The Mindful Leader – Keynote for The National Society of Leadership Success

The Mindful Leader - Keynote for The National Society of Leadership Success


Below is the write-up for a key-note address I gave this past fall on The Mindful Leader. I typically provide more of a summary for these entries, but thought I would give you a more thorough look as to the content of this presentation.  (Its still in a fairly rough form, not a formal writing style.) This talk included interactive mindfulness and self-awareness exercises throughout the 60 minute class that are not written here as well.   Skim through or read it in its entirety.  As always I would love to hear your feedback or experiences if something resonates with you on this topic!

Many thanks, Cheri

Mindful Leadership – The National Society of Leadership Success Induction Ceremony.  UW-Whitewater, December 2018 

This past October, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership summit that included some of the brightest and inspiring business and community leaders of our time.  People like John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. Executives from Virgin Airlines, Professor and Cofounder of Conscious Capitalism, Rag Sisodia, were among the many speakers who presented how they integrate higher purpose, mindfulness, and love into the foundation of how they run their businesses.

There is a deep sense of purpose within these organizations and all who are associated; employees, consumers, stakeholders, and participants.  This purpose enlists all people involved to feel that they are a part of something greater than themselves, to feel supported to learn and grow and be the best version of themselves

The most memorable statement made by a presenter was, “the quality of leadership is as high as the quality of the relationship to oneself.” It is highly valued to engage in self-development work to promote self-awareness of who you are as a person and leader in order to bring out the very best qualities of yourself and of those you serve.  The leaders of these organizations engage in practices that promote presence and mindfulness so that they can be conscious to what truly matters and stand in their purpose.

“Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage. The world is desperate for braver leaders. It’s time for all of us to step up”                                              –Brene Brown – Dare to Lead (2018) 

There is compelling research being done on leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Upwards of 24% of employees are actively disengaged.  Leaders report that they are not as effective as they want to be.  There is a disconnect of perception of how leaders think they are doing, approx. 77% effective, and what their group actually thinks of the leader’s effectiveness; 82% ineffective! (*resources below)

 There is a difference between managing people and leading.  Managing is more about using people or other resources for profitability and to elevate the one who is managing.  Managing is to be in charge, to run or to administer.

Whereas, leadership is to create an environment where people can discover their gifts, develop their gifts, share their gifts, and be recognized for doing so.  Giving a chance for people to be who they were meant to be!

What is Mindfulness and why is it important to Leaders?

What mindfulness is not:

Mindfulness is not a religion, it is not about emptying the mind, and it is not about achieving relaxation.

Mindfulness = “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”  ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn – Founder of Mindfulness based Stress Reduction at the Center for Mindfulness and Health at University Massachusetts Medical School.

Mindfulness is a tool that strengthens the mind.   It is about creating quality of the mind not quantity in the mind.  It is optimal to have a relaxed and alert state to promote the most ideal performance outcome. Are you Mind Full or Mindful? The ability to enter a flow state is dependent on a clear and present mind!

Research findings for Mindfulness in Leadership: 

A recent article from the Harvard Business Review, “If you aspire to be a leader, be present,” reports some very interesting research in the area of Mindfulness and Leadership.  By Hougaard, R. as  & Carter, J. as part of the research for their forthcoming book, The Mind of the Leader, they surveyed more than 1,000 leaders who indicated that a more mindful presence is the optimal strategy to engage their people, create better connections, and improve performance.

Other research bears this out.  In a survey of 2,000 employees, Bain & Company found that among 33 leadership traits — including creating compelling objectives, expressing ideas clearly, and being receptive to input — the ability to be mindfully present (also called centeredness) is the most essential of all.

Research also suggests that there’s a direct correlation between leaders’ mindfulness and the well-being and performance of their people. In other words, the more a leader is present with their people, the better they will perform.

~What has been found to be so needed with leaders is the ability to be able to support and cultivate human potential.  When they are present with their people, with their team, they will be able to help them realize their potential.

A simple mindfulness practice: The breath

Sit upright and comfortably in a quiet space.  Close your eyes or focus softly on something in front of you.  Begin to breathe naturally for a few rounds and then begin to inhale and exhale more slowly and deeply.  As best as you can, hold your focus on an aspect of your breath; whether it is the sound, feel, or count of inhales/exhales.  If your thoughts wander away from your focus, gently draw awareness back to that aspect of your breath you are attending to.  If you struggle with this practice, just notice this reaction without judgement, and again come back to the breath.  Do this for up to 5 minutes.  

As you continue to practice this exercise, you can increase the time to 10, 15 or even 20 mins.  It should not be complicated, just enough time to bring yourself to a state where you are alert and present!

Studies consistently show that mindfulness boosts mood and thought processing and can also decrease perception of pain.  It centers oneself into the here and now and creates space within the mind to think more agile and creatively.  It also down regulates the nervous system so that you can have a relaxed, yet alert state that is optimal for any performance. We are the very best version of ourselves when we are present.

Michael Gervais (High Performance Sport Psychologist):

“A person that is practicing Mastery is one where they are incredibly aware of their inner experience, and have a rich command of their craft. We’ve found that they are aware of their thoughts, their emotions, their sensations and the unfolding environment in a world-class way. They have the ability to course correct when their actions, thoughts, or even words are not aligned with their mission.”

Purpose and Self-Awareness

What does living with your mission mean to you?  Can you take command of your inner experience and course correct when needed?

Leaders who are masters at their craft, do the work to keep their values crystal clear and unwavering.  They engage in mindfulness practices to keep these values as their North Star so when difficulties, challenges, changes, and the critics are facing them, they make decisions based on what they believe in.  They adhere to upholding their standards even if it is not the favored opinion.

Internal Resume – Creating a Purposeful Mission

Just as we have a resumes listing work experience, education and skills; it is important to list the values, strengths, and qualities of oneself that aligns with our mission.  Below is a list of questions that will help to define what makes you tick.  I call it an Internal Resume. 


  1. *What is the most important thing that I want for myself?
  2. *What does a successful life look like?
  3. How do I measure progress and growth?
  4. How do I measure bravery and courage?
  5. What are 2-3 strengths that I exhibit?
  6. What are 2-3 weaknesses that I want to improve?
  7. *How courageous am I in my relationships? Can I have heartfelt, tough conversations?  Do I stand up for what I believe and myself?
  8. How can I elevate and support others in work/school/life?
  9. How can I serve?
  10. *What am I grateful for?

Mindfully and soulfully contemplating the answers to these questions is a powerful practice that ideally should be done often.   This conscious connection to purpose inspires courage, compassion, loyalty, respect and long-term growth as a leader.

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

                                                                                   ―Brené Brown

In summary, it was an honor to address these future leaders and have them get a feel for mindfulness, creating purpose-driven leadership, and why courage is necessary for powerful impact and effectiveness.

I have listed a few references below if your are interested in diving into mindful leadership on a deeper level!


Cheri Cope, MS, Post-Masters Certification in Sport Psychology, 200hr RYT