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Leadership is grounded in relationship
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Leadership is grounded in relationship

A colleague of mine once said, “management is great – except for the people”.   Whether we are guiding, leading, teaching or managing others, one of our biggest challenges is trying to understand why people act the way they do, and how to motivate them to act in ways aligned with broader goals and objectives.

This applies equally to the organisation’s goals and objectives, or the individual’s personal goals, values and objectives.  We simply do not always know what matters to us or our organisations, or manage with any consistency, to act in alignment with that.

So knowing what matters to us or our organisations is the first essential step. Then learning how to engage and stay focussed on that, and not be pulled away by unhelpful thoughts, emotions and behaviours is the second essential step.  In developing Corporate Responsibility Strategies organisations are increasingly seeking mindfulness training.

Certainly there is a myriad of research about the benefits of using mindfulness in the workplace.  Wellbeing programs – including the Resiliency, Positive Psychology and Mindfulness programs I teach in corporate settings – have consistently shown that mindfulness training helps people manage their own emotions, focus more, lower stress, reduce exhaustion, and improve performance and productivity.

We know from mindfulness training that everything starts with our relationship with ourselves, then extends to our relationships with others, and to the world around us.  Warren Bennis highlighted this in an article titled The challenges of leadership in the modern world, in which he said that “leadership is grounded in relationship.” (1)

One of the few empirical studies that has explored the effects of mindful leadership on other people, is showing promising results (2). It found that supervisors’ mindfulness (awareness and attention) improved relationships with employees, and was positively associated with employee job and need satisfaction, as well as facets of job performance such as in-role performance and organisational citizenship behaviours.

I refer to this as the inner game of leadership.  In Queensland recently I was teaching a Mindful Leadership program.  The group included CEO’s, business owners, HR managers, Executive coaches, school teachers, psychologists, senior clinical leads and yoga teachers.  On the last day of the course one senior manager said,

 “I came to the course to figure out how to manage and lead other people, and realised that first I needed to manage and lead myself” 

In addition to the growing recognition of learning mindfulness to improve one’s inner game (and mental health and wellbeing), there is now a growing recognition for the need to use mindfulness specifically directed to enhancing the quality of communication and relationships in the workplace.  Both between peers, up and down the line of management, and between staff and clients/stakeholders.

“In terms of mindful leadership, this means broadening the focus from stress reduction and emotional intelligence to include questions of character, ethics and wisdom” – Alex Trisoglio (3)

Over the last 30 years mindfulness has been adopted into the west with gusto.  Firstly through the health sector because of the benefits.  Then into high performance, education and eventually spreading into management.  While there has been a specific focus on developing the skills, practice, perspective and state of mindfulness, there has not always been a clear recognition that mindfulness did not originate as just a single aspect to be developed for wellbeing.

Mindfulness arose in the Eastern traditions where it was one of eight aspects to be developed for a skilful wise life.   These eight aspects are all nestled within three trainings designed to cultivate enlightened conduct. Perhaps in the West we would call this ‘Wise conduct’.  These three higher enlightenment trainings are:

Higher ethical discipline
Higher concentration
Higher discriminating awareness or wisdom

When I am speaking at conferences, or in corporate settings I am referring to these teachings when I talk about how we cultivate the ability to Discern, Decide and Deliver.  So mindfulness in leadership includes all of the practical elements of mindfulness trainings as we know, as well as a focus on developing ethical discipline, concentration and discriminating awareness.  And it is in this process that those of us in leadership roles seek to understand what drives other people, why they act the way they do, and how we work most productively together.   This is the basis of the Mindful Leadership course.

One company found that implementation of a mindfulness-based leadership program led to a 10-20% increase in employee satisfaction, yet more interestingly, a 50% increase in employee collaboration, conflict management and communication (3).

All people in a position of influence are in a position of leadership, regardless of title.  We can choose to understand the people we lead better.  This is leading wisely. 

(Keep an eye out for the next article on Three Higher Enlightenment Trainings and how we use those in Leadership, teaching and therapy)

© 2016 Liana Taylor


1 Bennis, W. (2007). The challenges of leadership in the modern world: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 62, 2-5.
2 Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2014). Leading mindfully: Two studies on the influence of supervisor trait mindfulness on employee well-being and performance. Mindfulness5(1), 36-45.
3 Trisoglio, A. (n.d.) Mindfulness & Leadership, Mobius Executive Leadership, 50-59.

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