Why Become a Mindful Leader?

(This blog was first published in April, 2013 at The Integral Business Leadership Group’s website and blog)

This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” ― Alan Watts

You cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first.” – Peter F. Drucker

Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, recently published an article about mindfulness and its connection to the corporate bottom line, which generated a lot of buzz in the online community. As Integral Leadership Coaches and mindful leadership practitioners, we always appreciate when our craft and industry are discussed in mainstream media by influential public figures. In today’s business environment, where complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty rule the day, we see mindful leadership as an essential part of being more effective and satisfied in work and life. To have that philosophy endorsed by today’s business leaders is very gratifying and essential to our work.

As it happens, my personal mindfulness practice deepened in 2007 when I was CEO of a fast growing internet company and my leadership capacity benefited from it quickly and in countless ways. That’s one of the reasons I am so excited to see this practice rapidly gaining popularity among other business leaders as well.

Productivity rests on focused human attention.” – Dr. Jeremy Hunter, Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management

So why become a Mindful Leader?  Leading, independent experts on mindfulness, Maria Gonzales and Jon Kabat-Zinn, believe the following reasons are key:

  • To see things the way they really are
  • To pay attention non-judgementally in the present moment

Wouldn’t you agree that high capacity in the above competencies would be incredibly valuable for any business leader? How about for anyone?

When adding the below facts to this, even the most skeptical of minds tend to, at the very least, become curious about mindfulness:

  • Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Apple, Intel, Medium, Starbucks and General Mills have become advocates of the value of this practice to their business and leadership development, and some have even developed their own programs (perhaps most notable Google’s “Search Inside Yourself”-program created by Chade-Meng Tan with support from CEO Larry Page)
  • The benefit of mindfulness has been praised by high-profile leaders such as Evan Williams (Twitter co-founder), Arianna Huffington (President of The Huffington Post), William Ford (of Ford Motor Company), Bill George (Harvard Professor in leadership/management and former CEO of Meditronic), Mark Bertolini (CEO of Aetna), Bob Shapiro (formerly CEO of Monsanto), Salesforce.com’s Marc Beniof, and the late Steve Jobs of Apple
  • An increasing number of professors at some of the most prestigious schools in the world, such as Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Peter F. Drucker School of Management, are proponents of mindfulness training for business leaders and executives

Our findings indicate that a short training program in mindfulness meditation has demonstrable effects on brain and immune function.” – Professor Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin

It has been said that if meditation (which we are referring to as “formal” mindfulness training for the purposes of this article) existed in pill form, it would be in everyone’s medicine cabinet. The challenge is that, like physical exercise, mindfulness and meditation practice is something we have to engage in consistently by consciously devoting attention and energy to it over time. In fact, and contrary to conventional belief, mindfulness and mindful leadership can be said to be all about full engagement.

Interestingly, this is where many people tend to lose interest. Perhaps “full engagement” sounds too exhausting, but in my experience nothing could be further from the truth. Full engagement is about being fully present, to be total in what you do, whatever it is. The good news is that we all have this innate capacity and it can be further cultivated in anyone through regular practice. Seemingly, it’s well worth the effort. Also in my own experience, with patience and over time, things in general become increasingly effortless, including the practice itself.

In addition, many mindfulness and meditation practitioners report that the practice has made them more sensitive yet less emotionally reactive. How can this be possible? When we practice meditation we become more adept at simply staying present to what is without springing into action or taking our interpretations as absolute truth. Instead we bare witness to whatever arises in our awareness regardless of how we think and feel about it (e.g. thinking something bad is happening and feeling like running away or numbing out but instead choosing to remain still, present and connected). This builds real inner strength. Also, with time and practice, we see that our “problems” are largely not created by external events and situations (as it so often seems at first glance) but instead originate in conditioned, habitual and unconscious reactions. The reaction is the real problem – not the trigger. This gives Mindful Leaders more power to generate productive and effective action along with increased capacity for remaining grounded, connected and response-able in situations where others may fall victim to unproductive knee-jerk reactions (often despite their best intentions). This is of immense value for everyone involved but, perhaps most importantly, it creates greater happiness, freedom and power.

“In all activities of life, the secret of efficiency lies in an ability to combine two seemingly incompatible states: a state of maximum activity and a state of maximum relaxation.” – Aldous Huxley

So, what can you do to become a more Mindful Leader right now?

  • Throughout your day take a minute to stop whatever you are doing, sit back and center your attention on your breath. This means really feeling your breath. For each in-breath feel your body coming alive and with each out-breath let go of everything.
  • Practice being fully present whether you are listening to a team member, working on a strategic plan, thinking (this may sound paradoxical but there is a vast difference between mindful thinking versus compulsive and unconscious thinking), or preparing for a presentation. Simply give whatever you are doing your full attention.
  • Hire a coach that provides Mindful Leadership Coaching (this demands a long-standing personal mindfulness practice)
  • Read one or more of our favorite books or articles or watch a video on leadership and meditation/mindfulness at work (see list below)

Books

Articles

Videos

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini speaking about mindfulness and leadership at a Wisdom 2.0 conference (6:34 min):

How legendary NBA Coach Phil Jackson taught his teams mindfulness (4:50 min):

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”- Lao Tzu

 

 


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