Essentialism Is an Important Practice of Mindfulness (Part 2 of 2)

Anne Bruce

Anne Bruce

Author and Leadership Consultant

Published September 03, 2014

Do Less, but Do It Better.

Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, a monthly column by best-selling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.

Welcome to Part 2 of my article on essentialism and mindfulness. In Part 1, I explain that when we are mindful, we choose to live by design. When we marry mindfulness with essentialism, we expand our capacity to be all that we can be. We reclaim the power of making better choices by focusing on what really matters, or what is absolutely essential. We cut out a lot of the so-called "white noise" that can distract us or suck the energy out of us — distractions that are prevalent in acute care settings.

In Part 1, we talked about the differences between essentialist and non-essentialist thinking. Now let's take a look at how these habits of mind can make us more effective healthcare providers and leaders.

Putting Pressure on Ourselves

Do you feel it? The relentless pressure to try to do it all for your leadership, your patients and your team? Are you trying to sample all the good things in life at once by saying yes to every high-profile project? Or are you participating in too many things that you thought would showcase all of your talents at once?

The reality is that none of us can make real progress by taking too much on at once. We simply can't make a difference if we try to do it all. Instead, you might be in danger of spreading yourself so thin that you wind up making no impact of any kind — zero. In the words of author Greg McKeown, you end up "making just a millimeter of progress in a million directions."

Decisions, Decisions

So much of what's causing us to feel unfocused is the preponderance of choices we have available to us. In Part 1, we introduced the concept of decision fatigue. Particularly in healthcare, the sheer number of differential diagnoses and treatment options available can overwhelm us — particularly at the end of a long shift. Having too many choices hurts our ability to manage what we choose so that we can truly be our best.

It's worth remembering that this goes for patients too. Today's patients want to play an active role in their care, which is a good thing. But care decisions are inherently complex and often fraught with emotion. Is that pricey new drug being advertised in the magazines really worth the cost? Which hospital is really best for hip replacement surgery? Should a child with the sniffles take an antibiotic, or is watchful waiting a better idea? These decisions can be difficult for sick patients and worried families to navigate.

Essentialism holds the key to solving one of the great puzzles in life: How can we do less but accomplish more? This question is particularly relevant in acute care settings, where busy providers, nurses and administrators must lead collaboratively.

Essentialist Teamwork

Mindful essentialism is as relevant to the way we lead teams as it is to the way we lead our lives. When we regain clearer purpose and higher-level clarity in our thinking, our team members are happier and more successful.

But what happens when non-essentialist leaders have their teams pursue too many things at one time, while they themselves are trying to accomplish too much?

Answer: The team simply plateaus. There's no spike in ongoing achievement and innovation.

When we stretch ourselves like rubber bands trying to be everything to everyone, we lose clarity and focus. This is when teams start wondering what they really stand for. They lose sight of the original goal.

Without a clear focus on what really matters, team members begin to experience confusion, frustration, stress and ultimately failure to perform at their highest level of competency and productivity. Or worse yet, people start resigning. Remember, people leave people, not organizations.

Fortunately, the formula for regaining clarity of purpose in our leadership is relatively simple:

Clarity = Mindfulness and Greater Essentialism

In other words,

Do Less, but Do It Better.

In the best-case scenario, the essentialist leader adopts a "less, but better" attitude, applying it to everything from talent selection and onboarding to teambuilding, accountability and communications. The result is a team that breaks through to the next higher level of performance and remains unified in the process.

Three Tips for Fostering Essentialism in Teamwork

1. Be Extremely Selective When Hiring

Hold out for the best hire. Be ridiculously picky.

When the pressure to perform is high, it may be tempting to hire a candidate who's "good enough." But hiring the wrong person is far costlier to the team than being one person short. One wrong hire often leads to multiple wrong hires. Stick to your guns and wait for a focused, highly motivated candidate.

On the same note, it's also wise to remove and reassign anyone who is holding the team back — at least until they are ready to progress forward.

2. Establish Crystal Clear (not "Pretty Clear") Intentions

If you catch yourself slipping into non-essentialist thinking, stop and refocus on what matters. Remember, clear intent leads to alignment among team members. Vague direction produces misalignment and blurred thinking.

3. Get to the Point and Check In Frequently

Directives from a non-essentialist leader are usually too general to be actionable. Mindful essentialists are specific when they communicate, leaving little room for confusion about what's to be done. In other words, essentialists communicate the right things to the right people at the right time. Boundaries and expectations are established.

Mindful essentialists give praise and other feedback in progress. They reward small wins along the way and help their team members remove barriers to getting the job done right the first time.

Mindful essentialism bolsters motivation within the healthcare system and allows medical practitioners, providers and ancillary staff to amplify their collective contribution while achieving something truly remarkable and sustainable.

Anne Bruce has provided training and performance coaching for MedAmerica and CEP America. She also serves as MBSI's Employee Development Coach and Leadership Facilitator. Anne is a bestselling author with more than 20 books published by McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York. She considers her award-winning life-coaching book, Discover True North: A 4-Week Approach to Ignite Passion and Activate Potential (McGraw-Hill Publishing) to be one of her most "mindful" books to date. She also leads a popular Discover True North Expedition group on LinkedIn. Anne can be reached at 214-507-8242 or by writing to her at

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