How can organisations benefit from mindful leadership?

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Article by Karen Liebenguth and Andrew McNeill

As leaders we can’t control the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Mindfulness can help us to have a powerful sense of initiative and agency of the choices we make and the attitude we bring to a situation. 

Mindful leadership is different from a more traditional understanding of leadership which often is individualistic, centred around the person and focused on behaviour, performance and productivity rather than attitudes such as kindness, compassion, empathy, trust, authenticity and humility.

Mindful leadership is deeply rooted in mindfulness practice. It is about intentionally and voluntarily paying attention to our body, emotions, thoughts, others and our surroundings so that we can become more present to what’s happening in the moment. It’s about getting to know one’s mind and developing a healthy mind and heart. It’s about becoming more aware of one’s unhelpful tendencies and honestly exploring – with curiosity and kindness – what gets in the way of being a more human, uninhibited and compassionate leader in order to fulfil a positive contribution to staff and to create a workplace where people want to work and feel they belong.

Mindful leadership is also about ethics and understanding the interconnectedness of all life; that our intentions and actions have an impact on others, the community, organisation and the world we live in.

Mindful leadership is therefore also about relationality, the deep understanding that we are not separate but always in relationship with ourselves and others. We learn to relate to ourselves and others with compassion and empathy which in turn deepens our connection, fosters empathy and understanding.

Mindful leadership requires leaders to have courage, to allow others to see their vulnerabilities as well as their strengths. It invites leaders to pay attention to themselves and others with attitudes such as:

Non-judgement – becoming aware of our judging mind and not judging ourselves for being judgemental. It means developing discernment. It’s about recognising what’s actually unfolding for us as leaders in order to lift the veil of our judgements to allow clarity and wisdom.

Curiosity – allowing ourselves to let go of our pre-conceived views and opinions, to look at things as though for the first time. As leaders an attitude of curiosity can help us see our colleagues freshly and in their entirety. Without the judging mind of ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘I like this about you’, ‘I don’t like that about you’…

Patience – as leaders we need to be able to be with what is right here, right now so we can respond wisely and creatively to change, developing our capacity to respond, rather than merely be dominated by our propensity to react. Noticing impatience and pausing, relaxing, taking a breath and another one, allowing space for us to apply our leadership with wisdom.

Non-striving – non-doing, non-wanting. Allowing things to be in our awareness without needing to do anything. Non-striving is a crucial attitude that we bring to what we do as leaders.

Kindness – the quality of openness, friendliness, curiosity, care, warmth and love. We do not need to fabricate it or make it happen. It’s already present, intrinsic in our human capacity. As leaders, kindness can enable us to care for ourselves and to see and hear our team members, colleagues and clients fully, building psychological safety.

Trust – as leaders, trust involves bearing the discomfort of not knowing and being able to navigate ambiguity, of staying open and curious to what may arise and not  pre-empting, judging or knowing.

Compassion – arises when we have the courage to willingly engage with our pain, difficulty, suffering and that of others. In our leadership compassion enables us to be alongside our own and our colleagues’ experience including their suffering with openness, kindness and curiosity without needing to fix or solve anything. Compassion can be confused with (self-) pity, sentimentalism or horrified anxiety. 

Acceptance – is not passive; as leaders we need to learn to turn towards our experience with openness, curiosity, kindness and compassion. It’s about relaxing into it without feeling overwhelmed by or hardening against it. Accepting is an active act; it is the willingness to allow and engage with our experience as it is.

Humility – to be humble is to be human; to show humility as a leader is to recognise that we are flawed and imperfect; to acknowledge our qualities and shortcomings.

Being humble is not being subservient. To be humble means to be able to recognise our mistakes and to learn from them (growth mindset) with kindness vs getting caught up in negative emotion and self-judgement.

Authenticity – being authentic as a leader means knowing our deepest values, what most matters to us; how we want to show up in the world – in our home, work and social life. To be authentic is to have the courage to be who we are and not to pretend to be something else. To be authentic means being able to be vulnerable, to be seen by others without shame or guilt.

As David Whyte says: One of the marvellous things a leader can do is to invite the hidden parts of a person out into the world with all its difficulty and all its qualities vs reducing the people we work with to a narrow professional identity.


Why not join our next Radical Mindful Leaders Programme:
20 October – 24 November 2021

Increase your awareness of who you are as a leader and who you want to become – how you think, act and communicate so you can create a human and compassionate organisation where people can thrive.

We run three programmes per year and have 9 places available on each programme.

Dates for the three programmes that we’ll be running in 2022 are set and can be found on our website.

For more information and to apply for a place, visit our website


About the authors

Andrew McNeill and Karen Liebenguth are co-founders of Parcival offering services that facilitate mindful journeys through collective practice. They have both been practising mindfulness and meditation for many years, are accredited mindfulness trainers and members of BAMBA, the British Association for Mindfulness-based Approaches.

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