How leaders can boost employee engagement through mindfulness

Mindfulness is critical in helping leaders inspire people with a shared vision

One of the most important tasks and critical tests of leadership today is the ability to inspire people with a shared vision, writes Michael Bunting, who explains that mindfulness is critical in this process

Leaders who envision the future by imagining exciting and even ennobling possibilities inspire those they lead. This inspiration allows them to enlist others in a common goal by appealing to shared aspirations, and mindfulness can play a key role in helping leaders make this a reality.

Leadership and mindfulness experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner found that next to honesty, being “forward-looking” – in other words, visionary – is the second most valued characteristic people look for in leaders. This quality is valued because, in short, it works.

Inspiring a shared vision engages people and increases their effectiveness. Jim and Barry found that the most effective leaders inspire a shared vision about 54 per cent more often than those evaluated by their people as least effective. The least engaged people report that their leaders inspire a shared vision about 41 per cent less frequently than the leaders of the most engaged people.

A deep desire to make a difference
Jim and Barry explained the results of their research this way: “[The] findings suggest that there’s more to work than making money. People have a deep desire to make a difference. They want to know that they have done something on this earth, that there’s a purpose to their existence … The best organisational leaders address this human longing by communicating the significance of the organisation’s work so that people understand their own unique role in creating and performing that work. When leaders clearly communicate a shared vision of an organisation, they ennoble those who work on its behalf. They elevate the human spirit.”

A 9 to 5 job mentality cultivates employees who have to be corralled, reprimanded and controlled in order to accomplish tasks. A job that provides meaning and inherent motivation, on the other hand, leads to high engagement and self-direction.

Mindful leaders recognise this, and they tap into and awaken our innermost yearnings for meaning and purpose. They create a mindful vision for their teams and organisations – a vision focused on making a positive difference and alleviating suffering in the world. They prioritise doing something that is good for everyone, not just for shareholders at the expense of other people or the planet.

“When we know our organisation is making a positive difference, it opens our hearts to be present with the purpose of the business”

When leaders transmit a vision of mindfulness, people feel whole again, and are awakened to the best within themselves. When we know our organisation is making a positive difference, it opens our hearts to be present with the purpose of the business. We cease looking at our work as a just a job, where business ethics and practices are separated from our personal ideals and goals.

Engagement in the workplace
What does a mindful vision for a leader or organisation look like? Consider these two simple criteria:

  • Does the vision and underlying intent of our organisation support connection, wellbeing, joy and love for ourselves and all our stakeholders?
  • Does our core purpose support mindfulness, as defined by a deep sense of heartfelt engagement and presence, or does it stand in the way of engagement, thus leading to alienation, disconnection and suffering?

The statistics on global workplace engagement indicate we have a lot of work to do in this area. According to a 142-country study by Gallup, only 13 per cent of employees worldwide are engaged at work, engaged employees being defined as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” In other words, only about one in eight workers are psychologically committed to their job. Over half of workers, 63 per cent, are classified as “not engaged,” meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes. At the low end of the spectrum, 24 per cent are “actively disengaged,” meaning they are unhappy and unproductive at work and likely to spread negativity in the workplace.

These statistics suggest that in general our workplaces, and by implication the leaders of those workplaces, seem to be producing suffering and disengagement, the very opposite of the intent of mindfulness.

People don’t need more money to become more engaged. What they really want is more meaning – to know they are contributing to something bigger than themselves that makes a genuine, positive difference in the world.

As a leader, your job is to convey that meaningful vision to your team in a way that gets them excited and deeply engaged.

“Inspiring people with an authentic mindful vision is one of the most important things a leader can do to boost engagement”

Inspiring leadership
Inspiring people with an authentic mindful vision is one of the most important things a leader can do to boost engagement.

A mindful vision is about creating an organisation with which people can connect emotionally, and in doing so enrich their lives, making them more meaningful and worthwhile.

Mindful vision awakens the best in us by reconnecting us with what is most important, making it so much easier to be engaged and present at work.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains it this way: “You have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others … Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.”

Following the principle of mindfulness in our livelihood is how we find meaning in our work rather than just earning a salary. It is what we do to alleviate suffering through our work.

When we connect our livelihood to making a positive difference for others, we are much more engaged and happy in our work. We make ourselves happier by making others happier. We transcend selfishness, rather than remaining mired in the pursuit of endless consumption.

Inspiring people with an authentic mindful vision is one of the most important things a leader can do to boost engagement.

A mindful vision results from creating an organisation with which people can connect emotionally. This connection then enriches their lives, making what they do feel more meaningful and worthwhile.

Mindful vision awakens the best in us by reconnecting us with what is most important, making it so much easier to be engaged and present at work.

People need to be inspired and know that what they are doing matters. And leaders must lead out by practising genuine mindfulness, and by demonstrating that they truly know what their employees care about, and demonstrating that they care about the same thing.