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Mindful Leadership: Step One

Good leadership starts with treating others with dignity and respect. Mindfulness practice can help with achieving this.

When did you last experience yourself as a leader? What happened? Are you pleased with your behavior? In effect we are all leaders, we all have influence to make the world a better place, to act with wisdom rather than leaking out blame, accusations and denial through reactivity. Good leadership is mindful leadership and mindful leadership is inclusive leadership.

In our lives, we all have influence on people and communities. Whether we are leading an organisation, a team, a classroom or a family, or just our own lives, each of us is a leader.

Kouzes and Posner were on a mission to identify the leadership behaviours with the biggest impact. They collected and ploughed through three million pieces of research and came up with five practices as being the essential ingredients in excellent leadership. High and consistent adherence to these principles makes a difference of 841% growth in net income versus -49% for companies with a low incidence of leadership practices. Good leadership matters!

The first of these practices is ‘Modelling the Way’. In conducting executive leadership 360-feedback there are two questions that are most central from Modelling the Way. In other words if people score low on these, it needs to be first priority. The first question is about always treating others with respect and dignity and the second is about honouring commitments – doing what we say we will do.

Treating others with dignity and respect … the cornerstone of this is not speaking ill of others behind their backs and never blasting, blaming and humiliating them. In my experience this creates a cancer within organisations and communities, particularly if it is done by the leader. It is also the opposite of being inclusive and that leads to ‘unhealth’.

The talking negatively about others reveals what is going on for the one talking, it actually says nothing about the one being spoken about.

Speaking ill of others illustrates the barrier we are experiencing in seeing the beauty and kindness in others and perhaps our own inadequacy in managing them well, while at the same time not claiming our own agency.

When we feel the need to gossip or complain about someone it can be seen as an alarm bell, indicating that we are projecting and not conscious. In this way it represents an opportunity. We can use our mindfulness practice to check in with the body sensation in that moment. Notice the breathing and commit to not saying a word until the sensations have passed.

Radical ownership is an essential part of Mindful Leadership. Owning your sensations, not acting on them, catching them while committing not to speak from them. Be curious around how best to enable the staff member or colleague to be more accountable, more honest, more empowered or you might have to scrutinise your recruiting process.

This does not mean that as a leader you don’t challenge and ask for accountability, but it is based in tasks and behaviour not in who we perceive the person to be.

Leadership is learnt behaviour and we have to work at it. In my experience the most powerful ‘tool’ or way to do this is through mindfulness as this enables us to catch out our old reactive self while choosing a wiser more response-able version of ourselves. Mindful leadership is mature leadership and requires ongoing reflection, reviewing and adjusting.


For one month, do not speak ill of anyone, this includes complaining about your spouse and other family members, not even complaining about politicians!