I truly believe that strong leadership starts with being gentle. Wait, what?! Does this sound like an oxymoron to you? Years ago, I was in the same boat. Everything that I had been taught through years of schooling and in the working world told me the opposite. To be successful in business, you have to be critical, perfectionistic, and push push push physical, mental, and emotional limits. There didn’t seem to be any room for being, well, human. After many years of painful experiences trying to live up to this impossible “norm” at a very great cost, I’ve come to realize that I had it all wrong. Here’s why mindfulness, compassion, and emotional intelligence are key to business success.
Mindfulness and Business
According to Psychology Today, Mindfulness is “…a state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.” In addition, “Mindfulness can…be a tool to avoid self-criticism and judgment while identifying and managing difficult emotions.”
Mindfulness has been in practice for thousands of years in eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism. In the western world, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that scientists began to see its very real benefits for human health. In the 1970s, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the concept of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Since Zinn’s research, many other scientific studies have found that mindfulness and meditation work wonders for our mind, body, and spirit. Mediating for just a few minutes a day has been found to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (which activates our fight-or-flight response) and offers a range of health benefits including: lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, slower breathing, less anxiety, lower blood cortisol (stress hormone), more feelings of well being, and deeper relaxation.
How can practicing mindfulness benefit us in business?
- Help us to manage the stress of leadership and running a business
- Help us to make sound, clear-minded decisions
- Help us to stay centered and navigate difficult emotions and situations
- Help us to accept where we are
- Help us to think more positively about our business
- Help us to stay healthy in mind, body, and spirit
There are so many great tools for mindfulness and meditation out there today. One of my favorite apps to use for thousands of free meditations and courses is Insight Timer.
I also offer a monthly Journal, Affirmation, and Meditation subscription where you’ll get custom journal and affirmation prompts and a meditation guide each week, all created by me. Sign up here!
“Wherever you go, there you are” ― Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Compassion and Business
According to the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University (yes! how rad is the existence of this place?) Compassion is a “concern for the wellbeing of others,” and “is the feeling that arises in witnessing another’s suffering and that motivates a subsequent desire to help.”
Author Kristen Neff highlights the importance of self-compassion and how this is the seed for having more compassion for others. She also offers a free self-compassion assessment on her website – a great way to see where you are at. The results may surprise you!
So, how can we practice self-compassion and compassion for others in business?
Here’s a few ideas:
- Speak to yourself and others in a kind, encouraging, and positive manner
- Frame failures or mistakes as learning experiences
- Take time for rest and relaxation and set boundaries around time spent working
- Encourage open and honest dialogue around your own and your team member’s mental, physical, and emotional well being
- Take time to rest and recover when sick and and encourage team members to do the same with generous health benefits and sick time
- Take time for major life events like births, deaths, marriages and give team members the same grace to deal with similar events
In the last few decades, we’ve seen a rise in more businesses integrating compassion into their business model. A great example of this is the company Patagonia – which is driven by a strong set of core values. Businesses have the power to shape the societies in which they operate. We can be drivers of compassionate change, or stick to the old “dog eat dog” status quo.
“Business as usual is not good enough anymore, and we want to lead by example. The plain truth is that capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive. More than ever, business needs to step up for democracy and a civil society.”
- Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia
Emotional Intelligence, Leadership Skills, and Business
According to Travis Bradberry, Author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.”
Increasingly, emotional intelligence is being recognized as a key ingredient to being a successful leader. In 2004, Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review that highlighted emotional intelligence as the main factor that sets high performing leaders apart from their peers with similar technical skills and knowledge.
Emotional Intelligence, or EQ (as opposed to your IQ), is broken down into four main components:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
How can the four components of emotional intelligence help in business?
First, self-awareness gives us a clear view of our feelings, needs, and behavior. When we are truly self-aware, it is easier to self-manage by taking responsibility for our actions and meeting our own needs. We are less likely to blame others or rely on others around us to meet our needs. We become aware of how our actions affect those around us (social awareness) and what is and isn’t appropriate in context.
Finally, as we navigate working with others in our business (relationship management) we are better equipped to set healthy boundaries, respect the boundaries of others, and have productive communication. We waste less energy on conflict and emotional hangovers. The overall work environment is more positive, which improves employee retention and promotes more feelings of fulfillment and happiness at work. The key is, self-awareness comes first and everything else is built upon that.
It All Starts With Self-Love
In order to practice mindfulness, compassion, and emotional intelligence in our businesses, we have to start on the inside first – with ourselves. You can’t give to others from an empty cup. Learning to fill our cups as entrepreneurs and leaders with self-love and self-care is one of the most powerful things we can do. Not only does it improve your relationship with yourself, but it inspires and gives others around you permission to do the same.
Feeling inspired to incorporate more of what this post covered into your world? I offer private and group self-love coaching programs for fierce female leaders and entrepreneurs at all stages of life and business.