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Maintain your leadership presence by practicing these five mindfulness-based strategies

A physician colleague entered my office in tears last week. She had just learned of a patient’s unexpected death, having treated this person a few days before. She was shocked and confused, reminded of past trauma, and left wondering how she would make it through the rest of her day.

I invited her to sit down and asked permission to guide her through a mindful grounding exercise. She agreed, and we spent a few minutes together. She connected to her breath, the present, and the healing power in her hands. When she felt calm and centered, she left my office and turned her attention to the patients on her schedule for that day.

Transformational leaders stay connected to their emotional experiences and their team members. They don’t buckle under the pressure to look perfect or to act the part of leadership. They lead and create culture change through deep and meaningful connections with themselves and others.

Staying connected to your emotional experiences is key to establishing or maintaining your leadership presence for your team in the most challenging moments.

Miracle Laurie May from Have Zen Will Travel

While at ACHE, I had the privilege of hearing a hospital leadership team talk through how they responded to a shooting on their campus. Each team member shared their emotional response to the situation and their actions to care for themselves and each other while they mustered an emergency response and began supporting their staff.

Maintaining leadership presence does not mean you must cut off your emotions or try to stay neutral to look in command. It’s probably more difficult than looking like a leader. Maintaining leadership presence requires you to be aware of what you are experiencing to respond to the challenge flexibly and in a values-aligned manner while your people are watching.

It’s easy to lose access to your leadership presence when stressed or under pressure. Practicing presence is essential. I practice when my preschooler is being obnoxious, when I hear heartbreaking stories, and when I give or receive difficult feedback.

Miracle Laurie May and I discussed how leaders could use mindful emotional awareness to stay present and continue to lead during challenging times.

Listen on Apple or Watch a clip on YouTube

Bio: Miracle Laurie May is a mindfulness coach who works with leaders motivated to prioritize joy, integrity, and equanimity in their daily lives. You can learn more about her work and find her at Have Zen Will Travel.

Here are Miracle’s top five strategies to stay present as a leader in difficult situations.

1. Awareness: pay attention, look around, and notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Notice your emotions and physical sensations at this moment.

Becoming aware of what you are experiencing and how you respond to a challenge can be unpleasant, but slowing down and noticing what you are experiencing here-and-now calms the body. If this is a struggle, focus on your connection to the body. What are my feet experiencing? Can I feel them touch the floor? What are my hands experiencing? Can I feel them hold one another? What can I see, hear, or smell?

2. Acceptance: allow the reality of the situation to sink in. You don’t have to like or approve of what is happening but stop fighting against the situation or your response to a challenging experience.

Suffering comes from resisting what is. Pain and distress are unavoidable. You’ll waste energy fighting the reality of a situation. Consider: Can I accept what’s happening right now? Am I caught up in a power struggle with reality? What can I do to see the reality and let go of control?

3. Acknowledge: become curious and investigate your experience. Label what you’re feeling without judgment.

Invite compassion for yourself into the moment. Your emotions are a natural and human (though not always helpful) way to respond to challenges or suffering. I’m human. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed. No leader is perfect. Everyone struggles in moments like this.

4. Aligned action: moving into aligned action allows you to respond to a difficult situation intentionally and in a way that honors your deeply held values.

Remind yourself what matters most to you now and ask: How can I honor what matters most? Are there actions I can take that will help me to navigate the situation while acknowledging what I care about? What outcomes would be helpful right now? How can I get there?

5. Appreciation: lift your energy and soften your pain by opening your awareness to less obvious or positive aspects of a situation.

Don’t push yourself into toxic positivity, but take a moment to consider: Is there something positive that I’m missing? Have I been so overwhelmed that I could not see an act of beauty or kindness? What else is happening right now?

Practicing these five strategies will not change the reality of a difficult situation, but will change how you experience times of stress, suffering, and challenge.

Mindful awareness changes your perspective enough to allow you to maintain your leadership presence and manage demanding situations gracefully.

If you’re on this journey of becoming a transformational leader – I want something more for you. That is precisely why I got into working with healthcare leaders and leadership teams in the first place.

Join me for a complimentary Leadership Strategy Session. You’ll have a chance to consider your current challenges and your values. And we'll work together to develop a strategy that will help you to respond to organizational culture or leadership challenges in a way that will engage your people, promote organizational culture change, and keep you sustainable.

Contact me if you have questions or want additional details about this Strategy Session. And keep in mind…because of the very special nature of this work, just a few seats are available each month!

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