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Mindfulness: Cultivating and Maintaining Effective Leadership

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Bethany Pearson
March 22, 2019

In modern day America, leaders are responsible for many things. They are tasked with things like maintaining a business or entity, building good working relationships with their colleagues and staff, creating a more innovative working environment, etc. The list goes on and on. The leaders of today must manage to do all these things while still keeping their work and personal life in balance. While the workload is ever increasing, so is the anxiety rate in our professional populations. We hear about anxiety more and more as time goes on. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association around 18.1 percent of the adult population is battling some form of anxiety. If this is happening to our current adult population, what are the odds that we see the same trend happening in our young people?

As a teacher, I see students struggle with anxiety every day. Angry or frustrated students exclaim profanities and cry when they cannot find a more effective solution to their problem. Students must learn how to slow down and step back from situations that are frustrating or trying. They must learn that life is full of these situations and it is our job to figure out how to fix the problem instead of making it worse. The best way I have found to help alleviate this is through mindfulness. This is not a new tactic. There have been studies about how mindfulness can help to decrease stress and anxiety levels.

Brendel, Hankerson, Byun and Cunningham conducted a study about how mindfulness can decrease anxiety and stress in leaders. The study observed both male and female participants. These participants were subjected to one 45 minute mindfulness session a week. This study ran for about eight weeks. The results were interesting—they found that weekly mindfulness sessions resulted in a significant reduction in trait anxiety. The results also found an increase in promotional focus. What does this mean?  This means that by incorporating mindfulness activities into his or life, one can both alleviate stress and anxiety while improving focus.

This study galvanizes the need for America’s people to slow down and start listening to their bodies and minds. When our patience runs thin and our stress and anxiety are paralyzing, we must listen and take a mindfulness break. Take a few minutes to stop and focus on deep breathing and relaxing all muscles. This gives people the time to decompress and clear their minds to a point where their focus is sharpened.

Our future leaders are not any different. American students are struggling with stress and anxiety. One way to help alleviate this problem is to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom. I have incorporated mindfulness into my classes twice a week. It is a great tool to calm and focus the students.

I use 10-minute sessions twice a week. The students are asked to sit or lay in a comfortable position. They are asked to focus solely on their breathing and relaxing their muscles. I walk around the room and instruct them to tense their muscles three times and then release. I go from head to toe, instructing one muscle at a time. The last couple of minutes I ask them to visualize their relaxing place. I tell them my relaxing place is at home in bed snuggling my two puppies inside a big fuzzy blanket. Once the ten minutes is up, I count them back to reality from 5,4,3,2,1. We then get to our daily objectives and continue with the lesson. I find that some students love it and embrace it. Others loathe it and just sit quietly until it is over.

When I ask those students who loathe mindfulness what they dislike about the practice, they tell me it is too hard and they cannot seem to shut their minds off. The practice of mindfulness can help create resilience and focus when it is difficult to do. Students need to learn how to turn off their mind and just focus on breathing and relaxing. Doing so will help them to think clearly and critically when they need it. It can also help them to decrease stress and anxiety.

In the evolutionary world we live in today, our leaders must be able to think critically and act in accordance with their morals and values. Mindfulness will help cultivate and maintain effective leadership.


Author: Bethany Pearson received her Bachelors in Secondary Education from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She received her Masters in Public Administration from Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia. She is currently working on her Principal’s Certification at Lamar University. She is a middle school theatre teacher for Round Rock ISD in Texas. She resides in Jarrell, Texas with her husband and two dogs.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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