Most people want to know this about mindfulness: For The Sake Of What?  In other words, what do I get from being mindful?  What benefits do I realize?  I have learned that leaders can be more mindful individuals as well as help their organizations be more mindful.  This in turn has a positive impact.  Here’s one of the ways yours can be a mindful organization.

There is a large body of literature devoted to organizational change, and change can take a number of different forms, such as:

  • Strategic planning to develop new goals, priorities, or direction
  • Improvements to processes and/or efficiency (such as “Six Sigma”)
  • Changes to organizational structure or personnel
  • Adoption of new technologies

And so on – there are many flavors of change.  But Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT and author of the change management method and book Theory U, says this: “The most important thing in organizational change is making the system see itself.”  And that’s what these different kinds of change have in common – a willingness to self-examine, to see what needs to be changed in the first place.  This is where organizations start to benefit from the quality of mindfulness.

When leaders practice mindfulness, they develop the ability to become self-aware.  One of the reasons self-awareness is so important is because it is the precursor to self-management, or choosing to make different choices about how we show up as leaders.  Leaders can take this same concept of self-awareness enabling self-management and apply it to their organizations.

One framework that is used often is referred to as the “Iceberg Model.” This term implies that when you try to bring awareness to your organization and how it operates, there are certain things that are visible (the top of the iceberg) and there are certain things that are not visible (the part of the iceberg that is below the water surface).  In order to enable change, you must bring visibility to both parts of the iceberg.  The “seen” or top part of the iceberg includes what we do and what we say.  The “unseen” or bottom part of the iceberg includes things that are not necessarily spoken or seen but that drive what we say and do, such as values and beliefs.

There is an exercise that I give to leaders that I call the Organizational Self-Reflection. It consists of four questions:

  • What “rules”, habits, or behaviors exist within your organization? (seen/spoken)
  • What assumptions, values, or thought patterns does this reflect? (unseen/unspoken)
  • What culture and behaviors do we want to enable instead? (All levels of iceberg – values, beliefs, language, actions)
  • What shifts do we need to make to bring about these changes? (All levels of iceberg – values, beliefs, language, actions)

The top two questions assess where your organization is now, and the bottom two questions assess the kind of future state you want to create.  It can be challenging to get your organization to see itself, and it is a harder challenge to reveal the “unseen” values and beliefs that drive actions and behaviors.  But if you are able to shift not just behaviors but the values and beliefs that underlie those behaviors, you create a greater set of possibilities and end states.

Mindfulness is not just for individuals.  When you extend this quality beyond yourself as a leader and apply it to your organization, you allow your organization to see itself as it really is, the first step toward transformation.

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