I’ve written quite a bit about how calmness and kindness—both achieved through mindfulness—help employees handle stress and succeed, and how that helps their organizations succeed too.

So the idea that bad bosses need to get better may seem like common sense.

But many bad bosses (and their employers) still don’t get it. American business culture still tends to reward tough, take-no-prisoners types.

Contrarily, here’s what respected research shows:

  • Many horrible bosses don’t know they’re horrible.
  • Being horrible (i.e., abrasive, insensitive and/or bullying) correlates strongly with executive failure.
  • Even common, seemingly minor discourtesies such as checking one’s phone in meetings tend to be demoralizing.
  • Being decent and polite builds trust and motivates employees.
  • Employees whose bosses are rude are less creative, less careful, and more likely to be rude to others—including clients and customers. These lapses lose business and lead to lawsuits.
  • When iron-fisted executives succeed, it’s likely despite their tough techniques, not because of them.

Apparently, according to science, if you want to succeed, you really need to be nicer.

The good news is, you don’t have to become a doormat—or bake cakes or buy rounds of drinks. You can be competitive but not cruel, goal-oriented but not goal-obsessed. You can be both kind and respected at the same time.

But how?

The first step is self-awareness. Learn to be mindfully (i.e., non-judgmentally) aware of your responses to things that happen. If you feel anxious or angry, take just a moment to notice how your system reacts. Does your throat tighten, your heart race or your palms sweat. Be curious before you try to control or correct anything—or confront someone else.

These split seconds can save you many (self- or other-) destructive reactions. Over time, as you enhance your ability to notice your reactive patterns, you’ll likely become calmer, more creative and more constructive when problems arise.

This is mindfulness. It’s also real leadership.

Business is fundamentally, ultimately human. It’s a societal construct, a system for us to connect and transact with each other—and with ourselves. It’s relational. And mindfulness is all about how we relate to what is—instead of being dominated by it.

Here’s a quick, deliberate mindfulness exercise. You might try it before your next meeting.

Sit comfortably and pay attention to your responses as you:

  • Soften the muscles around your eyes. Try a soft, relaxed smile.
  • Relax your arms and hands.
  • Relax your trunk and legs.
  • Gently move and relax your toes.
  • Take a few moments to listen to sounds around you.
  • Welcome each sound as if you had created it.
  • Track the movements throughout your body as you breathe in and out.

Try this for about 2 minutes–without judging your performance. Over time, you’ll find it feels more and more natural. It can become a powerful technique in your growing effectiveness and success.

There are more useful mindfulness exercises here. And as always, please let me know how it goes.

References for this article:

“No Time to Be Nice at Work,” Christine Porath, The New York Times, June 19, 2015

“The Price of Incivility,” Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2013

“Why You Should Be Nice at Work Even If You Don’t Have Time for It,” Mindful.org

“Being a Kind Boss Pays Off,” Emma Seppälä, Mindful.org