Self-Awareness and Mindfulness Still Matter!

When I started Leaders Edge, self-awareness and mindfulness were just beginning to bubble up as important concepts in the mainstream world of leadership. However, these concepts have been important to people since ancient times. In the 20th century, though, they got steamrolled by more “concrete,” materialist ideals like working long hours and leading by, telling people what to do, which was perceived as strong leadership. For much of this time, serving our employees was definitely a foreign concept to most.  

In the mid-1990s, intellectuals like Daniel Goleman started bringing concepts like self-awareness and mindfulness back into the discussion about leadership, but it took a while for those concepts to escape the realm of academia and enter mainstream life. In terms of how they apply to leadership, self-awareness and mindfulness didn’t really take off until 2010. Sure, they may have been practiced by some leaders, but they were not written about and promoted on the covers and home pages of mainstream leadership and business publications.

Today, self-awareness and mindfulness may seem like fads that have reached the end of their respective life cycles. They have become so mainstream that people have started to dismiss them. But the truth is that self-awareness and mindfulness still matter. These ideals have always mattered; and they always will, even after publications like the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review stop writing about them.

Why Self-Awareness Is an Essential Aspect of Leadership

When experts talk about self-awareness and leadership, they don’t always discuss the advantages leaders can experience. Often, the benefits of self-awareness are described in abstract, ill-defined terms. For example, you have probably read that high levels of self-awareness are linked to healthy relationships or an enhanced ability to develop and nurture personal development. Or you may have heard that self-awareness can help leaders avoid “tunnel vision” or ego-based toxicity. These are all worthwhile endeavors, to be sure, but these promised improvements are a little vague for the average leader.

If you are like most people in leadership positions, you want more data, more proof and more concrete examples of how self-awareness improves leadership and benefits organizations.

What does self-awareness actually do? In what specific ways does it give leaders advantages? Why is it so critical — and why should you invest your limited time and energy into developing it?

Yes, self-awareness can help you develop healthier relationships and improve your personal development. But how does it give you the edge you need to stay fresh, innovative and — most importantly — one step ahead of the competition?

The Bottom-Line Business Case for Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is more than just a nice idea designed to make people feel warm and fuzzy. It is crucial for improving the success of your organization and its bottom line. As it turns out, getting in touch with yourself on a more authentic level is likely to improve your leadership in ways that boost your organization’s results and bottom line. It’s a huge win-win.

The business world is characterized by constant movement and change. What was true yesterday may not necessarily ring true right now, and the techniques you use to motivate your people must always be evolving along with changing circumstances. Self-aware leaders are more likely to be focused on the moment and circumstances at hand, rather than the past or the future. However, most leaders are not self-aware.

In a world where most leaders lack self-awareness, developing this important quality is key to organizational success: In a study that examined 72 senior executives, high scores on tests of self-awareness were the most prominent predictor of overall success. These leaders, unlike their non self-aware counterparts, use awareness of their strengths and weaknesses to hire people who complement their skill sets. They also solicit feedback more frequently and willingly than other leaders. Furthermore, leaders with the greatest levels of self-awareness are generally more flexible, agile and better able to adapt on the fly to changes.

Ultimately, a leader’s self-awareness has a direct impact on their organization’s bottom line. Those who lack self-awareness lack the ability to lead their organizations in a healthy manner. On the other hand, those who maintain a healthy sense of self-awareness translate their leadership into positive and productive outcomes for their businesses which is a major competitive advantage.

How Mindfulness Can Turn Good Leaders into Great Ones

When I talk to leaders, I repeatedly hear many of the same complaints.

They tell me about how they feel stressed out, anxious and constantly behind schedule. They wish they could get more sleep and spend more time with their families. They talk about wanting to be more present with team members and more connected with the pulse of their respective organizations. For a long time, it was assumed that these aspects were simply part of the package for those who chose a life of leadership.

I reject the notion that leaders should be stressed, tired, anxious and lacking a life with proper work-life balance. I know from experience that leaders can be rested, relaxed, focused and present. I have seen leaders who sustain a keen, laser-sharp focus on their teams and organizations without running themselves ragged. So, what separates those leaders from the rest of the pack? The answer is mindfulness.

Here’s what mindfulness can do for leaders:

  • Reduces stress
  • Protects against health issues such as high blood pressure
  • Alters the brain positively in ways that enhance memory, learning and emotional regulation
  • Teaches leaders to pay attention to the moment at hand
  • Allows leaders to keep better watch over their emotions and feelings, leading to an enhanced ability to keep them under control
  • Helps develop greater self-awareness of their impact on others
  • Reduces feelings of pressure that are common for leaders

Virtually all the complaints from leaders I cited above can be addressed successfully with mindfulness. However, it is important to remember that mindfulness by itself is not a cure for any condition, nor is it a magical practice that automatically makes leadership easier. For mindfulness to be truly transformative, it must be undertaken as a regular practice.

The Power of Practice

Mindfulness gets its power from practice and consistency.

Engaging in meditation or any other mindful act just once will probably have little to no impact. Engaging in a mindfulness practice every day for a week will not do a lot, either. But if you sustain your practice consistently, engaging with it daily for several weeks in a row, you are sure to notice changes.

Mindfulness alone will not be the cause of those changes; the transformation also comes from your actions.

What mindfulness does is allow you to be more present with your thoughts and emotions. It does not create change, but it helps you create an inner landscape where positive change is easier to manifest. Essentially, a mindfulness practice will generate a greater level of awareness. And once you become aware, you gain the power to make deliberate, positive and transformative changes.

For example, let’s say you are feeling stressed out on a constant basis. Practicing mindfulness will not reduce stress by itself, but it will make you more aware of the factors that are contributing to your stress and strain. When you are mindful, you have a more enhanced ability to recognize the triggers that lead to stress. You become aware of the specific situations that lead to tension. And when you have this type of insight, you are gifted with the knowledge of what you have to change to build a richer, more fulfilling life of leadership.

Becoming a More Self-Aware, Mindful Leader

Becoming more self-aware and mindful may seem intimidating. You are busy and have very little time for all your work let alone introducing new practices. I completely understand what that’s like and have been there myself.

For me, becoming a Grounded Leader is based on a foundation of self-awareness, and it incorporates mindfulness techniques, as well. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to consider attending my first-ever Grounded Leader webinar series. It begins later this month and is filling up fast! So if you are interested, please click here for more information.

I also invite you to stay tuned to this space in the coming weeks. I will be writing more about what it means to be a Grounded Leader in today’s challenging world.

Do you want to continue the conversation with me? Feel free to contact me directly. I can be reached by phone at 1-855-871-3374 or by email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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