking

“We’re all guilty of it,” Amit Dutta, CEO of IT People Network. “In an attempt to be more mindful, try focusing one task at a time.” Dutta likes to use the Pomodoro Technique, breaking down the day into 25-minute chunks of intervals of focused activity.

3. Try an outside-in approach

“IT leaders often spend so much time balancing endless initiatives and business partner requests they forget mindfulness is present-moment awareness in each activity as much as meditation,” says Ryan K. Lahti, founder of STEM leadership consultancy OrgLeader and author of “The Finesse Factor: How to Build Exceptional Leaders in STEM Organizations.” That can mean awareness of others as well – and meetings and conversations can be a good place to practice that.

“Read the stakeholders in the room to get a sense of where they are at, which helps you figure out how best to engage them in a discussion of specific issues,” suggests Lahti. “Do this in real time by paying attention to what is not said, what is said, and how it is said. Specifically, tune into body language such as facial expressions, gestures, body positioning, and eye contact. Then make note of tone of voice, volume, and cadence in addition to word choice.”

4. Try body scanning

For a good grounding exercise, take a minute to clear your mind and then focus on the physical sensations of your body. “Focusing on one specific part of your body at a time can help,” says LogMeIn’s senior director of product marketing Paul Gentile. “You’ll likely identify some areas with tension or discomfort; relax them or move into a position where they can relax. Maybe your neck is craning to look down, your back isn’t in a natural or comfortable position, or your elbows are resting so hard on your desk that it’s ripping a hole in the elbow of your shirt. It’s happened to me.”

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.