Home Communities For the Workplace Article Tap into Strong Leadership through Mindfulness

Tap into Strong Leadership through Mindfulness

Provided by Parkview Health , written by Dr. Dave Johnson

Major companies, like Google, Apple, Intel® and General Mills have jumped on the bandwagon and embraced the science of mindfulness in the workplace. I often get asked by leaders to teach mindfulness to co-workers or the management team. Sometimes, the request comes from a desire to facilitate compassionate self-care or sometimes simply to help build a more resilient work team.

Teaching the “basics” of brain physiology is important. Helping folks differentiate from being in the thinking and overthinking head and noticing how to come to the present moment through their senses seems easy to know but challenging to do. Halting one’s perception and physiological reaction to the overwhelming stress response can be taught and must be practiced.

In our leadership roles, electronics offer easy access to the workplace 24/7. “Plugging in” to the activation of the fight, flight, freeze stress response diverts us from the present moment and disrupts work life balance.  Unfortunately, this is the norm for many “successful” leaders today.

As part of presenting to corporate groups, I look for activities that highlight and animate principles of mindfulness. Penny tapping is one such exercise. Each participant is given a penny. From the front of the room, I instruct all to pick up a penny in their non-dominant hand and notice how if feels. I then ask participants to move the penny to their dominant hand and notice the cerebral difference and how it feels more normal. Next, I have them repeat a pattern of tapping that I lead from the podium. It is a simple pattern and one that is easily replicated by looking, listening, and paying attention. Almost immediately, everyone is tapping my pattern. After a minute or so, I stop.

Next, I ask the group to identify a second tapping pattern, this time, their pick. I don’t care if it is a jingle or a tune, but it just can’t be random. I ask them to continue tapping until I tell them to stop. A few team members are asked to just listen and observe the group. I invite the group to begin tapping all at the same time. The room explodes with the noise of multiple patterns all fusing together. Some tappers appear visually strained with grimace and posture to maintain a boundary of independence from the confusion. Some acquiesce to each other’s pattern. Some participants simply stop.

After a minute or so, I stop the exercise. I ask the audience a few questions. How easy was it to follow me with the first tapping exercise? The majority say something about the ease of picking up and following the pattern. We conclude how quickly we communicated and were easily led. When I ask about the second set of tapping, I get mixed reviews. Some say it is a “challenge” or “they couldn’t get my pattern out of their head”. Some voice that it was too noisy and they had a hard time focusing. Some report that with good restrain, they are able to continue their own pattern. When I ask about how we sound collectively, adjectives like ‘hot mess”, “noisy”, “confusing”, “no recognizable pattern”, “frustrating”, “overwhelming”, etc. are used to describe the overall experience.

Folks who didn’t complete the exercise but were assigned to watch and listen had different observations.  Some wondered if our tapping began to evolve collectively into a pattern the longer we tapped. They observed that even though folks weren’t tapping the same exact pattern, sounds appeared to mingle with others and over a period of time, a bit of harmony, rhythm, or synchrony was taking place. Most reveal that my pattern remained dominate within their brains.

And so it is with mindfulness.

Here are a few lessons from a workplace team and leadership perspective.

  1. Work relationships. What are the patterns, that if we paused and took time to notice, we might bring a bit more intention to regarding our work relationships? In the workplace, being present to our consumers impacts satisfaction, and being present to co-workers brings a bit of harmony to the team. Listening … really listening to those we serve sets into motion a cascade of openness to understand unmet needs. Valuing relationships quickens eagerness to serve each other.

  2. A healthy environment. When we pause and come off our autopilot thinking and really notice our workplace, perhaps we might see, hear, smell, feel etc. the pulse of what is. Perhaps no change is needed, but if one has become immune to chaos, noise, clutter, confusion, or safety issues, waking up is critical. Having a new set of eyes to notice and ears to listen helps the leader to set intention for environments that are safe, responsive, adaptive, efficient, and effective.

  3. Asking good questions. When we ask good questions we “open up” ourselves and others to awareness. Bad questions such as, “Why did you do that?” or “Why haven’t you done this?” or “Why won’t you…?” put people in a defensive posture.  Cultivating a culture of curiosity and non-judgment allows each of us to feel safe to explore better work practices. Adding the question, “What is our intention?” helps us to move out of reactivity and brings purpose a bit more in sync.

  4. Value diversity. Often we confuse workplace diversity as simply age, gender, color, creed, orientation, heritage, etc. The sounds of harmony and diversity take the wisdom of a good leadership. Creating an ideal culture takes time. Pausing and reflecting with gratitude on the unique differences that many bring to the workplace invites goodness. Sometimes noticing the loudness, chaos and calm of our diversity is good. Creating a culture to not just tolerate, but actually appreciate different patterns, creativity, ways of knowing, learning, expressing, and having respectful conflict is needed.   When we value diversity, synergy can occur and synchronicity is palpable.

  5. When do we turn off and tune in? Noting our obsession with our electronic devices and our impulse to always be “plugged in” is the first step out of this addiction. For some of us to join a mindfulness weekend retreat or digital detox is helpful. For others, starting with taking breaks from our workplace electronic tethering tools and coming to our physical senses when we eat, or simply enjoying a nature walk, are beneficial. One thing for sure, knowing is not enough and the actual practice of coming out of the overthinking mind is needed to restore all of us to a sense of balance and wholeness.

  6. Lead with tap. Tap talent in others. Tap inner wisdom. Tap into emotional intelligence. The space between taps is as important as the actual sound of the tap. Leaders need to mindfully model a bit slower, more reflective, and less reactive pace. Have awareness of your slow deep breath at the start of each new mono (versus multi) task started. Start meetings with 30 seconds of non-doing silence. End meetings 5 minutes early, gifting all with a pause before moving on to the next work task. Streamline policies and procedure processes for easy access. Tap the moment, the liminal space of noticing with pause and demonstrate greater intentionality. Enhancing a culture of mindfulness doesn’t require waiting until a full scale corporate initiative. It starts with becoming a better watcher and noting the sounds of team synchronicity.


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