• Fernanda Chanquini

Leadership and Mindfulness: The power of full attention in high-performance leaders

“Leader: an individual who has the authority to command, guide, or coordinate others." This is the literal definition of leadership, but what dictionaries won’t tell us is that before being able to guide others, a high-performance leader needs to have control and authority over himself, that is, making self-knowledge essential. Mindfulness comes in this context, therefore, as one of the main strategies to promote such self-awareness.

This practice has been much discussed, but in fact, originated over 2,500 years ago and is still relevant today, due to the efficiency and range of contexts in which they can be applied. Mindfulness has the primary objective to rescue the focus and awareness of people, to develop the ability to identify how their feelings and thoughts affect the body and mind.

In the business context, Mindfulness allows leaders to acquire a greater capacity of focusing on what is being done and to recognize external or internal unnecessary distractions, knowing so how to set yourself free from them. This practice allows for more presence, engagement, awareness of oneself, and others around them, letting interactions between employees healthier and more productive.

Studies neuroscientists published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) show that in 2016, 47% of survey participants acted daily in the “automatic mode”, in other words, they weren’t mindful about what they were doing, being easily influenced by distractions. Also, another 2020 study published by HBR, states how the period in which we are living with a pandemic, uncertainty, financial market instability, and stress is directly influencing concentration. The researchers explain that the cerebral amygdala is activated when faced with these “threats” and thus further limits the focal capacity - which is useful to defend against real threats -, but makes people assume unproductive patterns of thought, focusing on the worst-case scenario, remaining in denial about the current context, decreasing access to the creative and analytical side of reasoning and toning down the empathic, active listening and connecting with others skills.

That is, a load of stress, especially in the corporate world, can harm the development of core competencies for a high level of leadership, making it crucial, therefore, that new strategies and practices such as Mindfulness become more present in this field, which through exercises of fast concentration, breathing, and attention, make it possible to increase productivity, objectivity, creativity and decrease the error rate.

How, then, do I practice Mindfulness in my daily life?

1 . Start the day with meditation.

Calm down! It is not necessary to have years of study and practice for this type of meditation. You can use guided meditation apps or just take 3 minutes apart when you wake up to focus only on breathing and direct your attention to each part of the body starting from the feet to the head. Check e-mails as the first activity upon awakening, for example, makes you start your day in a reactive rather than active mode since scheduling the day before starting stimulates the “fight-or-flight ” instinct releasing cortisol in the blood and more stress hormones. Therefore, with a quick and effective meditation before getting out of bed, you are already starting physiologically on a more productive and healthy day.

2 . Check-in and out with the team at meetings.

The Chief Executive of the Fleury Group in 2017, Marcelo Cardoso, mentioned this practice of asking the coworkers "how they are at that moment? How was the process of getting to the office? What’s on their minds?" before the meeting starts as a strategy to vocalize the internal and external distractions allowing more awareness about these possible influences and thus preventing these from disturbing the subject of attention being addressed.

3 . Write down thoughts and feelings every day in a notebook.

By creating a habit of writing down what you are feeling, ideas that came up, thoughts that occurred to you, and interactions that affected you throughout the day, you are putting on paper the possible distractions to be analyzed later with more time, since it is not because these came at an inopportune moment that should be disregarded. Also, with this technique you develop the ability to identify how these phenomena happen in you, allowing more awareness about them and thus knowing how to manage them better.

4 . Set an alarm of 1 minute every 1 hour to rescue the concentration.

As previously mentioned, depending on how you start your day or deal with stressful situations, it is possible to assume unproductive thought patterns, falling into the “autopilot” mode of reactivity. To ensure that this does not occur throughout the day, set an alarm to sound every 1 hour so that you have 1 minute of concentrated breathing, similar to the meditation discussed above, but quicker, to rescue productivity, focus, and mindfulness to your job.

5 . Have 10 minutes of silence on your way home.

At the end of an exhausting day at work, make sure that on the way home - or if you’re in home-office, at the end of your shift - you have at least 10 minutes without a cell phone, radio, or music to absorb everything that has been accomplished, perceived, spoken and thought. Promoting this brief moment of self-awareness helps to stop you from staying at home with an overflow of feelings and thoughts, enabling you to be more present with family, wife, husband, achieving thus effectively rest.

Mindfulness, therefore, is not living life in slow motion, without worries, forgetting about problems, but, rather, a practice that allows you to know how to manage them better and be more present, aware, and attentive as a high-level leader at work and out of it.

Fernanda Chanquini

Desenvolvimento de Talentos

Instituto Maurino Veiga