For More Impactful Leadership, Slow Down & Breathe

We think too much. We work too much. We’re stressed out too much.

And we know it.

Yet, few of us make a conscious effort to give ourselves a break. It seems we’re in constant overdrive and don’t know how to slow down our hectic pace.

The Path to Impactful Leadership Starts with the Breath

According to Deepak Chopra, author and alternative medicine guru, on average, 41 thoughts are pouring through our minds each minute. All the over-thinking and over-doing causes the body to be continually in a fight-or-flight mode, resulting in a myriad of health concerns.

“In today’s rush we all think too much, seek too much, want too much and forget about the joy of just being.”

-Eckhart Tolle

How can we stop thinking so much? There is a simple way…

By consciously focusing on our breathing. By taking deep breaths and practicing controlled breathing, our bodies respond in a variety of beneficial ways.

And just as importantly, conscious breathing assists us in practicing mindfulness, when we make the most of the present moment. This, in turn, allows us to become more effective leaders, too.

We Don’t Know How to Breathe Effectively

In a director article aptly called Breathe Your Way to Better Leadership, Nilfer Atik writes that in our business lives, breathing takes a back seat to monitoring profits and losses.

But we can change that, according to Atik. How? By focusing on our breathing, we can:

-Improve concentration

-Increase productivity

-Spark creativity

-Manage demands more effectively

Richard Russell, consultant respiratory physician at Lymington New Forest Hospital, says we don’t breathe “naturally.”

“As babies, we naturally take deep breaths from our abdomens. As we get older, periods of stress cause our central nervous systems to operate in the sympathetic mode. This means that our natural ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, which causes us to take shorter, sharper breaths.”

As a result, we over-breathe and take in too little oxygen to nourish our bodies, resulting in fatigue, depression, and even panic attacks, according to Russell.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

-Amit Ray

CEO of TLEX Institute Johann Berlin assists companies in training restorative techniques to employees. His experience shows that leaders who take time out from their busy days to replenish and restore themselves are more successful and effective.

One technique Berlin cites as making that meaningful difference: conscious breathing.

“Even one deep, conscious breath can serve as the mini-meditation that we need to slow down and reduce tension,” Berlin explains. Taking that pause to enjoy several deep breaths lays the foundation for us to move into our tasks with a fresh energy and even a newfound enthusiasm.

Many experts offer their own breathing exercises. Alan Dolan, known as a ‘breath guru,” teaches his own technique of conscious breathing. Berlin’s can be found here; choose what works, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Whichever technique we choose to integrate into our lives, taking the time for conscious breathing will help us to reduce stress and become more mindful – a win-win situation for our bodies – and our careers. 

Mindfulness: Connecting & Accepting the Present Moment

We can’t hide stress from our bodies – or our employees. Our bodies let us know by high blood pressure, weight gain, panic attacks and a host of other maladies that stress has taken over.

Marissa Levin, founder and CEO of Successful Culture, notes that when leaders are stressed, good employees will flee for the sake of their own health and well-being.

It seems their employees know it – and feel it, according to Harvard research. And when leaders are unable to manage their stress constructively, more than half of their workforce views their leadership as ineffective – and even harmful.

Harvard research also showed that leaders can manage stress by practicing mindfulness, by being focused on the present moment and by being aware. Three areas that can help leaders to be more present are:

  1. Metacognition – observe from a distance what is taking place around us. This helps to become more aware of our reactions to situations.
  2. Allowing – observe what is happening without judging or criticizing anyone – or ourselves.
  3. Curiosity – strong leaders possess deep curiosity, a willingness to learn about all situations.

A mindful leader has self-awareness, transmuting instant reactions into thoughtful responses.

When a triggering incident occurs in the workplace, a mindful leader does not react. He or she takes a few moments to observe and assess the situation, and then responds appropriately. Those few moments of quiet awareness diffuse highly charged situations and help set the tone for more meaningful dialogue.

“Breathing deeply and releasing fear will help get you where you want to be.”

-Iyanla Vanzant

An effective response starts with something as simple as one deep breath. During this time of world-wide upheaval, now more than ever it’s time to take the opportunity to demonstrate courage, vision, and strength in leadership so that we can rise above – and inspire others to do the same.

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