Excellent leaders are often capable of excellent emotional intelligence (EI). You may be thinking: Bringing emotions into work is not professional. But actually, it’s completely necessary. Why? Leading with EI helps you communicate more effectively, feel more compassion, bring out the best in others, and overcome challenges.
Think you can’t learn to be emotionally intelligent? You can, and there’s one thing you can practice to help: Mindfulness. Better mindfulness helps us develop better EI. And all of this leads to higher morale, better engagement, and increased effectiveness.
That was the message from Cheryl Jones, Aetna’s Director of Mindfulness (yes, that’s a real title) at her Next Generation of Government Training Session, Mindful Leadership. Jones started out by defining mindfulness: Paying attention or noting whatever is happening in the moment with a gentle and open mind, as well as awareness of breathing, thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.
“It’s NOT becoming passive, tuning out, and doesn’t involve chanting,” Jones noted. “It’s just being present in the moment you are in now, and taking it all in.”
Sounds great, right? But it leads to a couple of questions: How do you get to be mindful, and how does it impact your leadership abilities?
Let’s start with the benefits first. According to a New York Times article about Aetna’s mindfulness efforts, “More than one-quarter of the company’s workforce of 50,000 has participated in at least one mindfulness class, and those who have report, on average, a 28 percent reduction in their stress levels, a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality and a 19 percent reduction in pain. They also become more effective on the job, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity each.”
Most importantly, the introduction of emotional calm and perspective into a work environment develops your EI. By extricating yourself from the situation, taking a higher viewpoint, and using caution to respond rather than react, supervisors can tap into their emotional intelligence to lead effectively and better connect with and understand their employees.
After a pause of breathing and meditation, then a move into conversation with a partner, one audience member made a critical observation: “It was nice to feel and see that the other person I was talking to was really paying attention to me – and not just waiting for their turn to talk.”
So how can you get to this blissed out leadership state? There are many different ways to incorporate mindfulness into the workplace. For beginners, you can easily start small. These steps include practicing deep breathing in the white space of the day, reading a book on mindfulness, or trying a new exercise such as yoga or tai chi. And mindfulness is not just for the workplace. To introduce similar techniques at home, try creating a space in your home for reflection and regularly writing in a journal.
So take a breath. Truly listen to a coworker. Take a walk around the block without looking at your phone. When you start to take those steps regularly, you may just become the leader you are hoping to be.
Get more mindfulness tips at Aetna’s site.