Do you ever observe people who "have it all together" and wonder how they do it? Most likely, they are fully centered. Living in the present—being centered.
Possibly the single most important component of leadership presence is mindfulness or being centered, which opens the door to emotional connection with oneself and others. Mindfulness allows you to focus and remain calm in times of stress or conflict. You may want to read my article about Charles deGaulle, When Leadership Presence Changed the Future, which discusses one incident in which a leader's mindfulness clearly made a difference.
I often use the terms mindfulness and centering interchangeably, but centering is the process used to relax and calm the mind and body. Mindfulness happens after becoming centered. It means remaining mentally present and aware while engaged in other activities.
We will go into the process—the how, but first let's go into they why.
In the Harvard Business Review article, Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader, Bill George discusses a very popular course at Harvard Business School called Authentic Leadership Development. This course encourages future leaders to clarify their values and principles and consider their definitions of success. The goal is to define success as making a positive difference for colleagues, organizations, families, and society as a whole rather than thinking about personal success or what impression you are making on other people.
In his article, George discusses how being mindful allows leaders to remain in the present and recognize feelings and emotions. He says mindfulness allows you to "observe and participate in each moment, while recognizing the implications of your actions for the longer term."
This requires the ability to quiet your mind.
Some, like Bill George, find regular meditation to be the key to mindfulness, others like to use centering exercises such as the practice I use in executive presence workshops in which we practice the Six Positions of Power and Influence, which I cover in other posts. Practicing meditation or centering activities such as these helps you achieve mindfulness.
MINDFULNESS IN ORGANIZATIONS
George presents a good case for mindfulness in his article mentioned above, but what are other scientific findings associated with mindfulness?
In a study of 80 leaders from 12 organizations who participated in a mindfulness retreat (Institute for Mindful Leadership, 2015), a significant number of leaders reported that mindfulness training had a positive impact on their ability to create space for innovation, to listen to themselves and others, and to think strategically.
In another study reported in Psychiatry Research, Hotzel, Carmody and others (2010) used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to view the brains of people before and after they engaged in mindfulness training. They found increased gray matter concentration in certain areas of the brain, which suggests that mindfulness and meditation can improve “learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
In a study published in the Journal of Human Relations, Dane and Brummel (2015), managers rated individuals with higher mindfulness scores as having better job performance. The researchers also discovered more positive feelings and enhanced cognitive resources in mindful individuals.
An article in Fast Company describes how even large corporations and sports teams have gotten on board the mindfulness train. Many sources listed in this link discuss the immensely popular Google program called Search Inside Yourself. It contains elements of emotional intelligence and mindfulness.
PHYSICAL BENEFITS OF CENTERING
As an added bonus, research on centering also suggests physical benefits. Centering triggers the relaxation response that reduces blood pressure, stress levels, chronic pain and insomnia (Benson, 2000). Researchers at University of Michigan add to this list increased motivation, decreased anxiety, and improved decision-making ability among many other benefits (Williams & Carey, 2003).
The practice of centering increases one’s availability and awareness and provides a sense of calm. Centering means relaxing, concentrating on breathing, taking stock of the body, and focusing energy in the physiological center of the body. Centering helps to rid the brain of chatter and is critical to integrating body, emotion and language successfully.
People who regularly practice centering report that their brains do not go in as many directions, which allows them to focus on people and tasks around them. They can speak to groups with greater concentration and more authority, and they are able to interact in troublesome situations without feeling anxious.
In our culture, few suggest centering as a leadership tool. However, actors and dancers often practice centering so they can use their bodies more effectively. Others, such as athletes, soldiers and public speakers who need focus, also practice centering before important engagements. The practice is equally beneficial for people in leadership roles.
Centering allows leaders to look into peoples’ eyes, make emotional connections, and build the all-important relationships required for Connected Leadership. Leaders who are not relaxed or comfortable in their own bodies can hardly project the confidence necessary to inspire others to follow them. So, how does centering work?
The goal of centering is to recognize when the brain is cluttered with unnecessary thoughts and to move attention to the body and to the present. Centering involves letting go of the past and future and joyfully remaining in the moment.
Centering also involves relaxing, focusing on breathing, becoming aware of one’s surroundings, and putting everything else out of mind. It means allowing gravity to take control and relaxing muscles so that the bones support the body.
As you engage in centering activities and attempt to become more mindful, it is important to remember that the function of the brain is to think, and that is what it will continue to do.
As thoughts arise during centering practice, recognize that you have moved from your body to your brain. Bring your attention back your body and allow mind and body to work together.
If you are unaccustomed to centering, it is important to practice. A simple exercise to clear the mind is to sit quietly, relax each muscle, and focus on nothing except breathing. Say or think the word in each time you inhale and out each time you exhale.
It is easiest to learn centering with the help of a guide or coach. However, I have included in another article some centering activities to get you started: one practice is for use while seated and the other is for use while in motion. Playing relaxing instrumental music during centering practice enhances the experience. After learning to center during inactivity, practice centering while in motion. I have included the mindfulness exercises I use, but you may want to design your own mindfulness exercises.The words themselves are not important. It is the process that makes the difference.
Many report that centering or mindful practice allows them greater enjoyment of physical exercise such as walking, running or swimming. They experience increased awareness of their bodies and begin to experience their surroundings more fully.
The goal is to learn to remain centered while involved in a variety of daily activities. Remaining centered while in motion helps a leader make important decisions or personal connections under more active circumstances.
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This article is adapted from my book,, Connect: Affective Leadership℠ for Effective Results where leadership presence is covered in much greater detail.
- Benson, H. (2000). The relaxation response. New York: HarperCollins.
- Dane, E., Brummel, B. (2015) Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations. a study published in the journal Human Relations. Managers rated servers with higher mindfulness scores as having better job performance. Enhances positive feelings and boosts cognitive resources. They also found a negative relationship between workplace mindfulness and turnover intention. Evidence for athletes, speakers and performance artists.
- George, B. (2012) Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader. Harvard Business Review. Looking at what success means. Authentic Leadership Development has become one of the most popular elective MBS courses. Benefits to health. Learning and memory.
- Hotzel, B. Carmody, J, et.al (2010) Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research. Research using MRI with people who practiced mindfulness training found increased gray matter concentration in areas of the brain that suggest mindfulness and meditation increase in brain regions involved in “learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”
- Institute for Mindful Leadership (2015) Research: Mindful Leadership Training. In a study of 80 leaders from 12 organizations who participated in the Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness© retreat (Institute for Mindful Leadership, 2015), a significant number of leaders reported that mindfulness training had a positive impact on their ability to create space for innovation, enhanced their ability to listen to themselves and others, and made a positive difference in their ability to think strategically.
- Ringer, J. (2015) Happier: thoughts and Practices on Centering and Mindfulness (Part 2) Ki Moments Blog. Tells how to align body and mind for mindfulness practice.
- Tuschman, M. (2015) Google Searches. In the Workplace. Mindful: Taking Time for What Matters.