Executive Presence Post #3: Mindfulness Meditation Can Enhance Executive Presence

Businessman meditating on green grass

The #3 post in my series on:

Executive Presence: Insights for Boosting Your Credibility and Influence

It seems more people than ever are meditating or talking about mindfulness, the state of living consciously. Research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation is promising from slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s to enabling athletes to achieve high performance under pressure to helping students focus and cope with stress. No wonder mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of attention. But what does mindfulness have to do with enhancing Executive Presence? Everything.

As discussed in my previous blog posts, executive presence is a key ingredient to influencing others and being selected for and successful in leadership roles. As presence guru and author, Catherine Johns, says, “You must be present to have presence.” Individuals with executive presence and superior influence are mindfully present in the moment, and connect on a human level when interacting with others.

It Takes Being Present…to truly listen to others – body language and all – to read your audience. You must be present to be a keen observer of your own feelings and thoughts before regulating emotions for the situation. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps you stay in the present and control your thoughts and emotions even when you’re not meditating, which is the point.

Why We Need Mindfulness? Our tendency in today’s fast-paced, high-stress work environment is to feel overwhelmed or get distracted and lost in the clutter of our thoughts, whether it’s worrying about the future and our to-do list or recycling thoughts and negative memories from the past. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to be aware of these thoughts and feelings in a non-reactive and non-judgmental way, training your brain to remove distractions and show more compassion towards yourself and others. With mindfulness practice, you learn how to stay calm and cool under stressful conditions. You gain greater focus and clear thinking when you need it the most. You become more like people with executive presence who are calm, cool, and collected under pressure.

Skeptical? I must admit I was skeptical at first and struggled to fit meditation into my already busy day as a working mom. What sold me were the small but noticeable positive differences I observed in my daily life after just weeks of meditating 2-3 times a week. I had more patience walking behind slow cart-pushers in the grocery store, driving in traffic, and interacting with my kids on hectic school days. I got much less nervous in competitive tennis matches and while presenting to large rooms of people allowing me to focus on my game and important moments. While I’m still striving towards consistent daily practice, every little bit counts, which is why mindfulness meditation is one of the tools I typically recommend for my executive coaching clients. Even my dad at age 76 has gotten on board with weekly yoga practice, another way to build mindfulness, to help his brain and body stay young and flexible.

Getting Started. Countless good apps and guides are available to make it easy. Oprah & Deepak Chopra have a 21 Day Meditation Experience that may appeal to you. My new favorite guided meditation app recommended by an executive coaching client is Calm. I really like the woman’s voice guiding the meditation in addition to the micro self-help lesson incorporated into each session. You get to choose a scene to look at in the beginning of the meditation, which in itself is scientifically soothing. As a bonus, the app keeps good stats for those fitbit-wearing-measurement lovers, such as the days you meditated each month. I was astounded to learn this morning after meditating that I’ve logged over 10 hours of meditation in 50 three to 14 minute sessions over the past 5 months. Not bad for someone who doesn’t like to sit still!

If you want to be your own guide, here are some simple How-To Meditate instructions to get you started including other ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day.

Overwhelmed? Start small. Try for just 5-7 minutes for the first several sessions. Wake up 5 minutes early. Try it on the commuter train with headphones or in a parked car after work or while your child is at an after-school activity. You’d be surprised what a few deep breaths and thought-observation practices can do for your executive presence and your health. Here’s to your mindfulness!

P.S. A special shout out to Coach Carey at Score Tennis & Fitness for getting me started on meditation. Thanks Carey!

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