An essential part of mindful leadership is to let people know they are important and appreciated. People need to know they are making a difference, and to feel their work matters. Mindful leaders recognize that every day people are asking the question, “Do I matter?”
Mindful leaders communicate that every person in every position is doing work that matters. They matter. Too often, however, people don’t know how much they matter because they’re rarely told. This may not seem like a problem, but its implications are significant and costly.
People look to their leaders for validation and often get the message, “So what? Big deal. You’re just doing your job. That’s what you’re expected to do.” Leaders may not even be aware that that’s the message they’re sending, but it is real for people nonetheless.
When leaders do ’t see and recognise their team members’ contributions, they are actually breaking their spirits and creating an environment of loneliness and isolation. In essence, they are sabotaging their own organizations.
None of us like being taken for granted. Leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner asked thousands of people, “Do you need encouragement to perform at your best?” Only about 50 per cent of respondents answered affirmatively.
Those who said “no” suggested “they don’t need encouragement” because they are “adults” or “professionals” who do their job well regardless of encouragement or recognition.
However, when the question was changed to, “When you get encouragement, does it help stimulate and sustain your performance?” almost 100 per cent of respondents said “yes.” Clearly, we all have an inherent desire to be praised and recognised for our contributions.
To respond to this inherent desire, an important mindful leadership practice to cultivate is what Jim and Barry call, “Encourage the Heart.” This practice encourages mindful leaders to recognise contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence, and celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community.
Mindful leaders are always looking for ways to recognise and praise their people. They truly see their people and take notice of their contributions. They never take them for granted — and people can feel that from them.
Research shows a direct correspondence between how well leaders encourage the heart, and how engaged those same people are at work:
• The least effective leaders use this practice 23 per cent less often than those seen as moderately effective as leaders.
• The most effective leaders encourage the heart more than 15 per cent more often than leaders reported as moderately effective, and about 50 per cent more often than those evaluated as least effective by their people.
• Furthermore, the most engaged people report that their leaders encourage the heart more than 30 per cent more frequently than the leaders of the least engaged people.
Research and consulting firm Towers Watson also provides stunning statistics showing how important appreciation is. According to their data:
• 7 per cent of people say their company is excellent at appreciating great work
• 12 per cent say they receive frequent appreciation for great work
• 56 per cent of senior management, 35 per cent of middle management and only 23 per cent of staff say their company is above average at appreciation
• 79 per cent cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving their jobs.
Authenticity is Key to Mindful Leadership
Clearly, appreciation is crucial to engagement. To be truly effective as a mindful leader, encouraging the heart through praise and recognition must really come from the heart. It must be authentic.
People can smell inauthenticity a mile away. If a leader praises people mechanically, from the standpoint of a management technique or requisite checklist item, people won’t internalise it or derive any satisfaction from it. In fact, they’ll begin distrusting their manager, if only subconsciously, and the praise will backfire.
A high-level government executive once shared with me how mindfulness has influenced her recognition for others. She said,
“I’ve often felt I was quite good at saying the right thing, so acknowledging people’s contributions with words has come fairly easy for me. But what I’ve noticed with mindfulness is that my appreciation for others has become much more compassionate and authentic. It’s not just about finding the right words — it’s a genuine, heartfelt caring for people.
“And I find that I do it not just because it’s a good practice that leads to results, but because it’s something that I just want to do. It’s something that arises within me quite naturally without needing any kind of training or technique around it. It just feels like the right contribution for me to make.”
Mindful leaders bring out the very best in others. It is a core leadership competency that is more relevant than ever. Connection is an essential element of this. If you don’t feel connected with your boss, how can she inspire you or push you beyond your limits? Have you ever worked with a boss who you know cares about you deeply, who sees the very best in you and brings out the best in you?
Admittedly, such bosses are rare, but when you have one like that magic happens. If you want to be that kind of mindful leader, encouraging the heart is a wise choice.
An important part of encouraging the heart is lovingkindness, or a strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others, an altruistic love and friendliness.
Mindfulness teacher Steven Smith explained its importance to me this way:
“True lovingkindness is connection. Within that is healing. It is seeing and loving the entirety of another being, without picking and choosing which parts of him or her that you see and without any judgment, and feeling the essence, the core of the other just as they are. And that person knows it. They may not even intellectually know it, but they feel it.
“When you’re really there and you’re tuning into something, they feel riveted, they feel something going on. They feel that they’re being looked at and accepted by you, even if they feel shame in themselves. The more present you are, the more caring you are and the greater effect you have on people. The best mentor is someone who cares for someone and helps them feel a better person.”
Mindful Leaders Show Love and Gratitude
The more love we give, the more we generate and the more we receive. Love truly is the source of our greatest strength, the quality that elicits the best and purest in us, that fortifies us against all hatred, negativity and challenges.
As mindful leaders, it’s also a quality that enables us to elicit the best in others because it allows us to see the best in them – it’s the thing that opens our eyes to gratitude. It improves our skills as a mentor more than any other factor because it gives us a heartfelt presence that becomes a real force for uplifting others.
A colleague of mine, an international director of a large wireless corporation, has had plenty of opportunities to practise this in his role. Over the years he has found that more and more people come to him for mentoring and advice. Mindfulness, he says, has been key to allowing him to help people work through their challenges and issues. He explained,
“So much of it comes down to deeply listening to people with compassion and love and without judgement. Listening in and of itself is one of the most powerful things we can do to uplift others and make them feel important, because it’s so rare that people really listen to us.
“So first and foremost, I give people my full, undivided attention. If I’m busy, I collect myself and take a deep breath to put myself into a space to listen.
“An accidental benefit of mindfulness for me has been deep insight and intuition into other people, a sensitivity to how people are feeling and what may be causing it.
“When I really listen to people I notice their energy and start seeing things they haven’t even shared with me. I immediately know the deeper issues behind what they’re actually telling me. People will come to me with a work issue and I will intuitively feel to ask about their mother, or their family. I’ve had so many people say, ‘How did you know?’
“Sometimes I worry that it makes me appear eccentric, because while I’m talking to someone a vision comes up, or a voice, or a feeling. And I just follow it and ask people questions in a compassionate way. And I find that those intuitions are never wrong. But they don’t come unless I really care about a person. I would say they are the product of love and caring.”
For mindful leaders, gratitude is a catalyst for recognition. It makes us constantly look for the good in people and feeds our desire to share our gratitude for a job well done. It is a light we carry with us that people are drawn to because they feel good about themselves when they are around us.
It could be said that gratitude, appreciation, recognition and encouragement are the oil that grease the wheels of organisations. They increase trust and foster cooperation. Simply put, we feel better about ourselves, we perform better, and we enjoy working more with mindful leaders who encourage us and recognise our contributions.
Let people know they matter. Look for their real contributions and draw attention to them. Be mindful of people and their needs and desires. As you do so, you’ll find a new kind of peace within, and a new level of engagement and investment in those you lead.