Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in recent times, with us constantly being told to practice it, encourage it and exemplify it. But do we really understand what it is, how to practice it and what the benefits of practicing it are?

Mindfulness can be described as being both physically and mentally focused on the matter or activity at hand so as to be completely present and gain optimally from the interaction or experience – for yourself, and for those whom you are interacting with if applicable.

It is especially important for leaders to be mindful when interacting with their team members in order to gain their trust and to inspire them to show up purposefully. Truly listening and being in the moment ensures that others feel heard and respected – and most importantly switched on, i.e. inspired to give their discretionary effort which is what all leaders want and need.

Consider the parable entitled “The Sound of the Forest” which tells the story of the young prince who was sent to the temple by his father to learn the basics of being a good ruler. Once there, his master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest. After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest. On his return, he reported having heard birds singing, bees buzzing and the wind in the trees. The master sent him back to listen to what more he could hear. The prince spent many days there hearing what he had previously heard. Then one morning, he started discerning new sounds and the more he listened, the clearer he could hear them. He returned to his master inspired, sharing that he had heard the unheard sound of flowers opening, of the sun warming the earth, and of the grass drinking the morning dew. The master nodded approvingly saying that to hear the unheard is required from a good ruler.

Only when leaders listen to people’s hearts, hearing their uncommunicated feelings, unexpressed pains, and complaints not spoken of, can they hope to inspire confidence in those whom they lead, understand when something is wrong, and meet their and the organisation’s true needs. Demise occurs when we listen only to superficial words rather than understand the souls of our team members in order to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.

Connecting in such a manner that we are able to get the best from all interactions, we have to be mindful, including:

  • Uncluttering your mind: although very difficult to do, clearing your mind in preparation for the interaction means that you will be less distracted and better able to focus and give your attention On Purpose.
  • Listening to hear – not to respond: truly listening to the person (or the environment) allows for purposeful interaction as well as understanding what is said and unsaid.
  • Asking questions: waiting for an opportune time to find out more about the situation at hand strengthens the above point.
  • Removing digital distractions: leave your cell phone behind, or put it on silent so that you can focus fully.

Being mindful as opposed to mind-full allows for purposeful interactions which benefit yourself and those around you – and ultimately the organisation as a whole. Hearing the unheard to know, gives leaders the insight to understand what is required to succeed.

This article was first published on Leadership Online.