How to be a better leader: Mindfulness makes bosses more present, empathic, respectful

VAASA, Finland–  At its core, leadership is meant to motivate others. When a leader incorporates mindfulness in their approach, research from Finland shows that they are more present, empathic, respectful of others, and accommodating toward their work community.

Mindfulness is an increasingly embraced practice around the world, especially within the last few high-stress years. In the workplace, leaders have become more interested in using mindfulness and learning how they can apply the practices to individual employees and their teams.

Laura Urrila’s doctoral dissertation, which was recently defended at University of Vaasa, tackles the concept of leaders wanting to incorporate mindfulness, but not knowing exactly how to do so or where to begin. She sought to investigate if mindfulness could help leaders enhance their efficacy in leading others and promote long-term good. The participants were part of an eight-week long mindfulness program as part of her research.

She found that leaders tend to be caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to overseeing staff. They want to support their team as best they can, but struggle with balancing their workload, team dynamics, and relationships.

After taking part in the mindfulness trial, participants reported that simplifying the practices helped. They found activities like conscious breathing, calming visualization and having a compassionate attitude useful in their daily interactions with team members.

Throughout the program, Urrila studied the experiences of leaders in the program by utilizing qualitative longitudinal intervention techniques. Data was collected from 62 leaders and measured by examining written pre-intervention assessments and their post-intervention interviews. Her research reveals that mindfulness allows leaders to develop a newfound self-awareness that helps them not only support their team, but themselves as well.

Laura Urrila practicing mindfulness meditation.
Laura Urrila’s doctoral dissertation investigates how mindfulness may help leaders tap into their other-orientation. (Credit: Riikka Kalmi, University of Vaasa)

Urrila explains that a positive personal experience with the practices is key to motivating leaders to apply them at work. The work emphasizes that effective leadership development combines both formal program training and consistent self-development. Becoming a strong, mindful leader takes time. It requires patience with oneself and others because it asks that people look inward and self-reflect. Thus, taking the time and effort to improve oneself through mindful practices is suggested before attempting to share the concept with others, as “you cannot give from an empty cup,” Urrila says.

These findings are useful in that they support the notion that calm and centered attitudes can create better workplace environments and support a common goal. In addition, HR managers and development professionals may find Urrila’s information especially useful when choosing optimal professional development interventions.

Urrila’s dissertation is published in Osuva, the open publications archive of University of Vaasa.

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About the Author

Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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