Mindful leadership

By Dan Ebener
For The Catholic Messenger

(Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of articles by Dan Ebener on leadership in the Catholic Church. They are excerpts from his latest book on leadership, to be published this fall.)

Dan Ebener
Participants do strategic planning at a church in Rock Island, Ill.

Mindfulness is thinking about our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Mindfulness helps us to capture the moment, be aware of our sensations and conscious of the activity in our brains. It reminds us to awaken mindfully, walk mindfully, pray mindfully, pause mindfully and wait mindfully.

When leading others, mindfulness helps us to listen intently to what the other person is saying, hearing that person as if for the first time, being fully present to them, letting their words soak in and intuiting their emotions with gentleness and care.

We pay attention to what we are sensitive to. For example, some people are very sensitive to a crying baby in church. They might even turn and glare at the parents. Others might find it so normal that they barely notice. Still others might be so dialed into the liturgy that the crying does not reach their conscious attention.

We can practice selective attention by choosing our focus — and we can strengthen this ability with practice! We can choose to pay attention to the sense of hearing or sight or smell or taste or touch. What we pay attention to can change our perception of reality.

To practice mindful leadership means to think about our thoughts, reflect on our feelings and evaluate our behaviors. It is important to reflect on the thoughts and repeat the behaviors that are most healthy for our brains. This is like resetting the password to our brain. Becoming self-aware is the first step toward improving our interaction with others.

Mindful leadership asks us to suspend premature judgment of what the amygdala might perceive as an attack against us. Instead, we can fire up the prefrontal cortex with heartfelt thoughts that consider the point of view of the other person.
When you are in a meeting, mindfulness cultivates self-awareness of your thoughts, emotions and interactions. Your mind interprets what the brain is sensing. Your mind can interrupt any negative bias in your thinking. You can look at everything being said and done with greater curiosity, empathy and humility. You can develop new habits of being open to new viewpoints. You can engage the heart and become kinder toward others, forgiving instead of judging, focusing on the positive and the beautiful, with intent and purpose.
The amygdala tends toward the negative. During an amygdala hijack, it takes time to re-focus toward the needs and interests of others. A well-formed conscience can help focus our attention, guide our behavior and connect us to a higher purpose. This is the work of the prefrontal cortex. We could call it mindful leadership.

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