The topic of mindfulness is frequently approached as a skill to be developed, which in turn supports capabilities such as improved focus and productivity. But there is another side of mindfulness which is just as important, and I refer to it as “heartfulness.” When we take the time to be mindful, we also increase our connection to others. And this is a quality of hearts, not minds.
It’s simple: when you take the time to truly be present with someone, and be fully open to what he or she is saying and doing, you are demonstrating that you are interested in that person and his or her perspectives. When we do a mindful listening exercise in my classes, the participants say that they feel acknowledged, respected, appreciated, and valued. Listening to what others think and feel fosters an environment of engagement, caring, and empathy. In addition, when we practice mindfulness, we practice non-judgment and acceptance towards ourselves and others, and in doing so cultivate compassion and kindness.
These qualities are foreign to many work environments. It can feel “too personal” to talk about caring or empathy among colleagues. But it some ways, it is also common sense. Many of us spend eight hours a day, forty hours a week at work. Don’t we want to go to a workplace where our leaders are vested in our well-being?
Janice Maratano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, tells leaders that they cannot lead today without cultivating more capabilities of their minds and opening their hearts. And in the book The Mind of a Leader, Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter include this quote from Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail in Spain: “Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.”
Studies and surveys confirm that employees want workplaces that offer human connection. In one study in the Harvard Business Review, employees who felt they worked in a caring environment reported higher levels of satisfaction and showed up to work more often. A separate study, also in HBR, found that leaders who project warmth are more effective than those leading with toughness and skill, and this is thought to be because employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind. In the Gallup survey State of the American Manager, more than 50% of employees who “strongly agree” that their manager is approachable and open are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. And Annie McKee and her team at the Teleos Leadership Institute have interviewed thousands of people at dozens of organizations and found: “Leaders, managers, and employees have all told us that close, trusting and supportive relationships are hugely important to their state of mind — and their willingness to contribute to a team.”
This might seem to require a huge shift in your office culture. But there are some ways to start enabling this type of environment today:
Make time. Set up one-on-one meetings, take your team to lunch, or walk around to talk to your employees. Connection begins with interaction.
Offer undivided attention. We can’t multi-task and be fully present at the same time. Put the cell phone and laptop away, and focus on the person(s) in front of you.
Really listen. We tend to be in our own heads during conversations. Instead, give your attention to the words, feelings, and body language of the speaker.
When we are mindful, we choose to be present, aware, and available to those in our environment, to great effect. The view of leadership is changing to recognize that “heartfulness” is essential to support individual performance and satisfaction as well as workplace effectiveness.