Beyond meditation: How leaders can put mindfulness into action

Mindfulness continues to garner significant attention in business. And it makes sense. When companies like Google, Apple, McKinsey, Intel, and General Mills all focus in a particular direction, others will naturally follow—especially when research paints such a compelling picture of the possible benefits of mindfulness, from stress reduction to improved relationships to better problem solving and decision making.

There’s no argument that today’s always-connected, 24/7 workplace is ripe for mindfulness.

  • People aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing 46.9% of the time according to research by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University.
  • Depending upon the study one consults, US workers spend 6.3 hours each day checking email, up to a remarkable average of 288 times each day.
  • We unlock our smartphones up to 9 times each hour and go online now 27 times every day (versus just five times daily in the early days of the internet) according to Josh Bersin of Deloitte.

Add to all of this ever-expanding workloads and our diminishing willingness or ability to pay focused attention and it’s no wonder that multitasking has reached epidemic proportions—despite well-published research that those who multitask while performing cognitive tasks experience significant IQ drops.

So, it’s no surprise that many leaders are turning to mindfulness for answers, implementing its core concepts to improve the quality of their own lives and work. But many feel stymied and limited either by an organizational culture that doesn’t embrace this approach or by an inability or unwillingness to train employees in similar mindfulness practices.

The good news, though, is that enhancing mindfulness throughout an organization doesn’t require that everyone sit cross-legged, meditate or chant ‘om’ in unison. In fact, leaders can infuse and even infect a culture with greater mindfulness without ever uttering the word.

Do as I do

The power of modeling cannot be overstated. Human beings have an innate ability to pick up on cues and get into sync with others. Simply living one’s own mindfulness practice offers an opportunity to lead by example. Try the following actions to help radiate and inspire mindfulness within your team.

  • Set a slightly slower, more reflective pace.
  • Practice a mono- (versus multi-) tasking focus, making it clear to others -- through words and actions -- that you’re focused on one thing at a time.
  • Take a breath. Do a little experiment the next time you speak with someone. Intentionally slow and deepen your breath. Watch what it does for you; but even more powerfully, watch what it does for others. You’ll generally notice that the other person begins to breathe more slowing and deeply too, benefiting from enhanced oxygenation within the brain and peace of mind within the soul. Quietly modeling or beginning an interaction with the invitation to take a deep breath can dramatically change the quality of the exchange and the mindfulness brought to it.
  • Disconnect from work during the evening, weekend and/or vacation to show others that it’s possible -- and more productive.
  • Frequently press the pause button to interrupt reactive responses and ask great thought-provoking questions.
  • Demonstrate greater intentionality. Begin conversations with a statement of the desired outcome. Consistently clarify the intent of new programs and initiatives with others. Include in your coaching repertoire questions like “What was your intention?” In this way, everyone on the team will be working ‘on purpose’.
  • Leverage curiosity as a way of shaking loose of mindless "auto-pilot" practices.

These seemingly simple actions quietly inspire others to follow your leadership.

Slip it into business routines and practices

In addition to a leader’s own personal behavior and modeling, it’s also possible to bring greater mindfulness to a team or organization by ‘sneaking’ it into day-to-day business practices. In fact, frequently repeated routines offer a built-in vehicle for developing new and more mindful habits subtly within the workflow. Consider the following.

  • Give meetings a mindful make-over. Given their prominent role within the business landscape, meetings offer a variety of subtle mindfulness-building opportunities. Inviting the right people increases the likelihood that those in attendance will not just be present -- but also more present. Offering a purpose and agenda in advance allows for greater attention and focus. And ending five minutes early allows everyone to let go of one thing before moving on to the next.
  • Encourage job crafting. Whenever possible, allow employees to exercise autonomy. Invite them to participate in creating or adjusting their roles to enable maximum attention and focus.
  • Streamline rules and policies. Employees frequently find their minds full and feel strangled by the many policies and regulations guiding the business. While boundaries are essential, fewer general guidelines that define the sandbox or parameters of a job allow for greater focus, attention and energy on the part of employees.
  • Simplify leadership development training. Many organizations believe they’re doing people a favor by offering expansive frameworks, countless leadership competencies, and hours upon hours of learning. This leaves many leaders confused about where to start and unsure of how to actually perform their roles effectively. A more mindfulness-building approach might involve far fewer skill models and a much greater focus on setting and driving intention.

Leaders who wish to enhance mindfulness within their teams or organizations don’t need to wait for a large-scale training or culture-change initiative. They can simply lead through their own mindful example and incorporate mindfulness into day-to-day routines and practices. Much is possible when a leader puts his or her mind to it.

 

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog atJulieWinkleGiulioni.com.

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