As promised, I will be blogging about mindfulness and other leadership topics. Mindfulness is a topic very near and dear to me both in my work and personal life. (more in My Story). I did my doctoral research with monks to find out how and why they use mindful meditation in their lives and work. I also recently co-authored an article with my friend and colleague, Julie Maloney, which was published in the most recent Neuroleadership Journal. (Please email me if you would like a copy). Julie and I discuss the demands placed on the leaders of today and a mindfulness pilot we are doing at Microsoft. For the next few posts, I will be discussing mindfulness and how it is being use in various settings. I look forward to hearing your comments.

Mindfulness:

Most business books focus on how leaders can achieve more. How can you do more, better…and faster?
These posts on mindfulness will take the opposite tack: how and why, as leaders, you should sit and be still. Psychologist Daniel Goleman, an authority on emotional intelligence in organizations, calls this the leadership paradox in Primal Leadership: “For leaders, the first task in management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.” This includes:

  • Connecting with deep values that guide
  • Imbuing actions with meaning
  • Aligning emotions with goals
  • Keeping motivated, focused and on task

Research has confirmed that one of the most powerful leadership competencies is the ability to feel and convey empathy. Honing the skills of awareness and empathy leads to mindfulness — becoming aware of what’s going on inside and around us on several levels. Mindfulness is living in a state of full, conscious awareness of one’s whole self, other people and the context in which we live and work.

Before you dismiss mindfulness as New Age rhetoric, please pay attention to the research. Recent studies in management science, psychology and neuroscience point to the importance of developing mindfulness and experiencing meditation.

Mindfulness meditation has long been practiced by Buddhists and others seeking greater calm and peace of mind. In my doctoral research with monks and lamas who practiced mindful meditation, they conveyed that practices such as mindfulness and meditation contributed to their effectiveness in managerial and leadership activities by clearing, calming, focusing and stabilizing the mind, thereby allowing better understanding of others, better relationships, better ability to remain adaptable to change, better and clearer decision making ability and increased wisdom. Meditation was seen as a way to manage stress and negative emotions.

In his book, The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation (2008), Carroll explores the key principles of mindfulness and how they apply to leading organizations.

Mindfulness meditation addresses a wide range of topics, including:

  • How to heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance
  • How to cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties and economic recession
  • How to pursue organizational goals without neglecting what’s happening here and now
  • How to lead with wisdom and gentleness, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power
  • How a personal meditation practice develops your innate leadership talents

Many workplaces are adopting mindfulness meditation:

– Companies like Microsoft, Raytheon, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Nortel Networks, Comcast and prominent law firms have offered employees classes in mindfulness meditation.
– Executives like Bill Ford Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Company; Michael Stephen, former chairman of Aetna International; Robert Shapiro, ex-CEO of Monsanto; and Michael Rennie, managing partner of McKinsey & Co., meditate and consider the practice beneficial to running a corporation.

Recent research highlights the many benefits of mindfulness meditation:

  1. Repaired immune systems
  2. Heightened emotional intelligence
  3. Reduced anxiety and depression
  4. Sustained levels of joy and satisfaction
  5. Greater career resilience
  6. Improved cardiovascular health
  7. Fewer days lost to illness and stress

But practicing meditation requires much…well, practice. It demands vulnerability and heart, rather than ambition and achievement—a tall order for hard-driving, results-oriented executives. Tune in for the next post “What is Meditation” and one way to consider the “how”