Sep 25

What mindfulness can teach us in leadership and management

When you hear the term ‘mindfulness’ do you immediately think ‘superfood’?

I only ask because there is an unfortunate parallel between business fads and food fads.  Each has a tendency to allow massive spin to hurtle the latest management-concept / foodstuff into any receptive zeitgeist where it promises to change and improve lives in ways never formerly considered! 

Not without regret, I recall the period in my life where I thought blueberries would shape and tone me into physiological excellence. Then there was the turmeric period…

Mindfulness is not a fad

In fact, mindfulness has ancient precedents in Buddhism where meditation comprises part of the spiritual practices of millennial-long traditions. Even in our first-world, fashion-fuelled discourse on best practice management, mindfulness has precedents in clinical psychology and psychiatry where it has been incorporated since at least the 1970s to help people experiencing a variety of psychological conditions.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who first wrote about mindfulness in the 1970s, has more recently published an influential book called, “Work: How to find meaning and joy in each hour of the day” (2012). He writes:

“When you get up, instead of rushing to get ready for work, you can think about how you want to live your day. Taking a few moments to clarify your aspirations or intentions for the day helps you stay open to whatever is happening and helps you remember that this is a brand-new day, a new beginning, and that you can choose to live the day with mindfulness and compassion”. (p.18)

In a way, that summarises the value and importance of mindfulness in business and management. Although it is a practice which can be embraced collectively, it is deeply personal. It only works if it is adopted with an open and sincere heart.

It is much more about individual clarity and happiness than it is about productivity or the bottom line (although both productivity and the bottom line have been shown to benefit when mindfulness is employed as a management practice).

Happiness at work

Mindfulness at work is very much related to a mindset freed from stress, distractions, resentments, and the sensation of futility or meaninglessness. In other words, it aspires to a state very akin to happiness.

Many of us lose sight of happiness as a reasonable possibility at work. In fact, it is self-defeating to aspire to anything less. 

In her book, “The Happiness Track” (2016), Emma Sappälä provides the latest research and advice on thriving in your profession and staying true to yourself, including focusing on the present and finding calm. She defines happiness thus:

Happiness – defined as a state of heightened positive emotion – has a profound positive effect on our professional and personal lives. It increases our emotional and social intelligence, boosts our productivity, and heightens our influence over peers and colleagues. These are the very ingredients that allow us to be successful without having to sacrifice our health and psychological well-being.”(p.8)

Mindfulness and Positive Psychology

Heather Craig has written an outstanding article which expertly summarises the practice, the researched outcomes for business and the demonstrable individual benefits of mindfulness. Entitled, “Mindfulness at Work: Using Mindful Leadership in the Workplace”, she defines mindfulness as:

a receptive attention to and awareness of present moment events and experiences,

She summarises the proven benefits of mindfulness in the workplace thus:

  • Improved Social Relationships – which in turn “buffer the effects of workplace stressors, promote thriving in employees, and foster communication, creativity and citizenship behaviours”.

  • Resilience – mindfulness helps you to be positive in your approach to others, and “in addition, it protects [you] from the negative emotions and agitation of another person by regulating affect appropriately and decreasing reactivity”. 

  • Enhanced Task Performance – the degree of this depends on the nature of the task, and the contextual factors of the work, but productivity is shown to increase where mindfulness is practiced.  

  • Improved Intuition – “Mindfulness also promotes an awareness of ‘gut feelings’ and it has been suggested that tapping into these intuitions may facilitate improved task performance when the level of expertise is high.” 

  • Job Satisfaction and Motivation – “Mindfulness may be positively related to job satisfaction, because mindfulness facilitates more adaptive appraisals of work stressors.”

  • Work Stress – Mindfulness can help combat and manage employee stress. 

  • Leadership Development – “A lack of self-awareness is found to be the single biggest factor in derailment of high potential leaders”.

  • Enhanced Employee Engagement – Mindfulness can enhance engagement and decrease burnout.

  • Coping with Change – Mindfulness can help employees overcome resistance to change.

Very Busy, Very Important

This was a clever badge worn by not very busy and not very important people in the 1990s. It remains a well targeted taunt, I feel.

Think honestly about how much of your day is spent rushing, distracted by emotions, smartphone and deadlines. Does the mere thought of your own busy-ness cause a physiological reaction that seizes your heart and your breath? If your busy-ness affects you this way, how do you think it affects the people who are hoping to get your input or guidance?

In an article, “How Mindfulness Can Make You a Better Manager”, Victor Lipman writes:

Management is, after all, the practice of accomplishing work through others. How we treat those others is a key element in this workplace equation.

Sometimes our displays of busy-ness are unconsciously self-regarding, meant at some level to signal, yes, how very important we are.

The truth is that, to be a mindful workplace leader, you must learn how to skilfully regulate your own life. As Heather Craig points out, how else can you lead others with wisdom and clarity? A mindful leader will lead with gratitude, humility, courage, integrity and authenticity.

No-one gets there by combatting frantic workaday stresses. Let’s give Buddha the last word:

Your work is to discover your work and then, with all your heart, give yourself to it.

Promoting Mindfulness at work

If you would like to promote mindfulness in your workplace, then enrol your teams in Mooski, Worklogic’s new three week, delightful online team building experience, where colleagues get to know each other better and reflect on their own individual traits, values, strengths and work relationships.