Your day starts with the alarm beeping and then the very next moment you have this strong impulse to check for a missed call, a text or an important email. From the moment you wake up, you are filled with anxious thoughts or a sense of urgency. You are basically sabotaging the chances of having a good day before you even begin. So how can you, as a leader, find a sense of stability when you have an overflowing inbox, notifications, employee conflicts and immediate client requests to take care of? The answer may lie in Mindful leadership.
Jon-Kabat-Zinn (revolutionary American professor to bring mindfulness meditation to the West) typically describes mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Mindful practices include focusing on your breath for a few minutes, writing a journal or prayer.
The technological advancements have diminished our ability to focus, remember and recall. The dangers are unfathomable and so is the need to gain clarity if we want to thrive and survive as a business. Mindfulness comes like a breath of fresh air for our minds in this world full of distractions.
Worldview on Mindfulness
Decisions are becoming more complex than ever and in order to make one, leaders need to train their minds. Whether you are a corporate leader, a political leader or a spiritual leader, people rely on you for a lot of significant decisions. It becomes even more imperative to isolate crucial thoughts from mental garbage. However, mindfulness training can neither be a quick fix nor can it be a forced practice. Mindfulness is a discipline oriented practice, which when performed daily can give you immense clarity and better decision-making skills.
Meditation and mindfulness have been explored by a lot of organizations in the west already and have reaped the benefits. Aetna, a health insurance company decided to do an early research on how yoga and meditation affect your health. They discovered that if performed daily, it can save up to $2000/ employee healthcare cost and increased productivity by $3000/employee.
Google has an in-house meditation center. A former employee Chad-meng-li started the mindfulness revolution in Google when he published his technique to solve for world peace. The technique as we know it is called, Search Inside Yourself and his work has been nominated eight times for Nobel peace prize. Steve Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Bill George are few of the top leaders around the globe who swear by the benefits of meditation. Today the list of companies adopting mindfulness for leaders is increasing exponentially. Fortune 500 companies like Blackrock and Goldman Sachs too are in this league.
What is mindful leadership and how can it benefit you?
From the anecdotal evidence of a lot of leaders, here is the list of a couple of things mindful leadership does,
1. Increases self-awareness
2. Allows you to empower people
3. Increases Focus & concentration
4. Better Time management
5. Improved Judgement and decision making
6. Better Ability to deal with conflict
7. Increased Productivity
8. Ability to deal with stress
Why is mindfulness so potent?
In a minute, almost 37 million connections are created in the brain. Our brain uses the environmental and genetic information to create the neural pathways. If we are constantly in the fight or flight mode, it will create stagnant stress pathways in the brain, prohibiting us from being calm, composed and oftentimes innovative. Mindfulness not only channelize your thoughts it also alters the structure of your brain and the concept is known as neuroplasticity. Immense research is going around the world today on the benefits of mindfulness and it has never disappointed anyone.
With the increasing knowledge on the roles of a future leader, we are finding that an effective leader will require the ability to stay calm, composed, self-aware and centered during complex decision-making. Additionally, research reveals that the best leaders have adopted the art of mindfulness to manage the sustained rush of information and stimuli to stay grounded and compassionate. We have listed five important changes mindful leadership can bring to the organization.
The biggest communication problem is we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply. Regular mindfulness practice increases the ability to focus on what is being said and process the information non-judgmentally. Strong communication from the leaders has a cascading effect. When the communication is transparent, the company culture becomes transparent too.
Better decision making
Mindful leadership makes you more aware of the present moment. We are all guilty of replying to the emails or talking to our colleagues during an important meeting or conference call. Mindfulness cures the corporate FOMO and allows you to work on one task at a time. With a focused mind, redundancy can be reduced, meetings can be made crisper and better managed, email replies can be prioritized in a better way.
A research conducted by mindful.org on 57 people as a part of their mindful leadership programme, found that people who performed mindfulness as taught daily over a course of 2 months resulted in increased resilience, ability to collaborate and leading in complex times.
A culture of Innovation and creativity
Mindfulness meditation enhances divergent thinking. Meditating before brainstorming and ideation sessions make you less distracted, fully focused and produce higher quality initial ideas. The Walt Disney Company was an early adopter of meditation in the workplace since they noticed a dramatic increase in creativity when employees meditated on creative solutions.
Empathy and compassion
Compassion is about a true understanding of emotional upheavals that cause sufferings and empathy is the art of evaluating the situation by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. In workplaces, we often see tiffs between the boss and the employees and we have heard that so many decisions are based on the grudges we hold. Mindfulness allows you to become more self- aware and kind and understand the situation at hand with an open mind. When you are emotionally stable you can easily put aside the negative emotions and evaluate the situation in an unbiased manner.
A culture of healthy and mindful employees
The workplace stress cost is approx. $300 billion annually alone in the USA. One of the earliest research conducted by Duke University shows a 20% reduction in stress and an increased productivity of 62 mins/ week/ employee. Imagine what it can do for the business if every employee is on the path of mindful leadership.
Mindful Leadership begins with a disciplined practice
Mindfulness will not work like a magic wand to erase all your problems, it will provide you with the pen to write a better story.
People who tell you that meditation is a very difficult practice are wrong. The only thing that’s difficult is discipline.
For 10 seconds, close your eyes and focus your attention on your normal breath. Feel the air touching your nostrils when you breathe.
Chade-Meng-Tan from SIY calls them a 10-second dumbbell curl for the brain. In order to train your brain, increase these 10 seconds to 10 minutes. This is where the real struggle begins. It is very easy to focus for 10 seconds but in 10 minutes your mind will start drifting and a whole new array of thoughts will be presented (maybe a bunch of bananas that make no sense).
The essence of discipline now come into the picture. If you do this daily, even a practice of 100 minutes will make a huge difference. That’s 10 minutes for 10 days. Gradually make 10 days to 100 days and see your life change.
1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. However, you can even sit on a chair to do it. You can choose from a list of postures here.
2. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Although it is recommended to focus on your normal breathing, some people find it very difficult. In that case, deep inhalation/exhalation is suggested.
3. Focus on the air touching your nostrils. Try to move your senses along with the flow of the air inside the body.
4. Try to maintain the focus. If you get distracted, bring your focus back to the breath.
5. Continue this for at least 10 mins in the morning or evening.
Over time you will be able to create a sustained attention and increase your focus and productivity. This practice will also make you more self-aware, kind towards yourself and others, and a mindful leader.
Mindfulness is not the only practice
Several spiritual traditions exist across the world. Mindfulness is one of them and has its roots in Buddhism. However, if you prefer other meditation techniques, go ahead. As long as you are making an effort to stay sane, it is commendable. Just like a workout needs discipline and commitment, meditation will not work unless you are committed.
If you want to explore other methods, you can try yoga, Hindu meditations, Taoist or Zen meditation practices. If you’re a beginner and have no idea where to start, a hand holding beginners guide to meditation is all you need.
Though promoted majorly as a stress management technique or an emotional intelligence technique, mindfulness offers a lot more if you commit to the practice. Some organizations have been throwing the term loosely or have been offering introductory practices to the leaders and hence it falls flat. If you really want to reap the benefits of mindful leadership, a daily practice is what you should adopt.
A mindful leader is capable of empathizing with the team, capable of taking tough decisions whilst staying calm during turbulence. Be one.
Chakshu is a US alliance certified yoga teacher, a biotechnologist and an Ayurveda evangelist. Her passion is to help people live a toxic-free life, emotionally and chemically. She loves reading self-help books. When she is not writing, she is busy thinking about life.