Time magazine famously announced the ‘mindfulness revolution’ back in 2012; since then, the UK government has announced it wants their country to become a ‘mindful nation’.
The Buddhist skill of mindfulness was first introduced into the Western world in the late 1970s, due its capacity to reduce stress and improve wellbeing, the aspect many organisations still highlight today when embracing mindfulness.
However, it has much more to offer to business leaders who run organisations in a volatile and uncertain environment, where complexity, information overload and constant connectivity exert enormous pressures.
Mindfulness is about managing the most precious productive resource, the human mind, learning to see its internal processes, habits and how they lead to patterns of behaviour often leaving us unaware about what we do and why.
It is also about choosing ethical and wise action to minimise harm to self and others. This requires training attention, developing compassion, and embracing new attitudes to see multiple perceptual lenses that colour our view of reality and define how we react to whatever unravels around.
Why mindfulness is important for business leaders:
Constant pressure of executive jobs may undermine clarity of thinking, but mindfulness creates a mental muscle to monitor one’s thoughts and emotions as they arise, creating a space for choice instead of acting on impulse. For example, a tendency for quick action to fix the problem may not be what the situation requires. Check your intention, ask yourself if you act out of self-protection, reacting to fear of failure to deliver what others expect of you. Recognising and controlling a compulsive need to fix leads to a genuine attempt to understand the situation.
Decision-making in the age of complexity cannot rely on traditional analysis alone, ignoring other, more subtle, information. Mindfulness techniques forge a mind-body connection and train attention to notice sensations in one’s body (e.g., a rise and drop in energy) as well as read others with enhanced accuracy (e.g., are they being genuine or telling you what you want to hear?).
Positive organisational climate
Executive power comes with responsibility to create and maintain a positive organisational climate, where people feel energised to do their best possible work. To deliver that, leaders need self-awareness and commitment to their own well-being. Their mind state and emotions are contagious and high stress levels may limit their intentions to self-preservation. The result is being perceived as unapproachable. Mindfulness trains moment-to-moment self-awareness and the ability to optimise one’s internal state for effective leadership. For example, it is crucial to acknowledge negative emotions and thoughts. When we use mindfulness to accept them as an experience that comes and goes and explore them with curiosity, they dissipate. When we supress them, the result is quite the opposite.
Authentic connection with stakeholders
Businesses exist to provide an avenue for human beings to exchange value, making employees and customers most important stakeholders. Deep understanding of their needs and perspectives is only possible when we approach human interaction with empathy and compassion, being open to whatever arises. Mindfulness helps keep one’s ego in check, exposing any tendency to judge others or their ideas and seek refuge in a ‘right or wrong’ mindset. This opens a door for continuous learning and staying open to possibilities instead of looking for the right answer.
Dr Olga Muzychenko is Lecturer at the Adelaide Business School, University of Adelaide. She has designed mindfulness training for leaders and delivers it as part of the Adelaide MBA program. Dharmesh Raman is Director at Peter Shearer. He took mindfulness training as part of his Adelaide MBA studies and now applies it to practice.
This piece originally appeared in The Advertiser as “Benefits of learning to manage your mind” on 14 October.