Thriving Together Series

Thriving Together Series: Mindful Leadership in an Uncertain World

By: Steve Gladis, Ph.D., CWB Senior Scholar

“What if rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, we accepted it and relaxed into it?” – Pema Chödrön, author and teacher

This edition was written by Steve Gladis, Ph.D., a Senior Scholar at our center and the CEO of Steve Gladis Leadership Partners.

All of us are scared when dealing with uncertainty, and fear often produces poor decisions. I wrote a book, Smile. Breathe. Listen. The 3 Mindful Acts for Leaders, several years ago to help executives during precarious leadership times. Today, this book is more relevant than ever before and for all people, not only business and government leaders. Here’s an executive summary of the book. Feel free to share it with your friends and on social media.


  • We are hardwired to smile. We’re even smiling in the womb. Kids smile like crazy, and mirror neurons allow us to “catch” smiling from others.
  • Smiling is good for your long-term health and for a longer and more engaged life.
  • Smiling reduces stress, helps us work better, and makes people want to be around us.
  • The “Duchenne” smile – a smile that engages the muscles of the eyes as well as those of the mouth – is viewed as genuine and authentic.
  • Smiling makes us appear more likable, courteous, and competent.
  • Leaders who smile put people at ease, spread positive emotions like a virus, and create an environment in which people can do their best work.


  • Breathing is automatic. However, leaders who understand how to control their breathing will be much more effective than those who don’t.
  • Mindful Breathing is the “Big Switch” that helps us move from mental rumination or anxious thinking to more a more thoughtful, relaxed state.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a research-based, highly successful program based on mindful breathing and consistent, regular practice.
  • Regularly sitting or lying quietly starts the “practice” of mindfulness.
  • The impact of mindful breathing can be seen in our personal, team, and corporate health.
  • Leaders who learn mindful breathing not only help themselves become better people but also help those around them to do the same.


  • Listening is a skill possessed by the very best leaders.
  • Listening represents an important gift that every leader can give – a leader’s time and attention are highly valued by those around the leader.
  • Good listening consists of presence, technique, and practice.
  • Presence is demonstrated when leaders are fully engaged, focused, and not distracted when talking to people.
  • The Speaker-Listener Technique focuses on the listener fully understanding the speaker’s concerns.
  • The Ladder of Inference demonstrates how anyone, including leaders, can jump to conclusions based on their own often erroneous assumptions and beliefs.
  • Despite a prodigious amount of data and statistics about how important listening is, a number of leaders – in business, medicine, and any other profession – have poor listening skills.

There are three critical activities, which I call “The 3 Mindful Acts,” that ensure a kind of quality leadership fitness: smiling authentically, breathing mindfully, and listening intently. These activities constitute a simple, research-based, and powerful set of mindful acts that make the difference between an average and a great leader. Such acts elevate a leader from success to significance – i.e., having an impact on themselves and more importantly, on others whom they lead.

Additional Resources

This information from the Center for Mindfulness at the Scottsdale Institute for Health and Medicine describes the connections between mindfulness and smiling.

This mindful breathing practice from the Greater Good Science Center can help you build resilience to stress, anxiety, and anger.

The article shows you how to practice mindful listening.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!