Mindfulness for corporate leaders

Mindfulness for corporate leaders


WHO has identified stress
as the “health epidemic
of the 21st century”

We spend more time working than doing anything else, and researchers have found that, on average, this results in the least happy hours of our lives. In knowledge-based industries, the stress in working life accounts for a hefty part of work-place absences and huge losses in productivity.

In the current economic climate, employees are under pressure to perform with limited resources. According to business insiders, companies in the USA lose over USD 300 billion every year due to workplace stress. The American Institute of Stress states that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, and need help in learning how to cope with it. In the UK, Health and safety executives say, stress-related illnesses among employees cause businesses lose GBP 530 million a year. According to Medibank, research in Australia shows that employees are absent for 3.2 working days each year due to stress, costing the Australian economy about AUD 14.2 billion.

Effective working environment

Therefore, it is clear that employees’ mental health has a direct impact on the success and effectiveness of the company. Research into neuroscience and psychology shows the importance of “mental capital and wellbeing”. This new perspective is, increasingly, helping business leaders to see that the cognitive and emotional resources of organisational team members determine the health, resilience and future performance of their organisations.

One of the approaches that is used globally to overcome stress is mindfulness practice. Mindfulness training has been at the vanguard in organisations keen to experiment with innovations that develop the internal resources of individuals, and keep their minds healthy. As businesses invest in employees’ professional skills and physical health, mindfulness training as been at the forefront in benefitting all employees, across a broad spectrum of wellbeing.

Mindfulness is a natural capacity, present in all of us. It involves paying purposeful attention to our experience, with attitudes of openness and curiosity. We are all familiar with a distracted state of mind, often described as being on “autopilot”. This default inattentiveness from present experience can mean we react to life out of habit rather than care and consideration. When we spend more time alive to our experience, we unlock our potential for learning and growing to respond creatively to life and to corporate challenges.

With the speed of distraction today, our attention is under constant siege. We have entered the attention economy. Research shows that 47% of the time we are mentally off- task; said another way, we spend half of our time on autopilot. What if we could get a second ahead of distractions and avoid autopilot? What if we could overcome our addiction to action and multitasking? The good news is we can. The key is to train the mind to be more focused and clear. We do this through corporate mindfulness.

What is it?

Mindfulness originated in Buddhist meditation techniques, such as outlined in the Satipatthana Sutta (The discourse on establishing of mindfulness). Although it is a millennia-old idea, it has been re-invented in order to address present issues in our modern society. As mindfulness has reached most aspects of human life over the past decade, it has expended beyond its spiritual roots and, with its adoption into modern psychological theory, it has developed into a secular training method, subject to many scientific trials.

The mechanism behind mindfulness is based on how it changes your mind-set from a fixed mind-set to a growth mind set. A fixed mind-set is when an individual believes their qualities, talents or intelligence are simply fixed traits. Employees with a fixed mind-set tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see efforts as fruitless or worse, ignore useful negative feedback and feel threatened by the success of others. As a result of a fixed mind-set, these individuals may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.

Leading researches into mindfulness have established that it enables employees to focus on what they experience in the moment, inside themselves, as well as their environment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and care. We are all mindful sometimes, but through mindfulness practice, we can cultivate this faculty and refine it so that we may harness it to a greater degree.

Apart from the benefit of reducing stress in the workplace, mindfulness provides many more advantages, such as reduced rumination, boosts to working memory, less emotional reactivity and even relationship satisfaction. As these benefits will certainly lead to a better quality of life, they will also improve our empathy, love and compassion. It is apparent that these benefits of mindfulness practice will provide the ultimate outcome of a peaceful mind and immense happiness. On the contrary, individuals who possess a growth mind-set will embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others. These individuals will end up reaching ever-higher levels of achievement. Therefore, employing more individuals with a growth mind-set will lead to better achievement in organisations.

In the corporate world

There are numerous potential business benefits to mindfulness training. It is important to establish one or more key benefits that reflect your organisation. Mindfulness assists in three key areas of workplace functions: well-being, relationships and performance. It also helps to enhance working relationships become resilient, and improves performance through leadership, decision making, organisational transformation and creativity through innovation.

Mindful practice will also help an individual to choose between two paths, which are learner path and judger path. We tend to take the judger path naturally. This is due to lower awareness of our surrounding and to how our mind-set was moulded since childhood, to judge most of the things around us; which can be people, situations or even material objects. Mindfulness will help us to deviate from this common mind-set and perform well in our life.

Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective, in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Mindfulness can help to reduce stress anxiety and conflict, and increases salience and emotional intelligence, while improving communication in the work place.

As Janice Marturano, former vice president at General Mills, and founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership says in her book Finding the space to lead, “a mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others.”

An introduction to mindful activities

This is a simple exercise in mindfulness. take a piece of paper and write down all the thoughts came into your mind reading this article. if you don’t remember, it is better if you could go back and read it, and then notice the thoughts that came into your mind while reading this article.

Mark the thoughts relevant to the article and the irrelevant thoughts that came into your mind. You will be able to see that there are lot of thoughts irrelevant to the article or to the subject of mindfulness have come, as well as a lot of judgemental thoughts.

To get better understanding regarding the relationships of mind, external environment and mindfulness, let us do another simple activity. Choose a paragraph from the article and try to read it again. Then try to memorise the words in the paragraph. Afterwards, read it again word by word, well focused and you will realise there were words that you have missed. What you have done is to skim over the paragraph, rather than reading it properly, which is why you have missed out these words.

This is how your mind works. This is how your daily life works. You tend to skim through rather than attending to details. Therefore, there is a great tendency to miss out most important details. Mindful practice makes your mind slow down the process of skimming and makes it more attentive to details around you. Consequently, mindfulness practice will help individuals to be more productive and effective in their working environment as well as in their daily life.

Being a mindful practitioner, you will be able to understand what is occurring at the present situation and to attend effectively. A more unobstructed and calmer mind-set will allow the individuals to improve their creativity and critical thinking; we will be able to overcome the situation in the country.