The Mindful Leader: A Dissertation Condensed

By Morgan Hembree, Psy.D., MBA, BCB – Integrated Leadership Systems

While being only three months out from the completion, defense, and binding of my dissertation gives me a certain perspective, I can say with virtual certainty that the dissertation process is one of the most painful things I will ever endure. For over two years I painstakingly researched, wrote, input, analyzed, and edited an entire field’s worth of information into sixty some pages that I then defended in front of a group of professors who had all completed the same massive undertaking at some point in their lives. It is this behemoth of a project that I will now boil down into a blog post in hopes of sharing some of the insight I gained with those who could benefit from it.

Mindfulness, a core concept in the puzzle that was my dissertation, is defined as the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment. Essentially, the ability to be in the “here and now,” and to accept whatever comes up in that moment. As a neurotic, busy-body graduate student, I found Mindfulness to be a practice that helped maintain my sanity. Rather than getting caught up in the unending “To Do” list on my desk, or ruminating about how much time I wasted on Facebook, I learned to keep my mind focused on the present, which is the only place and time to get things accomplished.

This valuable discovery inspired me to direct my dissertation research towards investigating whether the same mindfulness skills that helped me be calm and productive could help someone be a better leader in their workplace. To address this question, I started with the connection between leadership behaviors and attachment style, which has been demonstrated in multiple studies throughout the years. A person’s attachment style is, essentially, a set of personality traits that is the direct result of the relationship one has with his or her caregiver as a child. As it turns out, individuals who have a very nurturing, responsive caregiver (Secure Attachment) are significantly more capable of engaging in leadership behaviors that not only support a successful business, but help the employees of that business achieve their individual goals.

With this connection already established in the literature, I was able to draw a parallel between the personality characteristics of these Secure individuals, and the characteristics and qualities of someone who is skilled at Mindfulness. My hypothesis was that it is actually the capacity for remaining present that allows a Secure leader to utilize optimal leadership behaviors. Imagine my excitement when, after many hours of statistical analysis, I discovered that this is true (at least for my sample of Human Resource managers).

Research methods and limitations aside, this information sparks a very interesting discussion. Could individuals looking to improve their leadership skills simply spend some time meditating? Would increasing Mindfulness thereby increase one’s capacity for leadership? To answer these questions scientifically would require a study much more involved than my dissertation. While I hate to leave you hanging, I’m satisfied with simply hypothesizing, (at least for now).
What do you think? Send me your thoughts and reactions!