Welcome to the inaugural post on the blog of Neo-Strategic. Neo-Strategic supports the work of change by leaders and organizations using the EVOLVE™ coaching model as well as other methods. I am interested in all things related to leadership and individual and organizational effectiveness. I am passionate about helping to empower others to realize their innate capabilities and about supporting people and teams through the often uncomfortable yet transformational process of change. I will share ideas here that you may find useful in your own efforts to be a strong leader enabling a successful organization.
One of my particular areas of interest is the connection between mindfulness and leadership development. I’ve been practicing mindfulness since 1999 and see many connections between mindfulness and being a strong and effective leader. So I’m going to kick off this blog with a multi-installment primer on the practice of mindfulness and how mindfulness supports leadership development, including the neuroscience that shows the impact of mindfulness.
The practice of mindfulness, with roots in Eastern traditions, is becoming more and more common in Western business settings. A number of Fortune 500 organizations such as General Mills, Apple, Prudential, eBay, Aetna, Target, Proctor & Gamble, Google, and even the U.S. Marines offer mindfulness programs to their employees, sometimes as an integral part of their corporate leadership development programs. Articles on mindfulness are appearing in Forbes and the HBR Blog. While mindfulness as a practice for leaders is increasing in popularity, this also means a growing body of information, and therefore potential misunderstanding, around what it means to be mindful, how to engage in mindfulness, and the specific benefits of mindfulness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts is widely credited with bringing mindfulness into the American mainstream. His definition of mindfulness consists of two parts: moment-to-moment awareness of our current experience, and acceptance of the experience that is unfolding. Acceptance in this context does not mean you approve of or are even comfortable with the experience, but it does mean that you notice what is occurring with a lack of judgment or intervention. In other words, being mindful means that you choose to pay close attention to what is going on in the present, whether it is pleasant or not, without changing anything and without commenting (either out loud or to yourself) – you simply observe. This includes using our senses to take in what is happening outside of us, and noticing what is happening internally, like our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
Many of us are not mindful much of the time. Instead, we are distracted from a direct experience of the present moment and instead are thinking about the past or the future, or we impose stories and judgments on the current experience and those involved with it, including ourselves. Imagine you are doing something you might do every day, like cook dinner. As you do this, are you engaged in the activity, noticing the colors and textures of the different vegetables? Do you pay attention to the different sensations as you sample the food, like salty and sweet? Or would you find yourself suddenly thinking that paying this much attention to vegetables is silly? (Judgment.) Or are you mentally a millions miles away, annoyed about the argument you had earlier with your co-worker, or thinking about the meeting with the CEO you are having tomorrow?
While we are frequently not mindful, mindfulness is a skill that can be developed, just like learning a language, or running every day to improve your physical fitness. And among people who practice mindfulness, a wide range of benefits have been documented that are highly relevant to leaders, such as:
- Higher emotional intelligence, which has in turn been linked to stronger leadership performance and improved business results.
- Greater focus and ability to stay on task, and better memory for details of a task, as well as less fatigue and an improved mood after task completion.
- Improved mental well-being, such as reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Improved physical well-being, such as lower blood pressure and blood glucose, and strengthening of the immune system.
In addition to these benefits, adopting a mindful mindset is at the core of leadership development. This will be the topic of my next blog post – stay tuned!