Article Archives - Institute for Mindful Leadership

Why Becoming A Mindful Leader = Leading And Living With Excellence

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Why is becoming a mindful leader so critically important to your ability to lead and live with excellence? Let’s begin to answer that question by returning to the basics. What is a ‘mindful leader’?


A Mindful Leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.


If we look more deeply into this definition, we will notice that these four innate abilities-focus, clarity, creativity and compassion- are fundamentals of leadership excellence. And yet, even though these abilities are innate, we often fall short of our potential to embody leadership presence. Why?


For most of us, we fall short because we live in a world that surrounds us with unlimited distractions. These distractions pull us away from the present moment and keep us from listening to our own wisdom. We find ourselves mindlessly rushing from one appointment to the next, reacting to situations rather than responding to them, and often feeling as though we have missed entire days, weeks, even months of our lives. Is it really September already? Wasn’t it just May?

We fall into bed each evening, exhausted from our busy lives and yet feeling as though we don’t attend to what is really important, at work or at home. Whether you lead a global organization, a classroom, a firm, a clinic, a community group, a family, or yourself, training the mind through mindful leadership training will help you find the space to lead and live with excellence.

Let’s return to our definition. A mindful leader is someone who embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others. These innate capabilities of the mind — focus, clarity, creativity and compassion — can be trained and strengthened. Just as there are innate capabilities of our body that we can train to become stronger, more flexible and more resilient, we can train the innate capabilities of the mind through mindfulness meditation, Purposeful Pauses© and leadership reflections.

When we do so, we begin to cultivate the ability to pay attention, to see when our own conditioning and filters may be clouding our ability to see what is actually here, to tap into the reservoir of creativity that often gets drowned out by our busyness and to embody the compassion that helps us to fully open our mind and our heart. We discover, or rediscover, our principles and our values. And we move toward developing into ‘more of who we really are.’

As a beginning, spend a few minutes each day this week exploring the question of excellence. What does it mean to you? Have you experienced leadership excellence? What made that leader someone who excelled? To help you with this introduction to leadership reflection, listen to my free reflection on Leadership Excellence from my book, Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership

4 Major Reasons For Burnout And How Mindful Leadership Can Help

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What are your symptoms of burnout? The Sunday night blues? Feeling as if every day is Ground Hog Day? Noticing that you ‘space out’ for periods of time in every meeting and conversation? Realizing that your whole life is your job?


How did you get here? You used to be excited about your work and you used to enjoy the people you worked with? Didn’t you? In my 15 years of working with professionals during my mindful leadership retreats, we often speak about the major reasons for professional burnout. Many participants remark that they are ‘successful’ but they are so exhausted that it feels as though they are missing months, or even years of their lives. On retreat there is the space and support to look closely at where they are, and how they got here.


Here are 4 of the most common culprits and some mindful leadership tips:



  1. Saying ‘yes’ to everything -volunteering to be part of every team or project is a great way to learn and be seen as a helpful colleague but, it can also become such a strong pattern for you that you may not even notice that the ‘to-do’ list is now a mile long. Learning how to take a pause before saying ‘yes’ is a necessary skill. In that pause, ask yourself your reason for agreeing to this new task. Is it aligned with your planned career path? If not, experiment with saying ‘my plate is overflowing right now, I won’t have time to do a great job’.
  2. Believing that taking care of everyone’s needs is the mark of a good leader – understanding your team members is an important part of leadership, as is helping each member develop to their full capacity. But understanding does not equate to solving all their problems. Often the greatest gift we give to someone is letting them find their own way. Taking on the burden of solving everyone’s problems deprives them of a great learning opportunity and drains your resources. Be supportive, not controlling.
  3. Failing to understand when ‘good enough is good enough’-not everything has to be excellent! As we mature into our careers, and our responsibilities continue to increase, we no longer have the luxury of getting everything to the highest level possible. We need to learn to differentiate those items that truly need excellence from those things where ‘good enough is good enough’.
  4. Believing self-care is selfish or, at the very least, a luxury-there are two common threads among the best leaders I have had the privilege of working with for the past 25 years-they are all people with bright minds and warm hearts. They are also people who have everyone else’s needs on their t0-do list before they get to self-care. Taking the time needed to attend to your physical and mental well-being is not a luxury, it is a necessity! It took me many years and a diagnosis of early heart disease before I learned this lesson. We want people to care about others but if they deserve care, why don’t you?

Burnout takes a physical and emotional toll on you as an individual and on those you serve-colleagues, patients, clients, students, and family members. Take some time to review this list and look for one small step you can take to begin to alter what you see in your own life. Each mindful leadership step will begin to pave the way to greater resilience and happiness. What step will you try right now? Are you ready to go further, why not invest in a mindful leadership retreat with other professionals?

How Can A Simple, 2-Step Mindful Gratitude Practice Change My Life?

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Our everyday lives are often sources of difficult, stressful challenges. It is easy to understand why those challenges, and the uncertainty and dangers we hear about each day generate feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, isolation and sadness. And these are precisely the reasons why starting a daily practice of gratitude can make a big difference in our quality of life, and the peacefulness with which we meet each day.

Gratitude Is Not The Same As Thankfulness

Gratitude is not the same as thankfulness. Gratitude does not come as a response to something you have been given or earned. That is “being thankful.” Gratitude is a much deeper way of living that comes from an awareness of being in the moment. For example, think of the millions of moments and people and circumstances that have come together for you to simply be here, right now, alive in this moment. Stop and consider this for a minute. Look back at this last year and recall a memorable moment. If just one event was slightly different, or one person made a different decision, or one storm had a different trajectory, how would that moment have changed?

And, of course, you can go back even further. What if one ancestor made a different choice, or was received by their new country in a different way? Or what if an illness or injury occurred?

It really is quite an amazing miracle that we are who we are, where we are, and doing what we are. Gratitude is the deep feeling we get when we acknowledge that things are pretty amazing, and in response, we choose to meet our life with an open-heartedness and presence that comes from that recognition. A formal gratitude practice helps us cultivate those qualities and pay attention to the many sources of joy and peacefulness that are all around us, even when the day is chaotic.

The practice steps below are simple and can be done individually or as a family:

  1. Choose a time each day to sit quietly and write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Whatever you notice that day is fine. There is only one rule-you cannot repeat anything. If you notice the beautiful colors of a summer flower, or the delicious crunch of your favorite apple today, you can not use them again. Keep looking. How many days/months can you keep this up? If you are using this practice with your family, create a Family Gratitude Journal and leave it on the table. It may become a treasured keepsake over time!
  2. Pay close attention to your body sensations while you are writing. What are you noticing as you bring your moment to mind? Warmth, lightness, tingling, openness, softening etc.

After you have been practicing gratitude for a few weeks, what do you notice about the way you are meeting your life? Has it affected your choices? Thoughts? How might gratitude change the world?

If You Believe You Don’t Have Time To Learn Meditation, Try This

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There is nothing mystical, religious or difficult about learning to practice mindfulness meditation. It does not require any special equipment. Meditation is a simple way to train the innate capacities of your brain to pay attention, to see things more clearly and to act with greater compassion. Just as you know you can strengthen innate capacities of your body through physical training, you can also strengthen innate capacities of your brain through mindfulness meditation training.

Without training, you can find yourself living your life on autopilot, constantly feeling distracted and overwhelmed. And when that is your reality, you begin to burn out, react instead of respond, and generally feel disengaged. Meditation is one of the fundamental building blocks of mindful leadership training. It develops focus, and helps leaders begin to see their own conditioning and reactivity more clearly.

Mindfulness meditation helps you to expand your repertoire of how you meet each moment of your life, and it allows you to make more conscious choices about who you are and how you want to be at work and at home. As our world throws more and more challenges your way, don’t you want as much brain capacity as you can get?

So, here they are, the 4 simple steps you need to get started in the next 10 minutes. And, to make this even easier for you to learn, here are the instructions and a simple training in audio form to get you started. Press play and enjoy! If you prefer to read the steps, they are below.

If you prefer to read about the simple steps you need to learn to meditate, here they are:

Step 1-Sit comfortably-no need to sit on a cushion or on the floor, just find a sitting posture that allows your body to feel supported.

Step 2-Begin to feel the sensations in your body that arise from the breath

Step 3-Bring an attitude of open curiosity to the sensations you are noticing

Step 4-Whenever you notice your mind wandering, redirect your attention back to the breath sensations.

With each redirection of your attention, you are strengthening your ability to notice when you have become distracted, and to focus on the present moment. It is only in the present that you can positively affect your life, at home and at work. Use this simple practice for 10 minutes each day and soon you will find yourself looking to learn more!

How Do The Best Leaders Find ‘Win-Win-Win’ Solutions? A Mindful Approach

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Very early on in my life I learned that it was best to find a “win, win” solution. At first that meant sharing the last cookie with my little sister so that there would be none of the fighting that would lead to tears, or worse yet, lead to Mom’s solution that “if you can’t get along, no one will have any.”

Over the years, the training involved more complex issues, and wasn’t always a matter of compromise. Rather, I learned that understanding another’s perspective, their wants or needs, made it much easier to find the “win, win” than if you remained fixated on what you wanted or needed. Acquiring this understanding took time up front, and it took the willingness to connect with the other person or group on a level that was broader and deeper than seeing them only as the other party. But, without exception, in the many years that I would ultimately negotiate multi-million dollar deals, agreements and settlements, if I could make this connection and speak in terms that addressed the other’s objectives, it led to a more creative and ultimately satisfying resolution for my client, and for the other party.

Today, in a world that measures time in Internet seconds, and that fills every moment with potential distractions, the discipline needed to take the time to do a truly great job and to make these deeper connections takes specialized mental training, the training of mindful leadership. Just as an athlete needs specialized training to excel, those in positions of influence need access to the mental training needed to allow them to bring all of their capabilities to bear.

Our frequently chaotic days entice us to live in an autopilot mode just to get through the day. We react quickly so we can try to find the light at the end of the tunnel. And yet, these are the times when I have found it is most necessary to stop, when I need to see clearly what is around me and how I am meeting what is here, and when I often most need to skillfully choose to respond with focus and compassion, rather than mindless reactivity. When we meet opportunities and challenges with skillful choices, we lead with excellence, rather than simply get things done.

This mental training is about more than making good deals. The women and men who make daily choices that affect others and that affect our world are also an underleveraged resource for addressing many of society’s issues. Not only do these people have the capacity to find the “win-win,” these people have the potential to find the “win-win-win,” the solution that is good for their organization, good for the other organization, AND good for the community.

It isn’t an impossible dream; in fact it may be our best hope. In the decades of working with influencers from government, for-profit, NGOs and non-profit organizations, most of the leaders I met were people with warm hearts and bright, analytical minds. And the ideal solution for all of them often included creating something that would benefit the organization they worked for and address the community issues in their neighborhoods, or in the world. But the ideal too easily can get hijacked by overloaded schedules and too many distractions, and it takes more than great analysis and a warm heart to change what has been decades in the making.

We need greater awareness from everyone, including those who already have a large ripple effect on society by the very nature of their current roles.

Mindful leadership training develops each person’s capacity to be fully aware of what is all around us and equally aware of what is deep inside. As we bring together the training of mindfulness and its specific applications to leadership challenges, we begin to develop the potential to lead with excellence-to lead with focus, clarity, creativity and compassion. We notice when we are on autopilot and when we are not really listening. We learn to stop, to ask what is called for in this situation rather than react by giving an answer from the “old playbook.”

In the stopping, we are able to listen deeply to our sense of right and wrong, our sense of equity, our caring hearts and the creativity of our minds. We can begin to ask the question, ‘Is there a ‘win-win-win’ here?” We can ask if it is possible today to make a choice that will have a positive ripple effect for our organizations, for our clients, customers and patients, and for our communities.

If you care to try a small taste of mindful leadership training, begin by taking a few moments right now to stop, allowing the body and mind to rest in the stillness and to touch the values at the core of who you are, and then ask yourself if an issue before you right now might have a “win-win… win” solution?