Taking a Mindful Approach to Leading in Today’s New Normal


  • Dana D’Orazio
December 17, 2020 - (5 min read)

Normal is nothing like we used to define it. Our day-to-day existing, living and working looks, feels and is in every way very different. So, what does this mean for those on the front lines, making critical decisions and leading cities, towns and villages? Support, resources and community is NLC University’s response. In addition to the annual offerings NLCU is launching even more community learning to support you starting this January!   

Let’s talk psychology and neuroscience – our brains are overtaxed, in constant fight or flight mode, we are getting hijacked by our amygdala which means we are often reacting versus responding. In usual circumstances this type of response can be a saving grace, but right now it is overriding our ability to focus, decide and plan (prefrontal cortex) and keeping us on high alert due to the constant stress of now.  When we are in this triggered response state, cortisol is coursing through our body and we’re wearing ourselves out from this all-night watch that has turned into days, weeks, and months.

You might be nodding your head in agreement or maybe a little in despair, but you’re not alone and you can take action now to have a working strategy for the future. Borrowing from the mindfulness tradition and the three breaths approach, this process of reclaiming your calm and centered core has three steps: 1-reset /reconnect; 2- resource; 3- proceed. Below you’ll find a guide to start with self and then use this three-step process to help you lead and live more grounded and connected.

Starting with self is the first step to regaining our balance and taking a mindful approach to leadership. This can sound impossible at the moment but if not now, then when? This is not a holding our breath contest and eventually we need to exhale.

Reset + Reconnect

Before we can do anything, we need to hit pause, reset, and tune in. That’s where breathwork, mindfulness and meditation enter. If we can pause and reset our brains, get the prefrontal cortex back online and our amygdala back in check, we can move to a more balanced place from which to lead and live.


Once we reset, we can actually take inventory of what we need (lunch, a quick breath of fresh air, a moment to just get up and walk around). We can access our rational thinking and get back in touch with our non-hijacked self so we can identify the resources we need and choose versus react.


Rooted in this calm core we can take action with intention- make the sandwich, get up and stretch, etc.

Starting with self is the first step to regaining our balance and taking a mindful approach to leadership. This can sound impossible at the moment but if not now, then when?

Right now:

Wherever you are, take a moment to pause- take an inhale and exhale; on your next breath note the body (feet on the floor, seat in the chair); on your next breath ask yourself, “What’s most important right now in this moment?”


Join the NLCU Tuesday 15-minute Meditation + Mindfulness practice. So now how do you take this into the rest of your life? It’s the same three steps with different resources.

Reset + Reconnect:

Where are you leading from? Amygdala hijacked or balanced prefrontal cortex thinking? Revisit what leading means to you; how and why do you lead? Why is it important not just to you, but to those around you that you serve?


In community, gain support, resources, and strategies to lead during uncertain and unprecedented times by returning back to the core of your leadership ethos and gain some new insights through dialogue and interacting with your peers.


Refocus and recenter, and lead and live connected to your core self and your intention.

Right now strategy:

Explore what and who can support you in this work- make a list and set a timeframe for exploration and action. Start writing- journal, list-making, whatever might help you move to resourced. The act of movement (writing) and seeing the list of support can do wonders to get you back to choosing versus feeling overwhelmed and reacting.

Join the NLC University learning community and our human-centered leadership initiative for our Winter Semester offerings:

Professional Certificate in Human-Centered Leadership – NLCU + American University – Register before January 4th to reserve your spot! (limited to 12 participants)

  • Thursdays from 10:00 AM–1:00 PM, February 4 – April 29, 2021
  • Orientation is scheduled for Wednesday, February 3, 2021 – 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM ET
  • We curated a professional certificate just for NLC members and are excited to partner with one of the top 5 Public Policy Schools!

Virtual Leading Through Disruption with Former Mayor of Minneapolis, Betsy Hodges – Earn up to 6 CEUs and a 20% discount on tuition towards an online MPA at Tulane University

  • Leading Through Disruption – Part 1, Navigating Innovation + Change
    • January 26th – February 16th 1:00PM-2:15PM EST
  • Leading Through Disruption – Part 2, Inclusive Leadership
    • February 23rd – March 16th 1:00PM-2:15PM EST

Learn More

We can’t wait to support your life-long leading and learning at NLC University! Come join our learning community and take the mindful approach to leadership!

About the Author

Dana D’Orazio

About the Author

Dana D’Orazio is the Director of Leadership, Development & Continuing Education at the National League of Cities.