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Mindful Leadership For Dummies®

To view this book's Cheat Sheet, simply go to and search for “Mindful Leadership For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.


Mindfulness is a mental discipline that has been practiced for thousands of years. Modern science has researched the impacts of mindfulness on health and well-being over the last 40 years. In recent years, researchers have turned their attention to exploring the benefits of applying mindfulness to the way people work.

Nowadays, hundreds of corporate organisations, from Google to General Mills, from Dow Chemicals to the UK Parliament, use mindfulness to help their employees boost their resilience, productivity, emotional intelligence, focus and well-being. Leading business schools now recognise that mindfulness provides the foundation for effective leadership and routinely offer mindfulness training to MBA students and those in search of new approaches to the challenges of the modern-day workplace.

A lot of hype and myth surrounds mindful leadership. Simply put, mindful leadership = mindfulness + leadership.

A mindful leader is simply a leader who uses mindfulness to gain deeper knowledge of himself and makes a conscious effort to use this knowledge to manage himself better, taking personal responsibility for his actions and striving to be the best leader he can be.

Mindful leaders provide calm, clarity and a clear sense of direction, carefully balancing the needs of the organisation with the needs and aspirations of the workforce. Mindful leaders monitor themselves to maintain a focus on present- moment reality, their impact on other people, and their reactions to stressful situations.

Mindful leaders experience the reality and vividness of what’s going on in any given moment, without knee- jerk reactions based on negative mind states (such as anxiety, fear or anger) responding with a calm awareness and care for themselves and others.

Mindful Leadership For Dummies offers a highly accessible and practical guide for busy professionals. It includes all the basics you need to know, such as what mindfulness is and how it works (Chapter 1) and the underpinning neuroscience (see Chapter 3). It includes a full six-week WorkplaceMT course (Chapters 8 through 13), which you can use to teach yourself mindfulness or as a course workbook if you decide to attend a WorkplaceMT course. It includes practical guidance on improving your presence and influence (Chapter 14), leading in a digital age (Chapter 15) and mindfully leading change (Chapter 16). For those looking for ways to introduce mindfulness to their organisation, you can find pragmatic advice and guidance in Chapter 17.

We hope you enjoy reading Mindful Leadership For Dummies and that it leads to improvements in the way you work, your happiness and well-being.

About This Book

Whatever your reason or level of engagement, you’ll find something in this book for you. It’s designed to be practical and accessible, full of real-life examples that you can start applying straightaway. For some, this book will prove the catalyst for major change; for others, the messages in this book may be less resonant.

This book provides you with the information and guidance you need to make up your own mind and decide how mindfulness can help you become a better leader. We encourage you to read with an open mind and a sense of exploration. In the spirit of mindfulness, suspend judgment as you read and experiment with some of the concepts and techniques described in these pages, and then take from it what works best for you.

Foolish Assumptions

When writing this book, we have made a number of assumptions about you, the reader:

Icons Used in This Book

Like other For Dummies books, this one has icons in the margins to guide you through the information and help you zero in on what you want to know. The following paragraphs describe the icons and what they mean.

remember Information flagged with this icon is useful and worth keeping in mind when working with your experience of low mood and depression.

tip The text next to this icon offers quick and effective ideas to support your leaning about mindfulness.

warning This icon flags text that you need to take heed of.

technicalstuff This icon points out interesting bits of information that goes beyond need-to-know. You can skip paragraphs marked with this icon if you’re pressed for time, but reading them will further enhance your understanding.

playthis When you see this icon, you can download an MP3 to guide you as you practice a formal mindfulness exercise.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, this book also comes with a free access-anywhere Cheat Sheet that provides top tips on becoming a mindful leader, the most recent research into mindful leadership and developing a leadership approach that works best for you. To get this Cheat Sheet, simply go to and search for “Mindful Leadership For Dummies Cheat Sheet” in the Search box.

We also offer further resources that go with this book.

We’ve recorded MP3s to guide you when you practice the formal mindfulness exercises as detailed in Chapters 8 through 13. Download them from

Where to Go from Here

This book is designed so that you can dip in and out as you please. You’re invited to make good use of the table of contents (or the index) and jump straight into the part or chapter that grabs your attention. You’re in charge, and it’s up to you.

If you’re new to mindful leadership, or not sure where to start, begin with Part 1, and you’ll have a better idea of how to proceed. If you’re ready to start your mindfulness development, start at Chapter 7, and then work through Chapters 8 to 13 in order.

We wish you all the best in your quest to be a more mindful leader and hope you find lots of valuable ideas and information within these pages. Above all, see this book as an exploration with nothing to lose but everything to gain.

Part 1

Breaking the Mould


Explore what mindful leadership is and how it can work for you.

Examine the leadership challenges of the modern workplace.

Discover the potential and limitations of your brain and become aware of your unconscious drivers.

Chapter 1

Exploring Mindful Leadership


Understanding mindfulness and leadership

Exploring the evolution of mindfulness

Discovering the benefits of mindful leadership

Mindful leadership is about flexibility of thought and actions, breaking out of autopilot and habitual behaviours and being the best you can be in any given moment. Mindfulness certainly isn’t a silver bullet or a quick fix; it takes time and practice. But every great journey starts with one step, and this book will be your companion and guide every step of the way.

Establishing the Facts about Mindfulness and Leadership

In this section, we start with the basics and establish a shared understanding of what mindfulness is and how it can enhance your leadership capability.

Understanding mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about your ability to focus attention on the situation at hand with the intention to observe the judgments you make and choose how to respond appropriately. Developing this ability helps you to step away from automatic habitual responses to observe present-moment reality with an open mind and to make smarter decisions.

Everyone has the capacity to be mindful, but like anything worthwhile, it takes time, effort and practice. In the section ‘Deconstructing Mindfulness’ you’ll find a more succinct definition of mindfulness and how to develop it for yourself.

Redefining leadership

The definition of leadership varies subtly from theory to theory. At its most basic, leadership is a process of social influence where a person (the leader) secures the help and support of others to accomplish a shared task.

In recent years, leadership theory has started to focus on the leader as one human being, leading other human beings. Recent discoveries in neuroscience and psychology have transformed our knowledge of how the human brain learns, reacts to different stimulus, and interprets what’s happening.

On a daily basis, as a leader, you’re involved in changing people’s brains – literally! Everyday ordinary and extraordinary life events are the catalysts for thoughts, decisions and learning, which in turn change the structure of the brain physically. Understanding your brain, and how and why others do what they do, helps you use your brain more effectively. Applying neuroscience to your actions and behaviours as a leader helps make you a more effective, adaptive and resilient leader. You can find out more about this in Chapter 3.

Mindfulness is now recognised as a foundational skill for effective leadership. Peter Drucker once said that we can’t manage others unless we learn to manage ourselves first. Mindfulness increases self-awareness, which enables you to manage yourself better. Mindful leadership combines the practice of mindfulness with practical management and leadership techniques, enabling leaders to engage a wider range of their capacities to the challenges at hand. Check out Chapters 15, 16 and 17 for the practical application of mindfulness to everyday work challenges.

Exploring the Benefits of Mindful Leadership

Having considered the meaning of both mindfulness and leadership (see previous section), you may be asking yourself, ‘What’s in it for me?’ The following sections drill deeper into the role of leadership today, the evolution and modern-day uses of mindfulness, and practical ways to apply mindfulness to your work as a leader.

Refreshing your knowledge of leadership

Ideas about what makes a good leader have changed and evolved dramatically over the years. In the 1920s and 1930s, trait theories argued that leaders were born. From the 1940s to the 1960s, behavioural theories argued that you can be taught leadership – it’s just a matter of adopting the right behaviours when attempting to lead.

In more recent times, contingency theories (such as situational leadership) argue that no one leadership style is correct and that as a leader you need to adopt the correct leadership style for the situation. Transformational theories view leaders as agents of change. As a transformational leader, you can transform the workplace via teamwork or team development, or by acting as an agent of change or a strategic visionary.

One of the most recent approaches to leadership is authentic leadership. It’s an approach that encourages honest relationships with followers, whose input is valued. Authentic leaders tend to be positive people with truthful self-concepts who seek clarity and promote openness. By building trust and generating enthusiastic support from their followers, authentic leaders are able to improve both individual and team performance. Authentic leadership is a growing area of study in academic research on leadership, and mindfulness is a core element. Read more about authentic leadership in Chapter 14.

Investigating human nature

If you want to be a good leader, you need to have some understanding of what makes people tick. At a deep level, most humans have a natural desire to be led, fuelled by a primeval desire to survive, have a purpose in life, and achieve. Abraham Maslow described this in his hierarchy of needs (see Figure 1-1).


© John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

FIGURE 1-1: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Located at the foundation of Maslow’s triangle are basic needs – needs for survival. Like most animals, humans will do anything and everything to survive and sustain life. Challenging situations may result in a feeling of threat. Threats to pride, integrity and future success may lead to seeking guidance, support and leadership from others to minimise threats. In a work context, if your ability to complete a task is threatened, it can have a negative impact on your future success and progress, which is why people are naturally predisposed to need leaders.

remember Good leaders help individuals to gain a meaningful sense of purpose by helping them align their thoughts and clarify the reasons behind their work. Humans need understanding to fully engage, and good leadership meets this need.

According to Maslow, after basic needs (survival) and psychological needs (purpose) are met, humans strive for self-fulfilment. In a work context, leaders can greatly enhance individuals’ potential for success and achievement. Good leaders help individuals work towards their full potential and maximise their performance.

Deconstructing Mindfulness

As a human being, you perform at your best when you’re authentic to yourself and lead in a way that resonates with your values. Of course, doing so is often easier said than done. It takes time and effort and an acceptance of personal responsibility for your actions. Unravelling and revealing your true self involves self-awareness and reflection, which is where mindfulness comes in.

Defining mindfulness

When you strip away the hype and well-worn catchphrases, mindfulness is simply the cultivation of metacognition and maintenance of an optimum mind state (see Figure 1-2).

  • Metacognition can be described as the ability to observe what’s going on in your mind. When developing mindfulness, you cultivate an open monitoring state where you’re aware of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in any given moment of time.
  • An optimum mind state can be described as a feeling of ease, when you feel safe and secure, and your body and mind is functioning in its optimum state. In other words, an optimum mind state occurs when you’re free from anxiety, anger and fear and are feeling secure, happy and comfortable with your surroundings. This state allows you to be the best you can and reach your full potential.

© A Head for Work Ltd

FIGURE 1-2: Mindfulness and mindful leadership.

The following sections explore these terms and what they mean in more detail.

Maintaining metacognition and an optimum mind state

Cultivating metacognition enables you to become more aware of your automatic tendencies and responses. This awareness allows you to make decisions and act appropriately based on present-moment reality instead of being hijacked by strong emotions and impulses triggered by past experiences and predictions of the future, which often lead to inappropriate actions and reactions.

Maintaining an optimum mind state is important. When you experience a negative emotional mind state, such as anger and fear, even to a small degree, your brain responds automatically. Your brain senses something is wrong and responds quickly to safeguard you.

For example, if you were standing in the middle of a road with a lorry hurtling towards you, you wouldn’t want to have to take a moment to decide what to do, would you? In this situation, it’s wholly appropriate that your brain should take control, quickly and efficiently evaluating the threat and the options and deciding on the right course of action. If this happened to you for real, you would almost certainly automatically jump out of the way without any conscious thought to avoid death or injury. In this instance, engaging in conscious thought would slow you down, but engaging autopilot allows you to live to tell the tale.

This lightning-fast, efficient, unconscious response has helped humans to survive and evolve into arguably the most successful species on the planet. But it does have its downfalls.

Exploring the Evolution of Mindfulness

Figure 1-3 shows a timeline of the evolution of mindfulness.


© A Head for Work Ltd.

FIGURE 1-3: Mindfulness evolution timeline.

Mindfulness, as cultivated in the WorkplaceMT exercises you find in Chapters 8 through 13, originated from ancient practices, which were a component of Buddhism. In the late 1890s to early 1900s, mindfulness practices were simplified and westernised in an attempt to safeguard their future survival in a time of colonialism.

This more secular version of mindfulness was popularised by the pioneering work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979. MBSR blended Jon’s scientific training with his Buddhist and yoga training. His work sparked the interest of the scientific community who started researching the impact of mindfulness. In the 1980s, about one scientific research paper on mindfulness was published each year.

In the 1990s, John Teasdale Zindel Segal and Mark Williams blended MBSR with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to form Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as a treatment for recurrent depression. In the 1990s, about ten research papers on mindfulness were published each year.

In 2004, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended MBCT as a treatment of choice for recurrent depression. This accelerated scientific interest in mindfulness further, and by 2013 about 500 papers on mindfulness were published each year.

Identifying the foundations of mindfulness in the workplace

Exactly who first applied mindfulness to the challenge of the modern-day workplace is unclear. In recent years, a number of prominent leaders have come forward and admitted that they’ve been practicing mindfulness for a number of years, and they’ve claimed that it’s been invaluable in their work as a leader.

In 2007, Google started to integrate mindfulness into its development programmes for staff. The success of Google’s Search Inside Yourself programme may have been one of the catalysts for mindfulness gaining increasing traction in the workplace.

In 2011, Professor Mark Williams (co-creator of MBCT) and Dr Danny Penman published Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Piatkus) as a self-help guide. This best-selling book marked a turning point for mindfulness at work. Although written for the population as a whole, it was the first book on mindfulness that was aimed at teaching a well population to be mindful.

Recent research into the use of shortened mindfulness exercises like the ones used in WorkplaceMT mindfulness training indicates similar benefits to the longer, widely researched practices developed as part of MBSR and MBCT, respectively. More research is needed, but initial research data looks promising.

Starting your own mindful leadership journey

Every journey really does start with a first step. You’ve taken that first step by looking into mindful leadership. The next steps are up to you. You may want to find out more about mindfulness and its practical applications before committing to learning it yourself. Chapters 2 through 6 will help you to do this. You may want to learn mindfulness through self-study as detailed in Chapters 8 through 13, or via an app (see Chapter 22 for some suggestions) or attending formal training. If you are considering introducing mindfulness to your organisation, Chapter 17 is for you. Whatever it is, do is something. Your mindful journey starts right here, right now!

Chapter 2

Discovering Why Mindfulness Matters to Leaders


Examining the leadership challenges of the modern workplace

Identifying sources of workplace pressure

Discovering mindful ways to improve your leadership

Media interest in mindfulness has exploded in the last few years. In parallel, the research base that connects mindfulness with decreased anxiety, depression and stress and increased resilience has become relatively well known. As the popularity of mindfulness has increased, interest has grown in the potential of mindfulness to transform the way people work. As interest and uptake of training has increased, researchers have started to explore its impact on workplace productivity, creativity and employee well-being. Research suggests that mindfulness aids focus, concentration and decision-making and improves relationships.

This chapter explores the role of mindfulness in modern leadership. It offers you some practical tips to help you improve your leadership by applying a little mindfulness.

Leadership Challenges of the Modern Workplace

To discover why mindfulness matters, you need to consider the leadership environment you’re currently operating within. Are you working in a VUCA world? Is change now the norm, rather than the exception? Its also wise to consider the sources of workplace pressure that can lead to stress. Doing so can help you develop mindful ways to increase resilience and maintain well-being.

Leading in a VUCA world

The concept of a ‘VUCA world’ first originated in the U.S. military. In recent years, it’s become a popular management acronym, used to describe the difficult business environment many people lead within. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Some use the VUCA world as a scapegoat to delegate all responsibility for leading their organisation out of crisis.

Mindful leaders are self-aware and take personal responsibility. They know that although they can’t necessarily control the VUCA nature of the modern workplace, they can take full responsibility for their actions and control their response to it.

The following sections explore the meaning behind the VUCA acronym in more detail.


Volatile work challenges are unexpected, with an uncertain duration. The good news is the information is usually out there – you just need to find it. An example of a volatile work challenge may be share prices falling rapidly following a natural disaster.


Uncertainty at work may result from you knowing that something bad is coming but not knowing exactly what form it will take, how bad it will be or how long it will last. An example of this is the UK Government’s attempts to reduce the deficit. The public sector knew that cost-cutting measures would result in major budget cuts, but they didn’t know exactly which services would be impacted and by how much their budgets would be reduced.


Complexity can be caused by situations with interconnected parts or interdependencies and variables. Information is available, but the volume or nature of the information may be overwhelming or difficult to process. Global working is a good example of complexity: trying to deliver a good service to a business in many countries all with different cultures, currencies that fluctuate, and wildly differing legislation.


Ambiguity involves those ‘unknown unknowns’ that are difficult to predict and have no precedents. An example of this may be moving into a newly emerging market with a new product range unlike anything you’ve manufactured in the past.

Leading when change is the norm

In the past, many leadership models were largely based on the principle that although organisations would experience times of change and transition, eventually they would settle into a stable ‘business as usual’ state. For most modern organisations, change is now the norm.

Of course, change is nothing new. In reality, change is the only constant in life. The difference is the pace of change. The pace of change has accelerated dramatically in recent times, fuelled, at least in part, by the digital age, shifting away from industrialisation towards an economy based on information shared digitally via computers. Access to and the control of information are key elements of business success. Indeed, for many companies, such as Google, the ownership and control of information is their business.

Humans hate uncertainty and are predisposed to feel uncomfortable in new situations. Mindful leaders recognise their inbuilt fear and resistance to change and how it manifests within them. They recognise their own patterns of avoidance and fear when confronted by unexpected change and have mastered techniques to stop them from sliding into negativity, fear and procrastination. You find more about the human negativity bias in Chapter 3.