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This CEO Became a Better Leader By Harnessing a Practice Traditionalists Ignore This founder and CEO reveals how she enhanced her leadership potential — and how you can, too.

By Rachael McCrary Edited by Maria Bailey

Key Takeaways

  • 1. Heighten your intuition and emotional intelligence
  • 2. Elevate your human understanding
  • 3. Improve conflict resolution and compassion
  • 4. Regulate your mind-body connection
  • 5. Release attachment and embrace flow

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In today's hyper-accelerated and ultra-competitive business world, leaders often find themselves in an array of challenges that demand quick and effective decision-making. From troubleshooting a product during a high-stakes public launch to navigating complex emotions during negotiations, our nervous systems are consistently placed in "fight-or-flight" mode. While traditional leadership paradigms typically focus on logic and rationality above all else, I've learned that the ability to integrate spirituality into my leadership has brought a profound dimension to my decision-making process.

As a general rule, I usually stick to "matters of the heart should be navigated with the heart and matters of business should be navigated with the mind," noting, of course, that they are always connected, and our brain has two sides. The right is more visual and intuitive, and the left is linear thinking and logic.

Related: How to Build a Spiritual Practice for Major Business Growth

Embracing spirituality in leadership: My personal journey

Before diving into how you can harness spirituality to achieve your business goals, I want to illustrate how spirituality has helped me become a better leader. As the founder of Gather Labs, I've encountered my fair share of high-pressure situations. Embracing and nurturing practices such as yoga, meditation, breathwork, and enhancing our perceptive experience with our senses have greatly benefited my business endeavors. Years spent exploring different meditation modalities like zazen and vipassana, as well as shamanic and pranayama breathwork, have enriched my spiritual journey.

For example, when attending a meeting, I consciously aim to arrive early to align my energy with the atmosphere. This allows me to perceive the collective energy of everyone in the room and connect with the shared vibes among us. This insight helps me decide how best to lead the meeting, essentially helping me "read the room." This knowledge informs whether I should begin with a story or dive straight into numbers. Personally, this practice has improved my intuition, emotional control and deepened my understanding of my team partners and customers. If you're a leader interested in incorporating more mindful practices into your workday, I'll share my journey and the lessons I've learned, along with practical steps for embracing a spiritual approach in the business world and harnessing its transformative power in your leadership style.

Related: It Worked for Steve Jobs: Here's Why Spirituality is Critical for Entrepreneurial Success

How you can infuse spirituality into your leadership journey

1. Heighten your intuition and emotional intelligence: The practice of spiritual mindfulness encourages us to tap into our intuition and embrace emotional intelligence when making any major decision. This may feel contrary to the logic-focused solutions we're taught in business school, but the value of our "gut instincts" cannot be understated for leaders within the professional sphere. By developing internal discipline through practices such as meditation and yoga, leaders can increase their self-awareness, patience, perspective, emotional stability and communication skills. In that quiet time of inner reflection, we are granted space to take a step back, breathe through the tension, objectively assess the situation at hand and determine whether it requires a rational or emotional solution.

Begin by just opening your mind to the idea of meditating. Then, make a concise effort to begin your day with a meditation session to enhance self-awareness and emotional stability. Like any other daily routine and practice, it takes getting used to, and I find that the Insight Timer app helps with daily reminders and has thousands of guided meditations. There is something for everyone, it's just a matter of doing and finding your flow.

2. Elevate your human understanding: Once the brain has been opened to spiritual practices, its ability to truly understand those outside of itself multiplies dramatically. As a more mindful leader, you will notice a new capacity for perceiving the underlying motivations, desires and needs of those you lead and those who rely on you to drive the business forward. This increased awareness can be especially valuable in high-pressure situations such as meetings, interviews and negotiations, as it enables leaders to see beyond the surface-level interaction while more astutely analyzing the perspective, values and interests of those at the table. By empathetically acknowledging those less tangible factors, our ability to connect with and provide value to our fellow man increases – as does the leverage we have within those interactions.

Cultivate empathy by actively listening to your team members and colleagues. Practice seeing beyond surface-level interactions and strive to understand their underlying motivations and values. Ask yourself questions in the process to be able to unearth new perspectives. This will empower you to connect more deeply and foster better relationships.

3. Improve conflict resolution and compassion: Most leaders reach their position through passion, relentlessness, confidence and, occasionally, genius. A natural driver of each of these qualities is the ego, which there's no shortage of among leaders. The ego can create endless opportunities for conflict, whereas spirituality heightens one's awareness – of self, of others, and of existence – and instills or elevates interpersonal qualities (compassion, empathy, patience) that place the ego in the backseat. When faced with conflicts that can easily and unnecessarily escalate by activating the ego, leaders who incorporate spirituality into their approach can choose to shift their mindset from a combative, ego-driven stance to one that intentionally seeks common ground. They can approach conflicts with curiosity and a goal of compromising, asking thoughtful questions and observing closely to understand triggers and underlying motivations. By recognizing the pain points of all parties involved and focusing on finding an empathetic, mutual resolution, leaders can foster an atmosphere of collaboration, earn a positive reputation amongst partners, and create win-win outcomes for all.

When confronted with a conflict, approach it with the intention of compromise rather than defensiveness. Take a breath and really hear the other point of view before reacting.

Ask thoughtful questions to understand the root causes and motivations involved. Seek common ground and focus on empathetic, mutually beneficial resolutions. Sometimes, on the other side of conflict is a closer bond and better partnership.

4. Regulate your mind-body connection: The mind-body connection determines so much of how we move through our days and experience the world, yet it's very often neglected or forgotten in business. By introducing physical and psychological practices that can regulate the parasympathetic nervous system (such as breathwork, meditation and exercise), leaders can ground themselves in the present moment, harness a sense of inner peace, reduce stress, gain mental clarity, expand their perspective, increase productivity and navigate complex situations that impact the people, partners, and businesses they are guiding. There is no shame in taking breaks to reconnect with our bodies – in fact, I would argue that the ability to step away in order to elevate outcomes and interpersonal interactions is a leader's superpower that must be learned and continually refined.

Incorporate regular physical and psychological practices into your routine, such as meditation, breathwork, or exercise. These practices will help you reduce stress, gain mental clarity, and increase productivity. Getting out of the head and into the body can help us use all of our senses to navigate instead of just our thoughts.

5. Release attachment and embrace flow: One of the most proven, profitable and productive states of being in business (and in life) is that of "flow." Coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as a positive psychology principle, flow is an experience in which we become so immersed in the task at hand that nothing else matters at that moment. It is marked by creativity, genius and bliss. When a leader can tap into a flow state, innovation occurs, solutions arise, productivity is unparalleled and fulfillment in one's work is at its highest. We are never more present or receptive than when we are able to achieve a flow state. Part of this practice requires us to release our white-knuckled grip on outcomes and expectations to leave space for unexpected opportunities and possibilities to flow in. As distractions, conflicts, and the tension of attachment flow out of that space, we have the best chance of finding the best next step for our business.

When we encounter conflicts, it's important to initially acknowledge that everyone involved may have contributed to the situation without necessarily focusing on assigning blame. A shaman I met in Costa Rica once shared a valuable insight with me: "When we respond to conflict with more conflict, we only make the situation worse. But when we respond with love, there's a chance that love may be returned." This doesn't imply becoming overly emotional during a discussion but rather emphasizes the importance of actively listening to the other party, understanding their underlying needs and concerns, and being willing to find middle ground by making compromises that address both their needs and our own.

Learn to release attachment to specific outcomes and expectations. Create an environment that allows for unexpected opportunities and possibilities to flow in. When distractions and conflicts arise, practice letting them flow out of your mental space, giving you room to find the best next step for your business. Be unattached to exact outcomes which opens up bigger possibilities.

As the landscape of business continues to evolve, leaders who learn how to combine spirituality with practicality and reason will possess an invaluable edge. By enhancing intuition, understanding the needs of others, resolving conflicts compassionately, staying grounded, and embracing the flow of opportunities, they will be able to make more impactful decisions, inspire their teams, and, ultimately, achieve sustainable success.

Rachael McCrary

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO and Founder of Gather Labs

Rachael McCrary is the founder and CEO of Gather Labs, the first vertically integrated, high-complexity CLIA laboratory to offer same-day lab results for over 100 diagnostics tests. As an entrepreneur in tech and fashion, McCrary crafts practical solutions to enhance core consumer experiences.

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