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Stress gets in the way of Good Leadership - Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership

Awareness of stress and how it manifests in the mind and body is crucial for organizational leaders. Ignoring it can lead to diminishing returns both mentally and physically.

Stressed, leaders can lose mental focus and become ill-tempered leading to tension in the organization. It can spiral out of control, leading to poor judgement, dysfunctional relationships, and bad decisions.

Stress manifests as physical pain – headaches, neck pain, backpain. Some leaders often ignore these, or mask them with pain killers. Age and general fitness can mitigate major physiological impacts.

Stress often creeps up when there is a lack of self-awareness and grounding.

You can increase self-awareness through “mindfulness practices” becoming in tune with body and mind.

The Practice

The basic mindfulness practice requires discipline to sit in a quiet place and focus on one’s breathing. This creates a space between the future and the past; self and the outer world; pain and pleasure. This is called meditation

This middle ground is called “presence” – awareness of the here and now, which is beyond thoughts. Through the breath, the body and the mind are connected, becoming present, enabling you to put a mirror to yourself – to become aware of your emotions.

With emotional awareness, one can manage anxiety, frustration, anger, fear, and the physical manifestations that comes with these emotions,

A good leader manages emotions and finds the space to reflect and respond, rather than react to situations immediately. This level of emotional maturity is attained by mindfulness practice.

Google’s emotional intelligence expert, Chade Teng May realizes this and knows the importance of a happy workplace and how it pays dividends in innovation, productivity and profits. Teng May says, “Attention training creates a quality of mind that is calm and clear – the foundation for emotional intelligence.” Focus on the breath is the easiest way to pay attention.

Scientific Evidence

The latest research in Neuroscience provides tangible results on how neurons in the brain and the heart are positively impacted by meditation.  There is mounting evidence to prove its effectiveness in gaining mental clarity.

Elissa Epel, leading researcher into mindfulness, health and well-being at the University of Southern California says: 

“We speculate that certain types of meditation can increase awareness of present moment experience leading to positive cognitions, primarily by increasing meta-cognitive awareness of thought, a sense of control (and decreased need to control), and increased acceptance of emotional experience. These cognitive states and skills reduce cognitive stress and thus ability for more accurate appraisals, reducing exaggerated threat appraisals and rumination, and distress.” [1]

Studies support the notion that mindfulness helps interpret situations as less threatening. People respond to events more thoughtfully, rather than through automatic filters of cognitive and emotional processes.  Mindfulness promotes “cognitive balance,” the ability to see clearly beyond assumptions, and prevents common and habitual cognitive distortions.[2]

The founder of VISA credit card, Dee Hock says that managing self “should occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do that, the ethical, moral, and spiritual elements of management are inescapable.”

A purposeful leader who manages self, using mindfulness tools to deal with stress will have clarity of vision through uncertainty, remain grounded, and possess the power to make sound, balanced decisions.

[1] Elissa Epel, PhD.,,* Jennifer Daubenmier, Ph.D., Judith T. Moskowitz, Ph.D., Susan Folkman, PhD., and Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD: Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres Ann N Y Acad Sci. Author manuscript; available in PMC Mar 15, 2011
[2] Wenk-Sormaz H. Meditation can reduce habitual responding. Altern Ther Health Med. 2005 Mar-Apr;11(2):42–58. [PubMed]

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