A major component of mindfulness is the practice of responding to a situation, rather than simply reacting to it. It is topic written about often, and I think it is one of the most powerful tools that mindfulness can provide for leadership. We often hastily react to problems without taking in the necessary facts when we are stressed or upset. Our emotions cloud our judgments and soon our mole-hill issue is now an unscalable mountain. When unforeseen situations threaten us, it’s easy to get rattled and let fear keep us from finding the best response to the situation.
Although emotion is a powerful and worthwhile component of human nature, sometimes it’s the arch nemesis of rational and sound thought. By practicing mindfulness, you will notice a clearer perspective and deeper level of thinking when faced with significant challenges. Mindfulness makes it easier to analyze your thoughts, and how your biases, prejudices, and emotions are affecting your thinking.
Taking a moment to breathe and create space will allow your thoughts to drive your emotions, instead of the other way around. This is similar to the traditional practice of “Counting to 10” when you were really upset or angry. Creating a space to respond instead of reacting allows your brain to analyze the problem more accurately, and decide the best way to solve it.
When we look at issues like the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we can’t help but let our emotions get in the way, but it keep us from thinking things through thoughtfully and rationally. The fear or anger we feel propels us into reacting to the situation with radical and revolutionary changes. We believe our reaction needs to be swift and powerful in order to justify the level of emotion and outrage we feel. Only moments after the news of that horrible day was broadcasted, people were calling for all kinds of radical ideas such as: banning guns, arming teachers, hiring armed officers for schools, to even locking all schools like prisons. Are any of these responses rational?
I would argue no, that we let our fear and anger confuse our ability to rationalize and come up with responses that would accurately help the situation. What’s worse, I think when these emotional reactions subside, we think the problem is resolved. After the Newton, Connecticut shooting, gun control was an issue pushed into the limelight, but as time passes it will slowly fade away until another tragedy arises, and the reactionary emotional rollercoaster starts again. For the record, I am not for gun control, nor am I against it. This most recent tragedy is just a good example of how our emotions can sometimes effect our rational thinking, making us react hastily to problems, rather than analyze a worthwhile and impactful response.
Using mindfulness is very helpful in creating a rational response in critical situations. This could have powerful implications as a leader in business. Workers are looking to you for guidance and leadership, especially in times of chaos. As a leader you model your company’s brand and image more than anyone else, and it is critical to respond to the challenges of your job rather than react. The people around you will emulate your behavior during difficult times, and it is important to keep that in mind. Effective leadership requires keeping a level head, thoughtfully examining the situation at hand, and choosing the necessary response. We are creatures of habit, and it takes dedication to master the control of our emotions, but ask yourself this the next time a stressful situation arises: “Are you reacting, or responding?”