Mindfulness in Leadership: Does Being Mindful Enhance Leaders’ Business Success?

  • Sebastian Sauer
  • Niko Kohls
Part of the On Thinking book series (ONTHINKING)


Is mindfulness – being open, present, and receptive to what is happening from one moment to the next without cognitively evaluating a given state or situation – an omnipresent capacity that can significantly contribute to enhancing leadership performance – or is it a context dependent potential? In this treatise, leadership as a general ability is understood as an anthropological constant as opposed to the prevalence of specific differences in leadership styles found in different cultures or contexts. This chapter advocates that mindfulness can be particularly helpful for leaders and executives as it may enhance leadership as a general ability. We outline a rationale for how and why mindfulness may increase the capacity to lead as well as act as a role model, discuss intercultural aspects related to mindfulness and leadership, and address potential restrictions. The proposition that mindfulness, if properly understood and brought into application, may be a useful tool for enhancing the personal and business success of leaders is developed in four subsections: (1) An epitome of what leadership is and what leaders are supposed to do in their professional role as an implicit criterion for assessing the potential benefits of mindfulness. (2) A definition of what is frequently understood by mindfulness and the changes in psychophysiological parameters that go along with regular mindfulness training, as reported by some empirical findings. This includes an analysis of what can be regarded as fact rather than fiction in the context of mindfulness. (3) A discussion of the potential benefits of mindfulness for leaders based on a general model of what leadership constitutes, as worked-out in the first section. (4) A caveat that takes into account some conceptual and practical pitfalls, to which one may easily fall prey, so as to prevent misunderstandings and misbehavior related to mindfulness. The final section summarizes the above mentioned sections with the conclusion that mindfulness can indeed be helpful but that both research and practical work remain to be done.


Intercultural Leadership Management Mindfulness 


  1. Aharoni Y (1994) Alliance networks. Harvard Business School Publication Corp, BostonGoogle Scholar
  2. Allman JM, Hakeem A, Erwin JM, Nimchinsky E, Hof P (2001) The anterior cingulate cortex. Ann NY Acad Sci 935:107–117CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baer RA (2003) Mindfulness training as a clinical intervention: a conceptual and empirical review. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 10(2):125–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baer RA, Smith GT, Allen KB (2004) Assessment of mindfulness by self-report: The Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Skills. Assessment 11(3):191CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bar-On R, Tranel D, Denburg NL, Bechara A (2003) Exploring the neurological substrate of emotional and social intelligence. Brain 126(8):1790CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Benson H, Rauch S, Moore C, Fischl B, Lazar S, Kerr CE et al (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport 16(17):1893–1897CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Blair CA, Hoffman BJ, Helland KR (2008) Narcissism in organizations: a multisource appraisal reflects different perspectives. Hum Perf 21(3):254–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Block-Lerner J, Adair C, Plumb JC, Rhatigan DL, Orsillo SM (2007) The case for mindfulness-based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: does nonjudgmental, present-moment awareness increase capacity for perspective-taking and empathic concern? J Marital Fam Ther 33(4):501–516. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2007.00034.x CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Bögels S, Hoogstad B, van Dun L, de Schutter S, Restifo K (2008) Mindfulness training for adolescents with externalizing disorders and their parents. Behav Cogn Psychother 36(02):193–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brefczynski-Lewis JA, Lutz A, Schaefer HS, Levinson DB, Davidson RJ (2007) Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(27):11483CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Brown KW, Ryan RM (2003) The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. J Pers Soc Psychol 84(4):822–848. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Buber M (2004) I and Thou. Continuum International Publishing Group, LondonGoogle Scholar
  13. Bush G, Luu P, Posner MI (2000) Cognitive and emotional influences in anterior cingulate cortex. Trends Cogn Sci 4(6):215–222CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Byham WC (2009) Start Networking Right Away (Even If You Hate It). Harv Bus Rev 87(1):22Google Scholar
  15. Carver CS (2006) Approach, avoidance, and the self-regulation of affect and action. Motiv Emot 30(2):105–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Carver CS, Scheier MF (1990) Origins and functions of positive and negative affect: a control-process view. Psychol Rev 97(1):19–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carver CS, White TL (1994) Behavioral inhibition, behavioral activation, and affective responses to impending reward and punishment: the BIS/BAS scales. J Pers Soc Psychol 67:319–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chawla N, Ostafin B (2007) Experiential avoidance as a functional dimensional approach to psychopathology: an empirical review. J Clin Psychol 63(9):871–890CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Chiesa A, Serretti A (2009) Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis. J Altern Complement Med 15(5):593–600CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Covey SR (2004) The 7 habits of highly effective people: powerful lessons in personal change, 15th edn. Free Press, DetroitGoogle Scholar
  21. Daft RL, Marcic D (2008) Understanding management. Cengage Learning, Florence, KYGoogle Scholar
  22. de Vries MFRK, Miller D (1985) Narcissism and leadership: an object relations perspective. Hum Relat 38(6):583–601. doi: 10.1177/001872678503800606 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Deyo M, Wilson K, Ong J, Koopman C (2009) Mindfulness and rumination: does mindfulness training lead to reductions in the ruminative thinking associated with depression? Explore (NY) 5(5):265–271. doi: doi: 10.1016/j.explore.2009.06.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Drucker PF (1984) The new meaning of corporate social responsibility. Calif Manage Rev 26(2):53–63Google Scholar
  25. Drucker PF (2007) The effective executive. Elsevier, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. Duranti A (1992) Language and bodies in social space: Samoan ceremonial greetings. Am Anthropol New Ser 94(3):657–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fan M, Posner M, Tang YY, Ma Y, Wang J, Fan Y et al (2007) Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(43):17152–17156. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0707678104 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Farb NA, Segal ZV, Mayberg H, Bean J, McKeon D, Fatima Z et al (2007) Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2(4):313–322CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Fowles D (1987) Application of a behavioral theory of motivation to the concepts of anxiety and impulsivity. J Res Pers 21(4):417–435. doi: 10.1016/0092-6566(87)90030-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Garratt B (2003) The fish rots from the head: The crisis in our boardrooms: developing the crucial skills of the competent director, 2nd edn. Profile Business, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Giluk TL (2009) Mindfulness, big five personality, and affect: a meta-analysis. Pers Individ Differ 47(8):805–811. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.06.026 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goleman D, Boyatzis RE, McKee A (2002) Primal leadership. Harvard Business Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  33. Gomes-Casseres B (1994) Group versus group: how alliance networks compete. Harv Bus Rev 72(4):62. doi: Article Google Scholar
  34. Grossman P, Niemann L, Schmidt S, Walach H (2004) Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. a meta-analysis. J Psychosom Res 57(1):35–43. doi: 10.1016/S0022-3999(03)00573-7 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Gulick L (1937) Notes on the theory of organization. In: Gulick L, Urwick L (eds) Papers on the science of administration. Institute of Public Administration, New York, pp 191–195Google Scholar
  36. Han S, Northoff G (2008) Culture-sensitive neural substrates of human cognition: a transcultural neuroimaging approach. Nat Rev Neurosci 9(8):646–654. doi: 10.1038/nrn2456 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Han S, Gu X, Mao L, Ge J, Wang G, Ma Y (2009) Neural substrates of self-referential processing in Chinese Buddhists. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp027 PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Hayes S, Strosahl K, Wilson K (1999) Acceptance and commitment therapy. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Hennessy J, West MA (1999) Intergroup behavior in organizations: a field test of social identity theory. Small Group Res 30(3):361–382. doi: 10.1177/104649649903000305 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hofstede GH (2003) Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations, 2nd edn. Sage Publications, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  41. Hölzel BK, Ott U, Gard T, Hempel H, Weygandt M, Morgen K et al (2008) Investigation of mindfulness meditation practitioners with voxel-based morphometry. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 3(1):55–61. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsm038 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Evans KC, Hoge EA, Dusek JA, Morgan L et al (2010) Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdala. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 5(1):11–17. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsp034 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Ibarra H, Hunter M (2007) How leaders create and use networks. Harv Bus Rev 85(1):40–47. doi: Article PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Jha AP, Stanley EA, Kiyonaga A, Wong L, Gelfand L (2010) Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion 10(1):54–64. doi: 10.1037/a0018438 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Judge TA, Ilies R, Bono JE, Gerhardt MW (2002) Personality and leadership: a qualitative and quantitative review. J Appl Psychol 87(4):765–780. doi: Article CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Kabat-Zinn J (1982) An outpatient program in behavioral medicine for chronic pain patients based on the practice of mindfulness meditation: theoretical considerations and preliminary results. Gen Hosp Psychiatry 4(1):33–47CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Kabat-Zinn J (1991) Full catastrophe living. Delta Trade Paperbacks, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  48. Kabat-Zinn J, Massion AO, Kristeller J, Peterson LG, Fletcher KE, Pbert L et al (1992) Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Am J Psychiatry 149(7):936–943PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Kabat-Zinn J, Wheeler E, Light T, Skillings A, Scharf MJ, Cropley TG et al (1998) Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosom Med 60(5):625–632PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Kashdan TB, Barrios V, Forsyth JP, Steger MF (2006) Experiential avoidance as a generalized psychological vulnerability: comparisons with coping and emotion regulation strategies. Behav Res Ther 44(9):1301–1320CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. King G (2007) Narcissism and effective crisis management: a review of potential problems and pitfalls. J Contingencies Crisis Manage 15(4):183–193. doi: Article CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Kockelmans JJ, Husserl E (1994) Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. Purdue University Press, West LafayetteGoogle Scholar
  53. Kohls N, Sauer S, Walach H (2009) Facets of mindfulness – results of an online study investigating the Freiburg mindfulness inventory. Pers Individ Differ 46(2):224–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kotter PJ (1998) Harvard business review on leadership, 1st edn. Harvard Business Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  55. Langer EJ (1989) Mindfulness. Addison-Wesley Reading, Mass, BostonGoogle Scholar
  56. Lazar S, Kerr CE, Wasserman RH, Gray JR, Greve DN, Treadway MT et al (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport 16(17):1893–1897CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Ledesma D, Kumano H (2009) Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cancer: a meta-analysis. Psychooncology 18(6):571–579. doi: 10.1002/pon.1400 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Lutz A, Slagter HA, Dunne JD, Davidson RJ (2008) Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends Cogn Sci 12(4):163–169CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Maciariello JA (2006) Mastering Peter Drucker’s the effective executive. Leader to Leader 2006(41):50–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mintzberg H (1971) Managerial work: analysis from observation. Manage Sci 18(2):B97–B110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mintzberg H (1990) The manager’s job: folklore and fact. Harv Bus Rev 68(2):163–176. doi: Article Google Scholar
  62. Mintzberg H (2009) We’re overled and undermanaged. Bus Week (4143):68Google Scholar
  63. Mischel W (1974) Processes in delay of gratification. Adv Exp Soc Psychol 7:249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mondy R, Sharplin A, Holmes R, Flippo E (1986) Management. Concepts and practices. Allyn and Bacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  65. Moore MH (1995) Creating public value: strategic management in government. Harvard University Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  66. Mullins LJ (2007) Management and organisational behaviour. Pearson Education, LondonGoogle Scholar
  67. Orzech KM, Shapiro S, Brown KW, McKay M (2009) Intensive mindfulness training-related changes in cognitive and emotional experience. J Posit Psychol 4(3):212. doi: 10.1080/17439760902819394 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Pagnoni G, Cekic M (2007) Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiol Aging 28(10):1623–1627. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.06.008 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Perls FS, Hefferline RF, Goodman P (1980) Gestalt therapy. Bantam Books, Oak Park, ILGoogle Scholar
  70. Pöppel E (1986) Lust und Schmerz. Grundlagen menschlichen Erlebens und Verhaltens. Siedler Verlag, MünchenGoogle Scholar
  71. Popper KR (1965) The logic of scientific discovery, 2nd edn. Harper, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  72. Popper KR (2002) Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge, 2nd edn. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  73. Posner MI, Rothbart MK (2007) Educating the human brain. American Psychological Association, Washington, DCCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Samuelson M, Carmody J, Kabat-Zinn J, Bratt MA (2007) Mindfulness-based stress reduction in Massachusetts correctional facilities. Prison J 87(2):254–268. doi: 10.1177/0032885507303753 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Satpute AB, Lieberman MD (2006) Integrating automatic and controlled processes into neurocognitive models of social cognition. Brain Res 1079(1):86–97. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.01.005 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  76. Sephton SE, Salmon P, Weissbecker I, Ulmer C, Floyd A, Hoover K et al (2007) Mindfulness meditation alleviates depressive symptoms in women with fibromyalgia: results of a randomized clinical trial. Arthritis Care Res 57(1):77–85. doi: 10.1002/art.22478 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Shapiro SL, Carlson LE, Astin JA, Freedman B (2006) Mechanisms of mindfulness. J Clin Psychol 62(3):373–386CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  78. Shapiro S, Oman D, Thoresen CE, Plante TG, Flinders T (2008) Cultivating mindfulness: effects on well-being. J Clin Psychol 64(7):840–862. doi: 10.1002/jclp. 20491 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  79. Sheridan JF, Davidson RJ, Kabat-Zinn J, Schumacher J, Rosenkranz M, Muller D et al (2003) Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosom Med 65(4):564–570CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Slagter HA, Lutz A, Greischar LL, Francis AD, Nieuwenhuis S, Davis JM et al (2007) Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLoS Biol 5(6):e138CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Stratton KJ (2009) Mindfulness-based approaches to impulsive behaviors. The New School Psychology Bulletin 4(2)Google Scholar
  82. Sun T, Kuo C, Chiu N (2002) Mindfulness meditation in the control of severe headache. Chang Gung Med J 25(8):538–541PubMedGoogle Scholar
  83. Taleb NN (2001) Fooled by randomness: the hidden role of chance in the markets and in life. Texere, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  84. Taleb NN (2007) The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 1st edn. Random House, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  85. Taleb NN (2009) Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world. Financial Times, April, 7.Google Scholar
  86. Tang YY, Posner MI (2009) Attention training and attention state training. Trends Cogn Sci 13(5):222–227CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Taylor JB, Williams JC (2009) A black swan in the money market. Am Econ J Macroecon 1(1):58–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Teasdale JD, Moore RG, Hayhurst H, Pope M, Williams S, Segal ZV (2002) Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: Empirical evidence. J Consult Clin Psychol 70(2):275–287CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  89. Thomas DC (2008) Cross-cultural management: essential concepts, 2nd edn. Sage Publications Ltd., Los AngelesGoogle Scholar
  90. van den Hurk PAM, Giommi F, Gielen SC, Speckens AEM, Barendregt HP (2009) Greater efficiency in attentional processing related to mindfulness meditation. Q J Exp Psychol. doi: 10.1080/17470210903249365 Google Scholar
  91. Velting D, Bishop SR, Lau M, Shapiro S, Carlson L (2004) Mindfulness: a proposed operational definition. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 11(3):230–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wachs K, Cordova JV, Scripture B (2007) Mindful relating: exploring mindfulness and emotion repertoires in intimate relationships. J Marital Fam Ther 33(4):464CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  93. Wegner DM (1994) Ironic processes of mental control. Psychol Rev 101(1):34–52CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  94. Wegner DM, Schneider DJ, Carter SR, White TL (1987) Paradoxical effects of thought suppression. J Pers Soc Psychol 53(1):5–13CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  95. Wegner DM, Broome A, Blumberg SJ (1997) Ironic effects of trying to relax under stress. Behav Res Ther 35(1):11–21CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  96. Wenzlaff RM, Wegner DM (2000) Thought suppression. Annu Rev Psychol 51(1):59–91CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  97. Woldt AL, Toman SM (2005) Gestalt therapy. SAGE, Los AngelesGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GRP – Generation Research ProgramHuman Science Center, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMunichGermany
  2. 2.Brain, Mind and Healing ProgramSamueli InstituteAlexandriaUSA

Personalised recommendations