Exercising leadership muscles with mindfulness

We know that a consistent mindfulness practice can literally change the make-up of your brain. Specifically, it leads to a decreased volume of grey matter in the amygdala, the brain’s “fight or flight” center. And as the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with higher order brain functions, becomes thicker (Ireland, 2014).

We also know that mindfulness is a tool an increasing number of top business executives around the world are utilizing, and talking about, to hone their leadership skills. How specifically, though, does mindfulness enhance the behaviors associated with exceptional leadership? Which leadership “muscles” benefit from mindfulness?

The benefits of mindfulness go far beyond reducing stress, which is more than enough of a reason for leaders and managers to incorporate mindfulness exercises into daily life. Here are other favorable outcomes of a mindfulness practice:

The ability to reflect. As decision-makers and rule-creators, leaders perform better when their thoughts are clear and their actions are purposeful. Mindfulness enhances reflection, which in turn heightens the connection between knowledge and action (Tuleja, 2014).

The ability to innovate. Leaders are relied upon to solve problems. Mindfulness fosters flexible thinking, yielding creative and new approaches to problem-solving (Raney, 2014).

The ability to focus. By helping to reduce stress, mindfulness provides leaders an alternative approach to better focus on the priority at hand (Raney, 2014).

The heightened awareness and increased attentiveness that comes with better focus sends a positive message to colleagues and other people we interact with throughout the workday. Modeling mindfulness brings many downstream benefits.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, credited with bringing mindfulness into mainstream society in 1990, reminds us that mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated with discipline and diligence. Fortunately, the crystals and incense image many have of mindfulness is diminishing. And you don’t have to sit cross-legged until your knees and lower back start screaming. We now know that just brief, minutes-long, mindfulness “bites” deliver powerful benefits. It’s counter-intuitive to think that a tool that takes us away from our daily to-do lists, especially for busy leaders, even for just a brief time, can make us more efficient, more productive and more fulfilled at work. But it does. 


Dhiman, S. (2008). Cultivating mindfulness: The Buddhist art of paying attention to attention. Interbeing, Mindfulness, 2(2), 35.

Ireland, Tom (2014). What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain, Scientific American.

Raney, A. F. (2014). Agility in adversity:  Integrating mindfulness and principles of adaptive leadership in the administration of a community mental health  center. Clinical Social Work Journal, 42(3), 312.

Tuleja, E. A. (2014). Developing cultural intelligence for global leadership through mindfulness. Journal of Teaching in International Business, 25(1), 5.


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