Mindfulness is a mental state. It’s defined as connecting to the present moment while, at the same time, acknowledging and accepting without judgment the feelings and thoughts that occur while being in the moment.
This state of mind can apply to leadership, too. A mindful leader gives space for themselves and others to reflect and to listen. They’re conscientious about how they show up as a leader. When a leader is thoughtful, reflective, calm and present, everyone else shows up that way, too.
There are three specific things mindful leaders can do to help foster a company-wide innovative mindset.
1. Create psychological safety. Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines psychological safety as a group culture in which everyone in the group feels they are safe to take risks. But what does that culture look like?
When Google set out to study its most high-performing teams, they discovered that in these teams, everyone took equal turns speaking. They had “high social sensitivity,” which means they were sensitive to the tone of voice, facial expressions and body language of their colleagues, and used this non-verbal information to really understand how their team members felt.
It’s in this kind of culture that people feel safest to express themselves, flex their creativity, and take the risks that lead to innovation. It takes an exceptionally mindful leader be aware of — and create — the conditions that lead to psychological safety.
2. Employ a cultural broker. By now, most companies are aware that diverse teams deliver better business results. But what many companies don’t know is how to facilitate and manage the conflicting norms, miscommunications, and misguided assumptions that can arise in diverse teams. This is where cultural brokerage comes in.
INSEAD professor Sujin Jang defines cultural brokerage as the act of facilitating interactions across parties from different cultural backgrounds. Someone who acts as a cultural broker acts as a bridge between teammates of different cultures.
There are two types of cultural brokers. The first, cultural insiders, have multicultural experiences that align directly with the cultures represented in their team. For example, in a team with mostly Chinese and American workers, a cultural insider is someone who has firsthand knowledge of both cultures. These cultural brokers can integrate information and ideas from both cultures, proposing ideas and solutions that combine elements of each.
The second type of cultural broker is the cultural outsider. This is someone with experience in two or more cultures not represented in their team. In this American and Chinese team example, a cultural outsider could have experience with, say, French and Malaysian cultures. Even though they don’t directly have knowledge of Chinese and American culture, their “cultural antenna” is sharper than their mono-cultural counterparts. Because of this, they can act as a neutral third party and facilitate the differences in backgrounds.
A mindful leader is aware of the needs of a diverse team. If someone doesn’t emerge as a natural cultural broker, a mindful leader recognizes the need for this role and enlists the help of an external intercultural consultant. When teams can work through cultural differences, they work more effectively and harmoniously — innovation thrives in those conditions.
3. Embrace work-life “integration” Experts have begun to recognize that the ideal of work-life balance is unrealistic — and even undesired, especially among millennial workers who often prefer flexibility, fluidity, and a seamless integration of their personal and professional lives.
These workers might reject a rigid 9-to-5 structure. They might not mind answering emails at 8 pm because they took a two-hour lunch to reconnect with a friend and left the office early for a family event. Work-life blending, harmony, and integration have begun to emerge as new ideals.
A mindful manager embraces this new norm — and they don’t assume identical lifestyles among their diverse team members. They understand their individual needs and support their efforts to find harmony. When workers feel confident they’re meeting the needs of their work and personal lives, they feel secure enough to bring their best selves to work. And that contributes to an innovative mindset.
By creating psychological safety, employing a cultural broker, and embracing work-life integration, a mindful leader helps foster an innovative mindset.
When it comes to your diverse team, how do you lead mindfully?