The Zen Leader: How Practicing Mindfulness Can Transform Your Career

Imagine a day when you’ve got laser-sharp focus, no matter what distractions might be swirling around you at work.

That’s the world of the zen leader – someone who can still be powerful, persuasive and productive, no matter how difficult a boss, team member, client or project can be.

Mindfulness techniques for the office
Practicing mindfulness at work

A growing number of executives are now practicing mindfulness, a widely popular form of meditation that has been proven to:

While its roots can be traced back to ancient Buddhist practices, mindfulness is having its moment.

Many busy executives are finding a need to take breaks from their stressful, demanding, always plugged-in jobs.

Mindfulness helps you develop a keen self-awareness of what you see, hear and feel and, in particular, your own breathing. It basically offers you a presence of mind that can help you meet the day’s many challenges with aplomb.

Practicing mindful leadership

Check out how mindfulness improved one woman’s life…

Before she discovered the restorative powers of mindfulness, Janice Marturano, General Mills VP, found herself working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, for 18 months straight as she presided over a $10.5 billion acquisition.

During this time, both of her parents died, yet she had no time to grieve because “I was responsible for making sure that 10,000 people didn’t lose their jobs,” she said.

However, after the deal closed, she went on a mindfulness retreat, which changed everything for her.

She realized how leadership and mindfulness are so inextricably linked that it propelled her to start the Institute of Mindful Leadership, a nonprofit that brings mindful leadership to corporations around the world.

4 ways to join the mindfulness movement

Many companies, like Aetna and Target, offer their employees in-house mindfulness programs. But you don’t have to wait for your company to offer a formalized program when all you need are a few basics and a few minutes a day.

In fact, why not encourage your team to reap the benefits of mindfulness as well?

Here are some ways to get started today:

Get plugged in

Many executives like to jumpstart a mindfulness program with one of the over 500 apps now available. Headspace, which is probably the most popular app with over 8.5 million active users, has been ranked as the highest quality “mindfulness-based” iPhone app in a recent study. Goldman Sachs even bought bulk subscriptions for its employees. Calm is an app that helps block out all external commotion with the patter of rain or gentle animals sounds. Created by ABC anchor Dan Harris, 10% Happier, known as “meditation for fidgety skeptics,” offers a personalized two-week mindfulness course. Stop, Breathe and Think helps when you’re in the midst of a stressful situation by asking “How are you?” as it helps you stop, breathe and think before you allow panic to swallow you whole.

Take a breath

Practicing mindfulness in short spurts throughout the day will keep your attention focused on each task at hand. Take 30 seconds or so a few times a day to slow down and take deep breaths, paying attention as you inhale and exhale. You might take three breaths in the car before you go into the office, when you first sit at your desk, or before returning home after work.

Start your day the right way

It’s not all about breathing. You can approach your day in a more mindful way, as well. Avoid reading your email first thing in the morning. Since most people are generally most focused in the morning, take that time to become more mindful. “If you read your email as you get up, your mind will get sidetracked and you’ll begin the slide toward reactive leadership,” said Rasmus Hougaard, author of One Second Ahead: Enhancing Performance at Work with Mindfulness. Try waiting at least 30-60 minutes after you get to work before checking your inbox.

Take a mindful minute (when you need it)

If you’re trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment during the day, mindfulness will make the difference. First, simply stop and focus on breathing to calm yourself. Take a few exaggerated breaths as you become aware of people around you, the noises you can hear and what you see. Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions as they arise, but do not stop. Keep breathing until you feel yourself getting calmer.

Think of mindfulness as a tool in your leadership toolbox. Use it when you need to carve out some space between an action and your reaction.