March 2018, Carole Gaskell on Association of MBAs
In today’s agile, dynamic, corporate environment, business curiosity has turned to mindfulness as a potential silver bullet to leverage sustainable growth, finding it invaluable for helping people get jobs done on time and under pressure. Steve Jobs placed huge importance on mindfulness and spoke about how it influenced his designs.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about creating ‘Inner space’ – sit quietly and focus on your breathing for two minutes. By watching your breath and noticing thoughts and sensations, you become aware of how the diverse internal and external stimuli can provoke automatic, immediate, unthinking responses in your thoughts, emotions, and actions. You notice how your mind operates, creating the space to respond effectively, and to be less reactive and more in touch with your emotions and to find space in stress. In between inhalation and exhalation, people find clarity and connect to their emotional intelligence and intuition by listening to how they are feeling and what their inner being is guiding them to do.
Does it really work?
Employers increasingly understand that they can only maximise the full potential of their employees if they are well functioning, healthy and resilient. Mindfulness can help organisations behave more intentionally. It improves psychological flexibility, awareness, improved emotional regulation, resilience, better decision-making, job performance, reduced absence rates and the ability to learn new tasks.
It has also proven to improve innovative thinking, communication skills and more appropriate reactions to stress. A study of computer-based knowledge workers suggested that it makes you better at serial-tasking, “permitting people both to concentrate more deeply and to switch between objects of attention more fluidly”. Scientific knowledge about the effects of secular mindfulness revolves around the “default mode network”, which the brain slips into when we’re resting. The more our minds wander, the less healthy and unhappy we are. Mindfulness helps people to “de-centre” from disruptive inner experiences, enabling them to see thinking as thinking, rather than something that drives their behaviour. From a scientific point of view, mindfulness thickens the brain’s cortex, lowers blood pressure and helps you to work more effectively.
Creating a culture of mindfulness
First, communicate WHY mindfulness is important such as, to bring more space to individuals and the business, and then connect it to the vision, purpose and strategy of an organisation. If the vision and goal is “sustainable growth,” then mindfulness aligns perfectly because a resilient workforce is key to a resilient business.
Second, have a variety of role models or ‘Mindfulness champions’, who behave in mindful ways such as how they conduct meetings and lead teams. Also, integrating mindfulness into strategic priorities supports the embedding process, for example aligning it with retention, talent advancement and innovation.
Visualising positive outcomes in meetings is also all part of being mindful. Leaders benefit from imagining organisational “end-states” during strategy sessions. Furthermore, mindfulness brings more space to strategic planning and team off-sites. To craft strategy on the basis of what Harvard’s Richard Chait and other scholars have called generative thinking, identify a coherent set of policies or actions in response to a problem or opportunity, and elucidate the full range of values, assumptions, and external factors at play in a decision-making situation. Take a step back and ask if the team has identified the right plans or solutions and the right questions and problems in the first place?
To help employees to adopt mindfulness practise, teach it in short sharp bursts over a few weeks and then have ‘formal practice,’ where you meditate and focus on your breath, regularly, daily. The real benefits come when they incorporate mindfulness into the moment every-day such as before sending important emails or before eating a meal.
What are its limitations and challenges?
Research shows that “busyness” was one of the most commonly cited reasons for lack of mindfulness practice but leaders who make real change are the ones that break through that self-defeating cycle of pressure.
Full Potential Group has worked with organisations to help leaders embrace mindfulness as part of their leadership and coaching style. To begin with, many feel awkward and reticent when learning the techniques. Once they’re over their initial embarrassment, managers are surprised at how easily they can quieten their mind and pay attention to their breath. The rewards are significant and the excitement of what they can achieve, is palpable.