The landscape of leadership development is constantly changing and evolving, with the embedding of leadership skills at all levels becoming an increasingly urgent priority for organisations looking to keep up with ongoing growth and innovation across the UK. But with the lifespan of relevant leadership skills getting shorter and shorter, how can we develop effective leaders with long term success?

Mindfulness has become a bit of buzzword of late, starting conversations across a number of spheres on everything from conflict resolution to colouring books. But what does it really mean? And are there real-world applications for mindfulness in the workplace? Is it possible to achieve such a thing in the non-stop society we live in?

There’s a wave of research and case studies surfacing which suggest that not only is mindfulness possible, but its successful implementation is hugely beneficial and can potentially contribute to the birth of a new kind of leader.

What is mindfulness?

Generally defined as ‘the practise of self-observation, without judgment, with a focus on our minds and inner voices’ (Bill George, Huffington Post) and ‘paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally’ (Jeanne Meister, Forbes), practising mindfulness can take the form of meditation, ‘mindful stretching exercises’, prayer and even journaling or jogging alone.

Originating as a way for the injured to deal with lasting pain, mindfulness is now being incorporated into the fields of medicine and science, as well as the workplace.

What is the impact of mindfulness in the workplace?

Some of the biggest companies in the world (Google, for example) are now implementing mindfulness programmes in the development of their workforce, and seeing extremely positive results.

Intel delivered mindfulness training initially to around 1500 employees and asked them to rank their feelings on a 10 point scale. The end result was a 2 point decrease in stress, a 3 point increase in ‘happiness’ and a 2 point increase in mental clarity and creativity; these feelings may be hard to quantify, but the company considered it such a success that the program is ongoing.

American healthcare giant Aetna developed mindfulness programs for over 12,000 employees, resulting in statistics such as 28% reduction in stress levels, 20% improvement in sleep quality, and a 71% fall in the number of stress related absences.

With the number of working days being lost to stress in the UK reaching around 105 million, and the cost of that to UK employers rising to around £1.24 billion annually (Paul Mudd, ILM), anything that contributes to an improvement in this area should make companies sit up and listen.

It’s estimated that the number of people working excessive hours in the UK has risen by 15% since 2010 (Paul Mudd, ILM), and that office workers are interrupted either by others or themselves, in digital or human form, around every three minutes. This can have a damaging effect on our performance at work, including decreased productivity, inability to focus and more difficulty in making thoughtful decisions – but practicing mindfulness can have a significant impact in improving this.

According to Bill George from Harvard Business School, ‘research by Wisconsin’s Richard Davidson demonstrated direct correlations between mindfulness and changes in the brain – away from anger and anxiety and towards a sense of calm and well-being’. Being mindful provides us with the power to control our distractions and environment, instead of allowing them to control us.

Becoming a mindful leader – IQ vs. EQ

The potential benefits of mindfulness seem invaluable in the workplace, but how can this translate to developing effective leaders?

Practicing mindfulness is thought to generate lasting improvements in self-awareness, intentionality of actions, focus, well-being, clarity in decision making and, perhaps most relevant, helping employees to ‘regulate and manage their emotions better’ (Paul Mudd, ILM). All of these traits align with what is thought to be a key characteristic of powerful leaders – emotional intelligence.

Bill George states that ‘the key to effective leadership is the ability to integrate your head (IQ) with your heart (EQ)’. This is supported by Daniel Goleman’s work ‘What makes a leader: why emotional intelligence matters’, the executive summary of which states that ‘although a certain degree of analytical and technical skill is a minimum requirement for success, studies indicate that emotional intelligence may be the key attribute that distinguishes outstanding performers from those who are merely adequate’.

Though part of a softer skill set which can sometimes be overlooked when defining leadership, emotional intelligence is key for being aware of, and able to manage, the emotions of yourself and those around you.

When asking how effective leaders make people feel, words such as ‘trusted’, ‘respected’, ‘motivated’, ‘inspired’, ‘supported’ and ‘powerful’ appear most often. These are extremely powerful feelings which are hard to instil if employees are unable to connect with their leaders on an emotional level.

With mindfulness shown to have a significant impact in enhancing the emotional intelligence and awareness of those who practice it regularly, its potential in the development of talented leaders is hard to ignore.

How to implement mindfulness in the workplace

There are lots of ways to put mindfulness on the agenda in your business; simple initiatives like insisting employees eat lunch away from their desk, take a 15 minute walk every afternoon or time out to lead a meditation session can be effective, but only if the team is fully engaged.

It’s even possible to work with specialists to generate a completely bespoke mindfulness programme as part of your team’s training, but you need to consider what impact you’re looking to achieve in the long term from introducing mindfulness, and whether it aligns with your company’s culture and mission.

Businesses are looking for a new kind of leader, one who supports their team emotionally as well as technically, and the development of softer skills like mindfulness and emotional intelligence could be crucial in bringing this style of leadership to life.

Do you see the potential for mindfulness to improve your leadership and team performance?

Are you looking for ways to develop your talent into more inspiring and effective leaders?

Then Download our free White paper – 5 Steps to Constructing a High Impacting Leadership Development Programme


The Talent Link are a fully approved centre for the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and focus on leadership development at all organisational levels. To learn how we can design and deliver bespoke training programmes for your top talent, contact us on 0203 693 7380 or email

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