What is leadership and what are leadership competencies? Why is one an annoying boss who buys his authority with childish tricks and the other a good guy who naturally wins the respect of all employees? Leadership has always been a topic in Industrial and Organizational Psychology (A&O) and has also been associated with mindfulness through the efforts of Positive Psychology.
But before we look at what a mindful leader is and how mindfulness affects managers in general, it is worthwhile to understand what types of leadership exist and which ones can be considered more successful. Afterwards we will be able to understand better what mindfulness really changes.
How could one categorize manager & executive competencies?
An aha-moment in my studies on this question arose in an A&O lecture where the almost ancient GRID model1 was presented to us. This model took it upon itself to bring all leadership styles into a 2-dimensional coordinate system by combining the two scales “human-oriented” and “fact-oriented”. Both scales were measured from 1 to 9.
The worst boss
According to this, there is the “1.1 style”, also known as survival management, in which the manager wants to do the required work with minimal effort, but only so well that it is just enough to stay in the company. In other words, his human orientation is low because he basically stays out of everything and attaches little importance to the employees, and his factual orientation is also low because he only does what is absolutely necessary. He is determined by the fear of being dismissed and the desire to do nothing. The worst management style there is.
The exact opposite is found in the “9.9 style”, also known as team management, in which both employee orientation and factual orientation are maximized. The driving force of this management style is fulfillment through participation in the project. The aim is to solve conflicts and tasks in the best possible way without making decisions at the expense of the employees. Clear announcements are made, employees are asked for their opinion, priorities are set sensibly and everything is handled optimally and on time.
The space in between
It quickly becomes clear that there must also be a “9.1 style” or “1.9 style”, in which the manager is either much too employee-oriented and ignores the tasks, or is much too fact-oriented and thus often enforces unpopular measures against the will of the employees with a lot of authority. There is also, of course, everything in between, such as a balanced “5.5 style” in which more could be done in both dimensions, but at least no aspect is neglected.
Then and now
As already mentioned the GRID model is quite old and comes from a completely different world view. It is ultimately based on the fact that people are basically lazy and can only be driven to do the work the company wants them to do through strict control and regulations. However, this approach to leadership no longer works today. The reason?
Everything has become complicated.
In a world where organizations are becoming larger, more distributed, more dynamic and more reactive, it is no longer possible to have an overview and control of everything. It becomes necessary to motivate employees, give them self-confidence and make them feel connected to the organization. This will enable them to solve even complex tasks independently and to organize themselves.
The solution of our time – two new theories
The transactional management style
Two new theories of leadership emerged from this problem. One is the transactional management style, which pays particular attention to the extrinsic motivation of employees. It is constructed in common models2 from several components. The first is to formulate clear goals as a manager, including rewards for achieving them. The rest is made up of how the manager intervenes in problem cases in order to correct something or whether he/she has already intervened before if he/she could anticipate a problem.
The transformational management style
The second style is found in transformational leadership, where the focus is strongly on the intrinsic motivation of the employees. Here the manager would change the thoughts and emotions of the employees so that they can work together better. One is the extent to which the leader presents himself as an absolute role model, and the other is the inspiration through vision, high standards or optimism. On the other hand, it is also important to challenge the employees intellectually in order to be able to view and solve problems from several perspectives, which brings us to the last point of Transformational Leadership: Individualized concern. In this way, the manager attaches importance to each individual and supports and appreciates them and helps them in their development.
An interim conclusion
So far we have learned which leadership styles there are how the models have changed over time and which styles & leadership competencies are more or less desirable. If we imagine with this background what the tasks of a leader are, we will be able to better understand the effects of mindfulness. A manager has to deal with very specific situations every day, master the interaction with teams, superiors and customers and besides all these things; he/she has to consider long-term changes in strategy and organizational culture. Mindfulness is much more than just better stress management.
The skills of a mindful leader
Considering how much managers have to communicate with different groups of people in all their organizational and practical tasks, it is clear that it would be an unbeatable advantage if exactly this communication could be improved. As it turns out, mindfulness is helpful for this3. The mindful communication style is positively associated with higher employee satisfaction as well as satisfaction with the manager himself.
Mindfulness helps managers to appear more congruent with them, so that their actions appear more credible. Mindfulness helps leaders to better align their actions with their personal beliefs and core values4. This is strongly linked to the role model function that we discussed in the section on Transformational Leadership.
Flood of information
The tasks of a manager are accompanied by a mass of information that must be quickly classified and prioritized. Mindfulness helps top managers to reduce mental fatigue, stress, anger and fear5, and generally improve performance and health4.
Too much empathy and fatalism?
Mindfulness also stands with empathic sensitivity in context5, 6, which can potentially hinder personal distancing in tough decisions. This could be blamed on the Mindful Leader: A kind of lack of professionalism; but only if a professional leader is thought of as an emotionally cold and detached person.
Not only acceptance
Mindfulness can be misunderstood as a passive-reactive attitude that is exuberantly emotional. It must be said that mindfulness promotes the inner acceptance of many things, but is not the same as simply accepting all circumstances. Acceptance is rather the first step to change something that is often necessary in the role of a manager.
What you can do now
If you are also interested in mindfulness in your company, we would be happy to refer you to our offer for companies. Mindfulife supports you in bringing the benefits of meditation closer to your employees or yourself.
If you are privately interested in meditation, Mindfulife offers some possibilities to get in touch with mindfuliness.
Other interesting articles
Furthermore, here is an interesting article about Steve Jobs who seemed to be decades ahead of his time by implementing mindfulness in his daily life and work: Neuroscientists confirm that Steve Jobs was decades ahead of his time