Meditation as a Leadership Skill

A few months ago, I decided to start a daily meditation practice. Like so many of us, I was struggling with the weight of the pandemic, and the toll it was taking on my team, my family, and my work. Guided meditations didn't seem to be working, so I decided one morn­ing to wake up early, sit in a cozy chair by a window, set a timer, and just meditate for 5 minutes.

5 minutes turned to 10. 10 turned to 15. By the end of a week or two, I was meditating for 20 minutes every morning, even on mornings when the kids were up and running around.

Within a few weeks, I noticed I was showing up differently, at home and at work. I was able to notice when I was about to get worked up in conversa­tion and calm myself down. I could approach conflicts from a place of curiosity instead of anger. I stopped multitasking in meetings. And now, three months into the practice, I can wake up early, energized and excited-to go down­stairs and do my meditation while the house is still asleep. So what, you may ask, does this have to do with leadership? Everything.

As a leader, how you show up has a tremendous im­pact on both your team and your peers. As Fosslien and Duffy say in their book No Hard Feelings, "Emotional culture cascades from you." When you show up stressed, frazzled, and snapping at your colleagues, that attitude percolates through the rest of the team—and leads to teams feeling stressed, frazzled, and distracted from delivering what's expected of them.

Okay, sure, I hear you saying, "That's great and all, but I'm super busy. Who has time to meditate?" That may be true; I didn't have time to meditate either for years. In my experience, the 20 minutes I spend meditating has actually saved me at least an hour a day; an hour that I normally would have spent frustrated, rumi­nating on some argument I just had, or otherwise distracted from my priorities.

So, if you decide you want to get started, here's a few tips that have helped me.

  1. Pick a good timer. I like Insight Timer, personally. It has the best unguided timer I've used, and the guided meditations are also good. Calm, Headspace, and Simple Habit are also fine.
  2. Pick the right time and the right spot. For me, it's first thing in the morning, in a cozy chair surrounded by windows in my office. For you, it might be lying on the floor with your feet on a cushion before bed, or a meditation cushion during lunchtime. I've found that if you're too precious about sitting in the perfect lotus position, it distracts you from actually doing the meditation. So just find a place that's comfortable, where you can be undistracted for a while.
  3. Pick a mantra. Having a simple mantra can make it much easier to let go of stray thoughts while you're meditating. For me, I start off by repeating the mantra "I'm [in-breath] here [out-breath]", then move to a variation on metta (loving-kindness) meditation for myself, my family, and my team as I breathe through each chakra. Your mileage may vary here; for some people, a mantra like "I am" or "be calm" might be sufficient.
  4. Keep a notebook and pen handy. I am constantly finding that ideas come to me in the midden of meditation-either the solution to a problem I've been stuck on, or a way to reframe a conflict so I can move forward in a productive way. By keeping a notebook handy, I can jot those things down and get right back to meditating.

In a world gone mad, all you can control is how you show up each day. Taking some time for yourself each day in meditation can make a huge difference in how you relate to your colleagues, your directs, and yourself.