Build Better Leaders with Mindfulness

Build Better Leaders with Mindfulness


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


for leaders, the biggest benefit of mindfulness is its direct impact on the development of emotional intelligence.” – Monica Thakrar


Work is very important for our health and well-being. We spend approximately 25% of our adult lives at work. How we spend that time is immensely important for not only to productivity in the workplace but also to our psychological and physical health. Mindfulness practices have been implemented in the workplace and they have been shown to markedly reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This, in turn, improves productivity and the well-being of the employees. As a result, many businesses have incorporated mindfulness practices into the workday.


Mindfulness may also help to promote leadership in the workplace. It can potentially do so by enhancing emotion regulation, making the individual better able to recognize, experience, and adaptively respond to their emotions, and making the leader better able to listen to and to understand the needs and emotion of the workers they lead. There has been, however, little research attention to the effects of mindfulness on leadership.


In today’s Research News article “Mindful Leader Development: How Leaders Experience the Effects of Mindfulness Training on Leader Capabilities.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Rupprecht and colleagues recruited leaders in work environments who had completed a 12-week Workplace Mindfulness Training program 6 months to a year previously. They were questioned about their perceptions of the effectiveness of the program on themselves and their leadership with semi-structured interviews over the phone lasting about an hour. Responses were transcribed and subjected to qualitative thematic analysis.


The leaders’ responses indicated that the training helped them in mindfully managing tasks including focusing on single tasks, managing distractions particularly phone messages, and using breaks and transitions to meditate of become aware of their bodies. The training also helped them with caring for themselves including recognizing when they were tired and taking a break and sharing their feelings and state with others. It also helped them self-reflect and recognize how their state affects the people around them.


The leaders’ responses indicated that the training helped them become better leaders. It provided skills in relating to others, including deep listening, being less reactive to their ow emotions or emotions of others, being less judgmental, taking themselves less seriously, and being more responsive to the needs of their followers. The training also helped them to better adapt to changing situations, including acceptance of the changes and adaptively searching for solutions.


Finally, the leaders’ responses indicated that the effects that the training had on them spilled over to affect the organization and the processes used at work. It provided them with a new basis for communications with other team members. They began to include mindfulness practices in team meetings. This led to identification of long meeting as problematic and changing the structure of meetings.


These results are subjective and there weren’t any objective measures supplied to verify the reports. But the leaders’ responses were very encouraging and suggested that the Workplace Mindfulness Training program is very beneficial and affects a wide variety of work behaviors and attitudes. Although there were no measures of productivity changes, the nature of the effects of mindfulness training suggest that productivity would improve, burnout would be reduced, and work satisfaction would increase.


So, build better leaders with mindfulness.


“To become a mindful leader, you need to make this a daily introspective act. As you do so, you’ll worry less about day-to-day problems and focus on what is most important. As you become more mindful, you will be a more effective, successful and fulfilled leader.” – Bill George


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Rupprecht S, Falke P, Kohls N, Tamdjidi C, Wittmann M and Kersemaekers W (2019) Mindful Leader Development: How Leaders Experience the Effects of Mindfulness Training on Leader Capabilities. Front. Psychol. 10:1081. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01081


Mindfulness training is a novel method of leader development but contrary to its rising popularity, there is a scarcity of research investigating how mindfulness training may affect leader capabilities. To gain a better understanding of the potential of a new research field, qualitative research is advantageous. We sought to understand how senior leaders experience the impact of mindfulness training in their work lives and leadership ability. The sample comprised 13 leaders (n = 11 male) working in six organizations that completed a 10-week workplace mindfulness training (WMT). We conducted semi-structured interviews 6 to 12 months following course completion. We analyzed the data following thematic analysis steps and based on these findings, we devised a framework of the perceived impact of mindfulness training on self-leadership and leadership capabilities. We show that WMT exhibited impact on three self-leadership capacities: mindful task management, self-care and self-reflection and two leadership capacities: relating to others and adapting to change. Participants’ recounts additionally suggested effects may expand to the level of the team and the organization. We show that WMT may be a promising tool for self-directed leadership development and outline avenues for future research.


Work Smarter with Meditation

It has become very trendy for business to incorporate meditation into the workday to help improve productivity. In fact, Google offers “Search Inside Yourself” classes to teach mindfulness at work. But, although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence of meditation improving work performance, there is actually very little systematic research on its effectiveness.

In today’s Research News article “The Association between Meditation Practice and Job Performance: A Cross-Sectional Study”

Shiba and colleagues take an empirical look at whether meditation improves job performance. They found that meditation practice was associated with better job performance, job satisfaction, and work engagement.

It should be noted that the study was correlational and as such does not show a causal connection. A controlled trial with manipulation of meditation is needed. Regardless, this is an important first step and suggests that meditation practice is associated with improved performance at work. This raises the question as to what does meditation do to facilitate work performance.

The most obvious possible mechanism is stress reduction. In the modern business environment stress is ever present. Stress can impair performance by decreasing the ability to concentrate, by increasing fatigue and nervousness, and by reducing wellness. Under high levels of stress people are more emotional and less rational in their behavior. Meditation has been well established to significantly reduce stress by altering both physiological and psychological responses to stress. Meditation doesn’t change the external sources of stress. Rather it improves job performance by reducing our responses to stressors.

But meditation does much more that can positively affect work. It can reduce the individual’s responsivity to “sunk costs.” People have a tendency to respond not only too what is appropriate for the present conditions but also tend to overly consider how much they have already invested in the situation, “sunk costs.” This can lead to decisions that are overly reliant upon past history rather than what is right for the present situation. Meditation by focusing the individual on the present moment can thus produce better decisions.

Meditation has been shown to improve emotional intelligence. It makes us better at understanding and responding to emotions. In other words it makes us smarter regarding our emotions. This can be a great asset in a job making the individual less apt to make rash emotional decisions and more likely to factor in but not be overly influenced by emotions.

Meditation has been shown to increase creativity. Hence, in a work environment the individual is more likely to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to problems. The individual can look at more alternative solutions and evaluate which are most likely to work the best.

Finally, meditation has been shown to improve concentration. Meditation is a practice in controlling and focusing attention. This practice pays off in increased ability to concentrate on a problem. This can improve job productivity by keeping the individual more “on task.” The ability to concentrate also improves memory by excluding inappropriate intrusive memories. This can allow for better use of information from past decisions to inform current decisions.

Hence meditation produces multiple effects that can positively affect job performance.

So meditate and work smarter.


Mindful Negotiations

Mindfulness practice is generally a solitary practice. We venture deep into ourselves. But, mindfulness practice does more than just improve the individual it also improves the individual’s ability to interact with others. There are a number of ways that mindfulness can work to improve interpersonal relationships including by increasing attentional focus.

In today’s Research News article, “The Influence of Mindful Attention on Value Claiming in Distributive Negotiations: Evidence from Four Laboratory Experiments.”

It was demonstrated that a brief exercise in mindful attention could significantly improve an individual’s success in simulated negotiations. The authors attribute the improvement to increased attention produced by the exercise.

Indeed, mindfulness has been shown repeatedly to improve attention in many disparate contexts. Today’s article suggests that even in negotiations, heightened attention can result from mindfulness and improve the outcome. How can attention improve negotiating ability?

In negotiations being sensitivity to the nuances in the subtle behaviors of the person being negotiated with can be very helpful. By being more attentive and screening out irrelevant stimuli the individual becomes better able to read the nonverbal cues coming from the other person. These cues are important for understanding the emotional reactions of the other person to each stage of the negotiations and can thereby assist the negotiator in refining offers and counteroffers. Being attuned to another makes your responses better aligned with what the other wants making you more successful.

Another way that mindfulness can be of help in negotiations is through improved emotion regulation. Mindfulness is associated with a heightened ability to recognize and manage one’s own emotions. In a negotiation it is easy to react to your own emotions and as a result respond inappropriately or ignore the most logical negotiating step. So, being able to better regulate emotions would provide a negotiating edge.

Mindfulness has also been shown to improve problem solving and creativity. A negotiation can be viewed as a problem solving task where the negotiator must figure out the optimum strategy to produce the desired outcome. Also, by applying greater creativity to the problem the negotiator can devise novel solutions, optimizing outcomes.

So, practice mindfulness and become a better negotiator.