Mindful Leadership

What is it? How can I apply it to my programs and projects?



by Sandra Menzies, MS, ASQ-CQA, ASQ-CQM/OE, PMI-PMP

Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Washington, DC, USA



It’s a typical day.  You get-up, read the news, listen to the TV or radio, rush to get out of the house for your busy day at work.  Traffic is a snarl all the way into work.  As you travel, you are listening to the radio or a book to try and relax before work.  Once you get into work, there are emails awaiting your review and response, people are stopping at your door to ask questions or just wanting to chat, you have more meetings than work hours, and multiple tasks that need to be completed right now.  You do not have time to think or prepare.  All you want to do is, STOP!  Have you felt this way? What can you do?

This paper reviews the benefits of being a mindful leader.  It discusses how mindfulness helps you focus, cultivate being present (an external awareness) and the ability to pause (an internal awareness).  Being focused helps leaders minimize multitasking and pay attention to what is important.  Being present allows leaders to observe what is going on around them and actively listen to what is being said, so they can separate our self from a situation and reflect, thus allowing our inner knowledge to emerge.  When we pause we create space, so we can learn to respond and reframe a story instead of reacting in stressful situations.  In addition, managers who demonstrate and encourage the practice of mindfulness create an engaging and interactive team environment.

Mindful Leadership

Have you found yourself focusing on a meeting you had yesterday and what you could have done better or how the team could have reached a better solution?  Or maybe you find yourself worrying about tomorrow and what could go wrong even when you have planned for various contingencies.  This reflection is often not about learning and growing but about judging yourself and your abilities as a leader.  Mindfulness is defined as the practice of being present or being aware of your current situation, your emotions, and how you are feeling at any given time and in any given situation without judgement.  Mindfulness helps you focus on the tasks you need to accomplish right now so you can manage your project through all phases from initiation through closure.  Mindfulness also helps you be present and aware of what you can accomplish in this moment and acknowledge what is within your limits and current control.

Forbes defines leadership as “a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goali.”  Great leaders exhibit characteristics such as:  being focused, direct, clear in how they respond, creative, trustworthy, engaging, reliable, humble, understanding, self-aware, grounded, etc.  A mindful leader is “someone who embodies a leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others.ii”  Great leaders are mindful leaders.

Having a mindfulness practice helps you focus, cultivate presence (an external awareness) and the ability to pause (an internal awareness).  Frequently our minds wander; we tune-out when we need to focus. How many times have we reached the end of an hour and wondered, “What have I spent my time on?”, “What have I accomplished?”  Maybe you get distracted by emails, news bulletins, comments from others, or pop-ups on your phone.  Many consider these activities multitasking.  Multitasking is defined as the ability to perform multiple tasks at the same time.  Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, shows that people appear to handle more than one task at a time, yet he or she actually switches between the tasks very rapidly.  This rapid-fire switching is a distraction that decreases productivity, causes mistakes, and limits creativityiii.  The lack of attention to a given task results in the task taking longer to complete and being more prone to errorsiv.  Dr. Miller recommends the following steps to counter multitasking and help you focus: block out periods of time to focus and eliminate as many distractions as possible such as putting away your smartphone, turning off extra screens, and shutting down your email.  If all else fails, take short breaks and move around.  Through a practice of mindfulness, you begin to learn how to let those distractions go and decide how you want to focus your time and attention to detail, so you can cultivate presence and the ability to pause.


To read entire paper, click here


Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 5th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2018.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Menzies, S. (2018). Mindful Leadership – What is it? How can I apply it to my programs and projects?; Proceedings of the 5th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2018; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. VII, Issue VIII – August.  Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/pmwj73-Aug2018-Menzies-mindful-leadership-second-edition.pdf


About the Author

Sandra Menzies

Washington, DC, USA




Sandra Menzies, MS, ASQ-CQA, ASQ-CQM/OE, PMI-PMP has been a senior member of ASQ since 2001 and a member of PMI since 2015. With over 25 years of experience, Ms. Menzies has held quality-related and project management positions at Biocon, Inc.; Otsuka Maryland Research Institute; TherImmune Research Corporation; and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Ms. Menzies is also Stephen Minister and Leader, yoga instructor, and a mindfulness advocate and practitioner. Ms. Menzies currently uses her knowledge of mindfulness to manage large, complex projects to improve internal business processes at the FDA. She can be contacted at [email protected].