Mindfulness is seen as a dirty word in some organisations. It’s often put over in the box with words like “meditation”, “awareness” and other such “tree hugging hippy crap” (Cartman). To some it belongs in the word of the spiritual and should be kept away from words such as “competencies”, “capabilities” and “skills”. It doesn’t help that the word is appearing all over social media, in the papers and I saw it again yesterday – on a colouring book. It doesn’t help that it is misunderstood and worse, grabbed by some who do not understand it and shoe-horned into irrelevant contexts.
It is important for leaders and managers in organisations not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Mindfulness is a key part of awareness and Emotional Intelligence which many will know is critical to successful Leadership.
So what is it? And what the difference between it, awareness and meditation (often confused).
I define Mindfulness as the process of observing your own thoughts and emotions as they arise – without judgement. Antony DeMello likened it to driving a car. You are watching where you are going, hands on the wheel and eyes on the road but you are scanning for a change in engine noise, a flat tyre or a change in weather conditions. It’s a process going on underneath your conscious active thought process.
Similarly, in the work environment if you are mindful, you become conscious of your habit of mind, your stressors, and your emotional state and so you are more likely to take right action rather than follow an automated response. This is just one reason why Mindfulness as part of Emotional Intelligence benefits leaders – because once they are mindful, they do not avoid or ignore emotion but use it as information, and understand it so they can make whole, clear decisions. Ironic then, particularly with the preconceptions of some, that being Emotionally Intelligent results in being less impacted by emotion.
Meditation is the actual practice of sitting (or sometimes for the more advanced student, walking) and bringing your focus of attention to something in the present which clears your mind so that you can step back and watch your thought processes and feel your emotions so that you know what is stressing you most and also how you feel about things. When I teach leaders Meditation as part of our Leadership and Emotional Intelligence courses at ADEO Consulting there is often discomfort first (at having to be still) and then surprise and even delight.
According to the Insead business school (2013) “As little as 15 minutes of meditation can actually help people make better, more profitable decisions, by increasing resistance (for example) to the sunk cost bias”
So we practice Meditation and Mindfulness regularly to become aware. An aware individual knows who they are, how they feel and what they want. Awareness is critical to happiness, amongst other things. Often we seek happiness in ways that are unsuccessful because we are not aware of what we want. We get to the top of the ladder and there’s “no THERE there”.
It is well known that CEO’s like Rupert Murdoch, Bill Ford, Arianna Huffington, Rick Goings (Tupperware) and Mark Benioff (Salesforce.com) as well as many others all meditate and use Mindfulness. In my experience the practice itself is easy, but a challenge is finding the time to do it. It is also true that leaders find it hard to let go of the doing/action drug for long enough. Perhaps a clearer understanding of its benefits to you as a leader and as a result to your organisation will help you move it up your list of priorities.
Aidan Higgins BE MBA of ADEO Consulting is a Leadership, Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork specialist working with Leaders and Teams in Ireland and the UK. He has over 25 years experience working in various capacities with individuals, teams and organisations of all sizes.