"Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them towards shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles."
~ William W. George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, former chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, author of four best-selling books.
In the past few years, we have seen a veritable explosion of research into the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Many researchers have been surprised by the depth and breadth of positive changes seen in individuals who have learned and practiced these skills. As many of us know, the data are showing that those who practice meditation experience improvements not only in measures of health, such as stress levels, blood pressure and chronic pain, but also in aspects of job performance, such as focus, emotional regulation, creativity and working memory capacity. And additional studies show links to improved overall life satisfaction through increased social connectedness, decreased anxiety and depression and increased empathy and compassion.
Mindfulness, the practice of simply being aware of what is happening right now, in this moment, and exploring that awareness with a non-judgmental attitude, is a skill that, despite its simplicity, takes effort and repetition. In our 24/7, on-call culture, we have seemingly forgotten what it means to “pay attention” to our lives, and both our personal and work lives can suffer for it.
We are seeing more and more how an individual who practices mindfulness naturally brings the benefits to work, often improving both the experience of work, related job performance and even organizational culture as a whole.
As I noted in my 2012 blog post, businesses of all types have embraced the fact that the wellbeing of their employees improves the health of the company, and mindfulness has become an accepted component of wellness programs, joining such mainstays as yoga and exercise. We are hearing more about the well-known leaders who practice mindfulness, such as Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, just to name a few, and we are learning more about companies that are integrating and expanding these offerings. Intel, for example, has had such success with their Awake@Intel program that they are expanding it worldwide through an internal train the trainer program.
Executives and leaders can benefit from practicing mindfulness in a particular way. Although the health and work performance improvements alone would likely convince most skeptics, management-related benefits are becoming increasingly apparent as well. Leaders at work influence not only their own careers, but also the direction of the entire organization, and with it the livelihoods and wellbeing of all of their employees.
The consequences of a poor decision made by an executive in reactive, auto-pilot mode, are felt more broadly than most as effects spread throughout the organizational strategy and culture. Even the products produced and services provided bear the imprint of choices made at the top.
Awareness & Intention:
For executives, learning to do nothing to achieve more is counter-intuitive. But what is often found once one begins to pay attention is that the very drive that has brought success thus far may in fact be blocking future success. Mindfulness allows the mind to begin to recognize the patterns and habits, the stories and tape-loops that run a constant commentary on the happenings of the day. Once that awareness is developed, the commentary can be challenged and resulting behaviors can be shifted towards wisdom and intentional choice.
Focus & Clarity:
Mindfulness helps improve strategizing, the decision-making process and the resulting decisions because the brain is able to be present and focused on what is actually on the table. As a result, a leader is able to see more clearly the factors at play and respond more appropriately. Rather than reactive interpretations or pre-conceived expectations, perspectives are widened and calmed. Much like “mental hygiene”, mindfulness clears out the clutter and stories so that the workday can be managed with more clarity and creativity, and decisions are made more consciously, with clear awareness of both their the roots and results.
Connection between human beings is at the core of much of the business world. Mindfulness can facilitate interpersonal communications by increasing openness and improving listening skills. When we are more available to hear the message being communicated, we can see opportunity rather than obstacle and connection instead of just conflict. We have all likely encountered the experience of talking without being heard, and the feeling of being misunderstood or even neglected. The practice of mindful listening builds the skill of real communication, on both the individual level and on a more global scale. The leader who hears the customer or client is more likely to provide a better service or product and the executive who can clearly articulate the vision is more likely to gain support with employees.
A Few Mindful Leadership Articles
- Developing Mindful Leaders- Harvard Business Review, Dec 2011
- The Mind Business- Financial Times Magazine, Aug 2012
- Mindfulness Helps You Become a Better Leader –Harvard Business Review Oct 2012
- Practicing Mindful Leadership- T & D by ASTD, March 2013
- Is Mindfulness Good for Business?- Mindful, April 2013
- Meditate for More Profitable Decisions- Insead, Sept 2013
- The Mindfulness Business- The Economist, Nov 2013
- Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity- Harvard Business Review, March 2014
- Become a Mindful Leader: Slow Down to Move Faster- Forbes, March 2014
- There’s no price tag on a clear mind: Intel to launch mindfulness program- The Guardian, April 2014