Mindfulness is a leadership skill you can learn, practice, and master.
While mindfulness may sound like some kind of a new fad, due to the increased media coverage on the subject, it is actually a leadership skill that goes back several decades. A recent article in Harvard Business Review notes that Pierre Wack, head of Group Planning at Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s and the famed creator of scenario planning, studied meditation extensively with teachers in Asia over forty years ago. Planning well, according to Wack, required “training the mind.”
Quieting the mind, the essence of mindfulness, allows us to be cognitively receptive to new, and especially unexpected, sources of information. As Jim Butcher wrote in Harvard Business Review (May 2018), “mindfulness can help leaders to see past the storylines and narratives that unconsciously guide their traditional thinking. This can help individuals and firms break free from the tyranny of unexamined assumptions.”
I agree with Butcher’s assertion that mindfulness is more than a mental fitness tool. As he says, “it’s an asset for leaders seeking to perceive — and re-perceive — the world and make better strategic choices.”
Perhaps this is why meditation — a core conduit (but not a prerequisite) to mindfulness — is practiced by so many corporate leaders, including Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates; Russell Simmons, Chair and CEO of Rush Communications; Jeff Weiner, CEO at LinkedIn; Marc Benioff, founder of SalesForce; and Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company.
Workplace implementation is not limited to just the C-suites, either. Aetna has fully incorporated mindfulness into its corporate culture, including creating the position of a Chief Mindfulness Officer. According to an article in Healthy Workplace, participants in Aetna’s corporate-wide mindfulness program are “regaining 62 minutes per week of productivity.” This approximates to roughly $3000 per person per annum in productivity gains for the insurance giant.
Other companies employing various types of mindfulness and meditation programs for employees include Google, Goldman Sachs, General Mills, Intel, Nike, and Apple. In fact, a study conducted jointly by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health revealed that approximately 20% of the companies surveyed offer mindfulness training to employees, with another 21% planning to do so in the near future. It has been estimated that mindfulness training is already a $1B-plus industry in the U.S. and growing exponentially at a rapid pace.
As a leader, mindfulness is the habit of pausing and checking in with yourself during times of stress or when things are getting chaotic and out of control. By pausing and using mindfulness techniques, leaders can take their brains off autopilot mode and truly engage with the here and now. It is effectively a conscious mindset switch, which makes it a skill you can learn, practice, and master.
Mindfulness can also help you detect negative emotions as they arise, and learn ways to keep these from escalating into emotional outbursts or meltdowns.
By being more mindful of your body, you can detect tension, anxiety, doubt, and other feelings as they start to occur, rather than after you have been emotionally hijacked. Mindfulness taps into the signals your body sends you, such as faster heartbeats, tensing of muscles, queasiness in the gut, and shallow breathing, all of which are physical signals related to negative emotions and feelings.
This article is excerpted from my recent book Better Decisions Better Thinking Better Outcomes:How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership. It is available on Amazon in both paperback ($18.88) and Kindle ($7.88).