Cultivating Mindfulness for Effective Leadership – 4 Steps to Get Started

Leaders who practice mindfulness are more self-aware, emotionally intelligent, and empathetic, which can help them be more focused, make more informed decisions, foster positive relationships, and create an environment conducive to growth and success within their organizations.

The development of mindfulness can have an extremely positive impact on a strong performance mindset throughout any organization.

Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something and a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness of the present moment while calmly accepting, acknowledging, and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

In order to understand why practicing mindfulness is imperative to leadership effectiveness, we must first examine some well researched traits that effective leaders share.

The most effective executives approach complex problem solving with both resilience and creativity. They welcome opportunities for skill development with flexibility and adaptability. Character traits that have proven to lend themselves to leadership success include ego strength, greater stress tolerance, affective regulation, and self-direction.

Leaders who display self-confidence, social-emotional intelligence and self-monitoring (the capacity to observe and contain expressive emotions and behaviors within oneself) are more effective in managing others and solving complex organizational problems (Pratch & Levinson, Understanding the Personality of the Executive). These leaders seek feedback, reflect on their performance, and adapt based on constructive communication to continuously improve their skills and contribute effectively as a leader.

Observing Ego

One individual characteristic that is aligned with effective leadership is a strong observing ego. By this, I mean the practice of self-awareness and an orientation toward bringing underlying thoughts and feelings (that may otherwise drive our behavior in maladaptive ways) to consciousness.  A strong observing ego allows us to step outside of ourselves in order see ourselves from a “birds eye view.” This allows us to observe ourselves while also considering the thoughts and feelings of others “in the moment” so as to respond effectively rather than react. It also focuses our attention on rational thought and intentional actions.

A leader with a strong observing ego will be more attuned to their personal needs, values, relationship dynamics and emotions and how they affect their ability to make formal decisions within their organization.

If a leader is trying to inspire a specific change among their team members, they are more likely to achieve success if they can observe their own intentions and emotions, which will enable them to be more receptive and empathetic to any obstacles their team may face.

Internal Locus of Control

Another individual characteristic that has been related empirically to effective leadership under stressful conditions is internal locus of control orientation (Miller & Toulouse, 1986).

Leaders who possess a strong internal locus of control believe that their actions and behaviors play a more significant role in determining events in their lives compared to chance or fate. From my vantage point as a psychologist and consultant, I’ve observed that leaders who practice conscientiousness in their daily lives often have more positive interpersonal interactions and greater tolerance for stress. This lends itself to cultivating an environment conducive to fostering innovation and the ability to anticipate the need for future changes and areas of development.

A solid internal locus of control signifies a core belief that human beings have the ability to create positive changes by actively shaping our perspectives and approaches.


Taylor left their house for work after a tense conversation with their partner about spending habits. Taylor felt that their partner’s timing was poor and left home feeling overcontrolled and overwhelmed by the request to bring home receipts for purchases. Taylor’s first meeting of the day is a budget meeting with their team.

Actions with no mindfulness:

During the team meeting, Taylor’s colleague, Michelle, shares some budget concerns. Taylor, having given no attention to feeling overwhelmed and over-controlled, snaps at Michelle, dismissing her concerns. Taylor does not give Michelle an opportunity to share an innovative idea regarding budget issues. Michelle leaves the meeting feeling rejected and unheard.

Actions with mindfulness:

Before leaving the house, Taylor tunes into their feelings of irritation. They set a timer for 2 minutes before starting the car, taking deep breaths with eyes closed. Taylor acknowledges feelings of frustration and shame and also acknowledges their partner’s poor timing, planning to address their thoughts and feelings with them later. Taylor sends their partner a message requesting a follow up conversation.

Feeling more in control of their emotions and confident, Taylor arrives at the office with more mental space and energy to receive Michelle’s feedback at their budget meeting. Michelle leaves the meeting feeling appreciated and heard while Taylor departs with an innovative, money-saving idea to implement into their budget decisions.

Incorporating mindfulness into daily routines can help leaders develop greater internal locus of control and a strong observing ego. There are many ways to practice mindfulness and plenty of opportunities to develop skills. Some leaders opt for professional guidance on an individual basis, workshops, seminars, online forums or applications to help develop mindfulness.

When engaged in successful mindfulness, one might begin to experience a general sense of calmness within the mind and body and a greater sense of clarity. Leaders who regularly engage in mindfulness may find a sense of ease in their interactions with others. This may include increased patience, empathy, and understanding, leading to enhanced communication that fosters greater productivity and growth within their teams.

Here are a few suggestions to kickstart your personal mindfulness practice:

Morning Self-Check

Take around 10 minutes, preferably in the morning before diving into your emails or your phone, to tune into your internal thoughts and feelings. Consider journaling or making audio recordings of your thoughts. Embrace curiosity about your inner workings and let thoughts flow freely. Set a timer to help manage and focus emotions or thoughts that arise.

Move Your Body

Personally, I find being outdoors most conducive to this practice, as it connects and grounds me to my environment. The key is to move your body in space while inviting thought and awareness of both physical and mental dynamics happening in the here and now.

Ditch Multitasking

While our culture reinforces the value of multitasking, it actually makes us more reactive and stressed. Focus on being fully present in each task, big or small. Take a breath and move on to the next task.

Schedule Mindfulness Breaks

Mindfulness can only be developed through the creation of healthy patterns. Start by planning out moments throughout the day for intentional practice. Pay attention to your breath, your body, and your thoughts. With repetition, your mind begins to accept new patterns and mindfulness becomes ingrained and second nature. Soon you will experience the power it can yield in your personal and professional effectiveness.

Incorporating mindfulness into leadership practices nurtures deeper self-awareness and empathy towards others, cultivates emotional intelligence, and enhances decision making. Leaders who embrace mindfulness contribute to fostering a vibrant work environment, build resilient teams, and demonstrate a crucial consciousness essential to their organization’s success.


Levinson, H. (1981) Executive. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Miller, D., & Toulouse, J. (1986). Chief executive personality and corporate strategy and structure in small firms. Management Science, 32(11), 1389-1409.

Pratch, L., & Jacobowitz, J. (1997). The psychology of leadership in rapidly changing situations: A structural psychological approach. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 123(2) 169-196.

About the Author:

Dr. Kate Burton is a core member of the +One team. She is a Doctor of Psychology and former Clinical Psychologist, practicing for 15 years working with people of all ages, couples, and families with diverse needs and goals. She uses this background as a foundation for her consultation and coaching practice, applying her clinical skills to guide and mentor managers, business owners, and executives to create a more positive and productive workplace culture. Dr. Burton initiates change by creating mutual relationships built on trust. She is dedicated to understanding complicated relationship dynamics in order to foster more interpersonal effectiveness, motivation, and high satisfaction in the workplace.