As someone who spent 20 years as a stressed-out corporate tech professional and discovered mindfulness at the age of 41, I wish I had read “Creating Mindful Leaders: How to Power Down, Power Up, and Power Forward” – our September Workhuman Book Club selection – years ago. Stress has a negative impact not only on the quality of our work, but also on our health, well-being, and life. I am a completely different person than I was 20 years ago because of the training and practice of mindfulness.
According to Josh Bersin’s forward to this compelling book, the world has changed, and so has the nature of work: “Every employee is being asked to be a leader in almost every role, and the expectations are higher than ever.” For a leader, this translates into higher stress, uncertainty, and anxiety.
“Creating Mindful Leaders,” written by Joe Burton, founder and CEO of Whil and a Workhuman Live 2020 speaker, takes the reader on a thoughtful, funny, and insightful journey for improving performance, leadership, and quality of life through mindfulness. It outlines the latest research on stress and burnout, and it walks the reader through simple, research-based tools every professional can leverage to become more mindful, productive, and happy.
First, Joe explains how our brains learn from experience, and how repetitive reactions to experiences like stress, anxiety, anger, and worry become our defaults without the right training. As Joe puts it, “We get better at the things we practice most.”
If our brains are learning machines, let’s train them to be intentional and mindful to improve the quality of life and work.
Joe uses a refrigerator analogy throughout the book to help make complex concepts easy to understand. Our mind is like a refrigerator; it is always running at various levels. When you leave the door open, it works nonstop, the equipment breaks down faster, and what’s inside isn’t very good. If we’re not careful, the corporate environment, full of stress and anxiety, can have us leaving the refrigerator door open. It can cause the mind to burn out from overactivity while destroying the quality of emotions, moods, and thought patterns.
Tools like mindfulness and emotional intelligence are needed to help us manage our thoughts and emotions – and to keep the refrigerator door closed so we can thrive
Joe outlines practical tools across the spectrum of health, sleep, corporate culture, leadership, mindfulness, and stress management. Readers should consider the book a roadmap they can refer to over time as they encounter challenging situations both inside and outside of work
Some of the concepts that help create high-performing organizations and happy employees are outlined here:
Build a single point of focus: By training the brain to sustain a single point of focus and attention, you can strengthen your ability to pay attention. Over time, being present, focused, and attentive can become your usual way of being. One tool to help build this focus is to add five minutes of meditation each day to your standard routine.
Improve resilience around stress: Stress is a slow leak that can grow over time. From an organizational perspective, it can result in increasing absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, and medical costs (as well as toxic cultures). Resilience is critical to facing ongoing change and disruption while still managing well-being and performance. In this section, Joe outlines tools we can use to help reduce stress and increase resilience.
There are differences between good and bad stress. The challenge is recovering from stress and building resilience. Some ways to increase resilience include:
- Train like an athlete. Build in short breaks throughout your day to recover from stress. Try short meditations during the day, especially after difficult meetings, and take a five- to 10-minute break for every hour worked.
- Make meetings mindful. Do your best to start and end on time. Take a minute to have everyone put their devices away. Consider starting each meeting with a one-minute practice to center the room and confirm intentions for your time together
Be your authentic self: One of the most beneficial parts of mindfulness is feeding your authentic self. For example, being curious and not dismissive of others. Being comfortable asking questions. Embracing vulnerability instead of arrogance. The more you can bring your whole self to work, the more connected you will be to your colleagues and the more mindful you can be with your thoughts, words, and actions.
Build a positive work culture: As a leader, you set the tone for the culture of the organization, including the amount of positivity and authenticity you encourage. There are many different tools to support building a positive work culture. For example:
- Focus on building a culture of psychological safety where people can express their ideas without fear.
- Bring people together to create community through team mindfulness practices, events, and celebrations.
- Add questions about well-being to your employee surveys.
- Increase organizational emotional quotient (EQ) skills such as:
- Social skills
Being a mindful leader is a journey and requires practice to build the muscle. It’s something that individuals need to embrace every day, both inside and outside of work. In “Creating Mindful Leaders,” Joe shares humor-filled insights and stories from his career as a global COO that professionals will find timely and actionable at any stage in their career. Consider this book a personal reference guide to manage stress, change, and disruption. It is full of approaches that are easy to learn and immediately apply to transform your mental and emotional well-being, performance, career, and health.
Are you ready to get your life and career back by becoming a mindful leader?