Inspire the whole team with mindful leadership

13 Jun 18

Being mindful at work doesn’t just reduces stress – it encourages your team to care more about what they do, derive creative solutions and remain loyal, says the Imperial College Business School’s Sankalp Chaturvedi.

Mindfulness has been around for quite a while.

However, its benefits may still not be fully appreciated or used to make teams more productive, more efficient and – dare we say – happier.

Information and instructions are being thrown at us from all angles all the time, forcing us to multitask. Yet the brain to think of one thing at a time. When too much is demanded of it at once, pressure builds up.

Mindfulness can help to release this stress. It demands that the brain is trained to tackle considering one matter, not several, at the same time, staying attentive and focused. It removes the overloading that causes the mind to get clogged up and stressed.

In research I undertook, leaders who were mindful, including supervisors, were found to have a positive effect, not just on their own the job but also on the performance of their team and the willingness of each team member to go above and beyond their job role.  

Mindfulness among leaders was associated with improved work-life balance for staff as well as greater physical and psychological wellbeing. The higher the supervisor’s mindfulness, the greater were overall performance ratings and the lower was deviance in the team. In one model, leader mindfulness was related to all dependant variables of work-life balance, emotional exhaustion, deviance and job performance.

So, mindfulness in team leaders has a potentially powerful role. In contrast, “mindless” leaders – those who are absent minded in their interactions with employees – can have the opposite effect because they may be perceived as disrespectful and incompetent.

Mindfulness entails being both attentive (in the moment, paying specific attention to a thing, a person or content) and aware (to where you are, your environment), without judgment. To put it simply, it’s all about being in the “here and now” in yourself and in your interactions with others.

Do this, and others will naturally feel valued and respected.

And those who feel valued and trusted do a better job, care more and are less likely to leave.

They may have something to say that it is worth listening to – and, if they’re saying something questionable, it’s worth being present enough to hear it and understand why.

Here are some ways leaders and their teams can make mindfulness part of their working lives.

1. Take a pause to make better decisions

Do you have time to think and allow your mind to focus or do you constantly feel interrupted by emails and social media?

Creative thinking requires uninterrupted periods where attention can wander freely so you can make new connections and come up with creative insight. You also need concentrated focus to bring an idea to fruition.

Carve out time in your diary for thinking. Start your days considering strategic issues instead of checking your emails. Encourage your leadership team and employees to do the same and schedule meetings for later in the day.

2. Stop multitasking, start task switching. 

Focus on doing one thing at a time and doing it well. Research has shown that we are terrible multitaskers, despite what we may think. When multitasking, the project at hand takes 40% longer and you make twice as many errors. Think of the benefits to your bottom line if you save that much time and are that much more effective in what you accomplish.  Repeat after me: “One thing at a time, one thing at a time ...”

3. Be open and non-judgmental

Do you or other leaders in your team tend to dominate discussions or support an open and lively debate?

Encourage everyone to speak and listen with curiosity and openness. Allow differences of opinion. This openness includes listening to difficult truths without blaming anyone.

Questions you can ask to get started could include: why are we doing what we are doing and how is that aligned with our purpose? What can we learn? Does anybody have a concern about our current project? What is the intention behind our actions, products or marketing campaign?

4. Step away from the desk

Treat your team like adults and trust them to deliver the work even when they are not physically in the office. Give them permission to work outside the office, whether that’s from home or from a coffee shop, and to take breaks for a walk, a power nap or meditation when their brain is cooked.

Creative insight happens when the brain is in a relaxed state and most people have their best ideas when they are not sitting at their desks.

5. Ban phones from meetings and during conversations

Mental presence is more important than physical presence. For team meetings, instead of immediately jumping into the discussion, start with a mindful pause. Ban mobile phones, laptops and tablets from meetings for one month and see what happens.

You might be surprised how much more stimulating and efficient a meeting is when you have everyone’s full attention. Freedom from electronic distractions enables you to engage more fully and listen well and attend to others. Fully listening builds trust and enhances relationships while allowing you to make better, more informed decisions. 

6. Meditate every day

The most effective way to encourage your team to practise mindfulness is to act as a role model and get into a daily habit of practising meditation for about 10 minutes. Share your experiences with the team. Start by observing your breath or use meditation apps like Insight Timer or Headspace.

7. Have breaks between meetings

Schedule 45-minute meetings with breaks rather than 60-minute meetings back to back, for example. This meeting management technique gives you time to attend to your physical and work-related needs between meetings and clear your head before tackling another subject. This will mean better, more productive meetings. 

8. Introduce mindfulness gradually

Instead of forcing mindfulness training on your employees, offer an introductory workshop with a well-qualified teacher who can explain the neuroscience behind stress and mindfulness and is able to link mindfulness to workplace challenges. After this session, offer a longer course for anyone interested – regular practice is key.

Top tips…


  1. Start the day by giving yourself time to think
  2. Focus on one task at a time
  3. Allow people to work away from their desks


  1. Let yourself or other leaders dominate conversations
  2. Allow phones and tablets in meetings
  3. Schedule meetings back to back


  • Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi

    Dr Sankalp Chaturvedi is associate professor (organisational behaviour and leadership) at Imperial College Business School @drchaturvedis

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