Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author, meditation teacher and scientist who developed Mindfulness-Based Stressed Reduction in 1979, defines mindfulness as an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

That’s a lot of ways to do something as simple as paying attention, isn’t it?

Let’s look closer at these 3 elements On purpose:

We usually pay attention by default. External stimuli, such as phone notifications, email inboxes, and the people around us tend to draw our attention. Out of habit, we allow our attention to be drawn to these things, like a leaf dancing at the whim of the wind, creating distraction and, sometimes, overwhelm.

Paying attention on purpose means being more intentional about where we place our attention. This first aspect of paying attention reminds us we have choice around what we notice.

In the present moment:

A 2010 study conducted at Harvard University showed that we spend 47% of our waking hours on what is not happening, meaning we’re thinking about the past or future almost half the time. Said another way, our body is one place and our mind is in another for close to half of our daily experience. Now that you’re aware of this, I invite you to begin to notice how often it’s the case.

Paying attention in the present moment means noticing various aspects of what is happening around us and inside of us as it is happening. In other words, our mind is in the same place as our body. That said, because our mind naturally wanders as much as it does, a huge part of the practice is bringing attention back to the present moment, over and over again.


With mindfulness, we try not to judge ourselves or what we’re noticing as we pay attention in this new way. For example, if we’re doing a mindfulness meditation on the breath, we do our best not to judge whether we’re doing it “right”or whether our breathing is faster or slower than usual. We simply notice any differences and accept our experience for what it is now, in this moment. We also don’t judge the number of times we must bring our attention back to the present moment because, again, this is as much a part of the practice as anything else.

Now that we’re more clear on what mindfulness is, let’s explore 5 ways it can enhance your leadership skills.

Increase Focus

There’s never been more “stuff” to pay attention to or more stimulus in our lives. Think of all of that activity as one layer – the objective layer. Add to that our thoughts and emotional reactions to it all – the subjective layer, and that generates a massive amount of distractions and divided attention (the most recent research shows we have over 6,000 thoughts per day). The elements of mindfulness help us to narrow the field and focus our attention on fewer things at once. As a leader, this increased focus could translate into paying more attention to the person sitting across from you sharing something important to them. Because of your enhanced focus, they will feel truly seen and heard in your presence.

Increase Energy

C. Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and co-founder of the Presencing Institute, says,“Energy follows attention. Wherever you place your attention, that is where the energy of the system will go.” It follows then, that if our attention is placed on the past or future, our energy also goes to the past or future, leaving us with access to less energy in the present.

With mindfulness, we pay attention in the present, giving us more energy in the present. In these times of increased stress and burnout, the ability to manage your energy is more valuable than ever before. With more energy comes more motivation, engagement, and creativity.

Recognize Fear

As we all experience as humans, some of our thoughts can be critical, judgmental and even harsh at times. When we pay deliberate attention to our present moment experience through mindfulness, we become more aware when these negative thoughts or critical voices show up, and we can recognize them for what they most likely are – some form of fear in disguise. Once recognized, we can make an intentional, empowered choice around how we want to handle the situation. For example, in cases where you might have let your negative or fearful thoughts stop you from taking action, you can choose to courageously do it anyway.

Less Reactivity

Think about how much your emotions can fluctuate throughout the day as you react to various scenarios. It can sometimes feel like we’re at the mercy of our emotions, or like we’re on the proverbial roller coaster – especially in challenging times like the past few years. Ultimately, the result is feeling less in control than may be comfortable.
The invitation is to bring a greater sense of control to what is happening inside of you through mindfulness. With more awareness on your internal experience in any situation, you can better see and feel yourself beginning to react to things and people. You start to learn your particular patterns. Then, you can pause, take a breath, and more consciously respond versus automatically react. Not easy, but it comes with practice.

Increase EI

We now know that the best leaders have high emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence” writes, “an emotionally intelligent leader will handle any crisis, big or small, better than someone without EI competencies.” With its focus on non-judgement (fostering openness, flexibility and empathy), paying attention to internal experiences (increasing self-awareness), and learning to pause and respond instead of automatically react (self-management), mindfulness aligns with several of EI’s key areas and can thereby support you in raising your emotional quotient. 

In reality, regardless of your title, you are a leader. Mindfulness invites you to be an even stronger one.