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The Real Reason Leaders Need Mindfulness

  June 15, 2020

The Real Reason Leaders Need Mindfulness.

Most leaders don’t understand why mindfulness is essential to building their overall capacity and effectiveness. At best, they see mindfulness as stress relief or a relaxation technique. In this article, I’d like to encourage you to explore mindfulness by describing the two different aspects of it that can allow you to become an even more effective leader.

The first reason is to overcome your brain’s natural tendency to run on autopilot or “habit mode.” This tendency is wired into us. The brain likes to run on cheap fuel, and it takes a lot more resources to “run” the executive functions of our frontal lobes than to run the automatic processes of our subcortical regions. It's sad but true: The reality is that most of us run most of our days on “habit mode.” That doesn’t mean we’re not effective at what we do. It just means that we could be much more effective if we “woke ourselves up” during the day to reflect on what we’re actually doing and made more conscious choices.

How do we do that?

First, I invite my executive coaching clients to build in a daily reflection process. I ask them to identify one or two areas of focus that could improve their overall leadership functioning. This could be data that came from a 360 review such as being a better listener or more effectively taking the perspective of others.

Then I ask them to reflect on this quality each morning and how it might show up during the day. I ask them to take a few minutes at the end of the day to write down what actually happened, to celebrate where they applied it and what the result was, where there were missed opportunities, etc. It’s vital to do this from a compassionate and curious place and not from the “inner critic” that lurks in most of our minds. Neuroscience tells us that doing this by writing long-hand (rather than just thinking about it, or typing our answers) engages more of our brain and is therefore somewhat better. All of my clients who have a daily reflection practice describe the positive impact on their professional and personal lives.

Second, I invite my clients to have many short cycles of action and reflection throughout the day, 30 seconds before and 30 seconds after all interactions, team meetings, coaching sessions, etc. For example, when entering a meeting with a direct report, get off auto-pilot by asking yourself, “What do I want my employee’s experience to be leaving our meeting?” Start with what you want for them, rather than just for you.

There will likely be some aspects that are task-related, such as having more clarity on direction, and some that are more people-related such as having more trust, or knowing that you have their back. Then ask yourself what’s required of you to have this result be more likely. At the end of the session, reflect back on what actually happened and what you can learn from it. Be sure to acknowledge yourself for the positives you did, bypassing the brain’s natural negativity bias.

My clients invariably report that these short cycles of action and reflection throughout the day take little time but have a huge impact on their performance, as well as the performance and experience of their teams and organizations.

The second reason for developing a mindfulness practice is to facilitate a gradual shift in identity.

I know that sounds strange. Let me explain.

Our “default” sense of identity is to be embedded in our thoughts and feelings. A real mindfulness practice allows us to step back, to “have” rather than to “be” those thoughts and feelings, and thus make better choices in our professional and personal lives. We gradually identify more with the curious and compassionate observer of our habitual tendencies. This allows more freedom to act in ways that are more conscious and aligned with our deeper values.

My clients describe how they’re much less likely to act in ways they later regret (such as hitting the “send” button when they’re in reactive mode) and much more likely to make choices that better serve their many stakeholders, including themselves.

What's important to note is that we can’t “will” this to happen. It takes practice, just as it takes practice to get better at any musical instrument or sport. It’s a gradual capacity that builds with time.

Hopefully, this article provides some incentive to explore the value of mindfulness in your professional and personal life. I trust you’ll be happy you did.

Original published by Forbes Coaches Council  



Master Cerfified Coach

Dr. Joel M. Rothaizer, MCC, is an executive coach and organizational consultant with extensive training and over 30 years’ experience in understanding the functioning of both organizations and the people within them. His focus is on leadership development, executive coaching and team/organizational effectiveness. A licensed Psychologist, he is an Official Member of the Forbes Coaches Council and the ICF has designated him a Master Certified Coach, their highest credential. His work incorporates the Enneagram, Mindfulness, Practical Neuroscience, Adult Development, Polarities, Complexity and other capacity-building approaches. His clients have included Exxon-Mobil, General Electric, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Bank of NY Mellon, IBM, ADP, Broadridge, Ferrellgas, Grainger, PeopleSoft, StorageTek, Wide Open West, Ledcor, HSBC, PCL, Government of Alberta, Royal Bank, Dialog, Sanofi-Aventis, Edmonton Police Service, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, University of Calgary, Rehrig Pacific, New Belgium Brewing, Hagemeyer, HYL Architects, and Los Alamos National Labs.

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