Tools for Resilient and Mindful Leadership
By now, most of us have heard about the benefits that resilience and mindfulness have on our personal and professional well-being. While the two practices are interconnected, I believe they are separate tools that can be used together for the greatest positive impact on leadership. Mindfulness nurtures our ability to focus, reduces stress and builds the essential capacity needed for resilience. In turn, building resilience can promote enhanced focus and the ability to stay in the present moment, two keys to building a mindfulness practice.
In today’s fast-paced, digital world, leaders who are able to hone these practices will build a greater capacity to manage, inspire and sustain their impact over time. Dedicating time to strengthen the muscles of resilience in tandem with mindfulness practices will give leaders the tools and emotional reserves they’ll need when times get tough. So, how can leaders bring these two skills into their daily lives to stay more present and engaged in the midst of life’s challenges?
There are many different ways resilience and mindfulness can manifest for each unique individual. For the purpose of this article, I’ve focused on a few of the core tools that I’ve found most useful in my daily life.
Tools for Building Resilience
Research shows that leaders who work on building the skill and mindset of resilience are happier, healthier, more productive and more likely to stay committed to their organization. It starts with a few basic principles that are often ignored during the hustle and demand of meeting an organization’s financial targets, operationalizing for growth and taking care of a team.
For starters, sleep, exercise and loving communication are key. For example, before I gave birth I secretly hoped that my Certified Nurse Midwife would not be helping me deliver my baby after a 12-hour shift and no sleep the night before (we had a rockstar CNM and care team!). And similarly, I know my team, clients and family will be better off if I’m steering the ship with a healthy amount of sleep and a reasonable workload. Having operated on the other end of the spectrum earlier on in my career, I know that lack of sleep without the opportunity to recharge leads to poor decision making, decreased mental and physical ability, and less empathy for others.
Here are a few of the tools I use:
Completing the Stress Cycle (otherwise known as Exercise!): The concept of “completing the stress cycle” was new to me, but after reading Burnout by Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA with my book group, my mind was blown. In practice, exercise has been a core part of my morning routine for decades, however, now I know exactly why it was so important. To put it simply, stress is heightened when you’re being chased by a lion (e.g. modern-day work/family/school stress, etc.), once you make it safely inside your house and escape the lion your body knows that it’s okay to relax. According to Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, “physical activity is the most effective (modern-day) way to tell your brain that you have successfully survived the threat and your body is now a safe place to live.” When you don’t complete the stress cycle, via exercise or other activities mentioned in the book, your body remains in a constant state of heightened stress that becomes physically and mentally taxing over time. Complete the cycle!
Sleep: As I mentioned above, sleep is critical. As Emily Nagoski, PhD and Amelia Nagoski, DMA put it so clearly in Burnout, “we are not complete without sleep.” There is so much great research they provided that I won’t go into detail here, but feel free to read the book! My husband and I aim to begin winding down for the night and heading to bed between 8:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. so we can get a full night’s sleep. It’s that important.
Dr. John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: While these relationship principles may seem unrelated to business, I believe they can also be key to developing empathetic, caring and high-trust relationships with team members and for building resilience. On the personal side, my husband and I have been huge fans of Dr. John Gottman’s research and tools since we first used his love maps exercises on a train in Morocco in the early days of our relationship. Now married and one baby later, this principle of staying curious and interested in each other has carried us through growth and change to increased alignment around our values and shared purpose. The same can be true for developing knowledge and empathy with team members.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC): For those of you not familiar with this method of communication, it focuses on identifying and naming feelings and the unmet and met needs associated with those feelings (and then communicating those to others). At Avenue, as in my personal life, I’ve spent a great deal of time learning and practicing these principles, which has helped me to not only be better understood by others, but to better understand, empathize with and appreciate team members. All of these things have helped to nurture a supportive and collaborative culture that has less stress and anxiety and more humanity.
Tools for Mindfulness
The research on mindfulness is clear. Being mindful can reduce anxiety, increase contentment, self-esteem, empathy and trust; it can even improve your memory! And, contrary to what I’ve thought for many years, mindfulness is not a black and white thing, such as sitting down to a 60-minute meditation session in peaceful darkness.
Over time, I’ve learned that any activity I engage in can be mindful when done intentionally and in the present moment. For me, I find that some of my most mindful moments are during exercise, such as marathon training runs in nature or my daily elliptical workouts. Most recently, my husband and I ran 12 miles of our 20-milethe training run through snow in Forest Park (most sane people would have worn snowshoes), where each step had to be mindful and in the present moment so that I wouldn’t take an unfortunate step and fall.
Mindfulness is not just about the moments when I’m meditating in pristine darkness, but being able to extend that mindfulness into all of my daily activities. As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “mindfulness practice is everywhere we go.”
Here are a few of the tools I use:
Exercise in the Present Moment: Running keeps me in the present moment, unlike any other activity. When I am breathing fresh air, appreciating the trees and greenery around me, I am able to detach from my day-to-day stressors and challenges. In fact, some of my most creative moments and breakthroughs have been in the middle of a long run or a morning elliptical session. Through mindful exercise, I have been able to unlock new ideas and solve for some of the most pressing challenges in my business.
Put Distracting Electronics Away: After reading How to Break Up with Your Phone last year, which describes smartphones as a “slot machine in your pocket,” it finally hit home that app and smartphone engineers make a living on making our phones as addictive as possible. I began keeping (and still keep) a log of my daily phone usage to track trends. Just taking the time to manually notice and record this data into a Google Sheet has activated my competitive drive to keep reducing my usage and be more present for my team and family.
Time Blocking for Enhanced Focus: Just as mindful exercise opens up space for creativity, time blocking on my calendar allows me to schedule space for myself to focus on key tasks and strategic priorities. The act of scheduling also creates the freedom to be creative without being pulled in competing directions by external distractions during that specific period of time.
Pause Before Meetings: It only takes a few seconds, but I’ve found that pausing to take a deep, mindful breath (sometimes with eyes closed) before a meeting is enough time to slow down and return to the present moment. Being calm and present enhances my focus and attention on the task at hand, which inevitably allows me to move faster later on.
Meditation: Of course meditation is part of my mindful tools mix, though it’s not at the top of my list. I still have yet to learn to love meditation, but I’m working on it! For me, just 10 minutes of meditation allows me to feel more present, rested and calm. Because exercise is the non-negotiable part of my morning routine, I’ve found that evening meditation is a much better fit with my schedule… and I’ve even found that it works better for me lying down on a yoga mat after a long day of work.
Using these tools to build resilience and mindfulness practices continues to be a journey towards holistic health and well-being, which in turn impacts how I lead and show up for others. Given that the complexity and ambiguity of our world will likely continue to increase over time, learning how to develop resilience and mindfulness is essential to improving my ability to positively impact those I lead.
So, how do you practice mindfulness and build resilience as a leader? Please share in the comments!