Recently the most popular trend in leadership development is mindfulness training.
There is a burgeoning array of apps, self-improvement books, and corporate interventions designed to help leaders become more mindful and thus more resilient, focused, and mindful. Many businessmen believe that these qualities can make them more effective in their roles.
Mindfulness is a way of focusing with care and insight to yourself, others, and the world around you.
But although evidence from clinical contexts suggests that mindfulness gives many benefits, several studies have been conducted with business leaders.
This implies that basic questions have remained unanswered. For instance, does mindfulness training really improve leadership capacities? If it does, how? And how much effort do you have to make to achieve the desired results?
Trying to answer these important questions, we led the world’s first study of a multi session mindful leader program, which incorporated a wait-list control group. Half of the participants received their training right away and the other half received it later. However, we measured key characteristics in both groups at the same circumstances. By comparing the two groups’ results, we were able to find was the effect of training.
Our information was drawn from 57 senior business leaders who attended three day workshops every two weeks as well as a full-day workshop and a final facilitated conference call. We showed them mindfulness practices, discussed the implications for leadership today, and assigned home practice of daily mindfulness meditation and other exercises. Also, we recorded the difficulties in our participants’ attempts to learn to be mindful throughout the process.
We believe our discoveries provide a valuable, powerful, and practical guide for leaders seeking to become more mindful.
Our study demonstrates that mindfulness training and sustained practice produces statistically significant improvements in three capacities that are important for successful leadership in the 21st century: resilience, the capacity for collaboration, and the ability to lead in complex conditions.
This is awesome news, isn’t it? An easy win. If you go through a mindfulness program, you become a better leader. However, there is a price to be paid. And that price is formal mindfulness practice time.
We asked our leaders to embrace a variety of different formal mindfulness exercises, guided by audio downloads, each day. Furthermore, we encouraged them to do informal mindfulness practices. Our discovery shows that leaders who practiced the formal mindfulness exercises for more than 10 minutes a day fared so much better on our key measures than those who didn’t practice much or who were practicing informal mindfulness.
There is a paradox here, of course. Time is the one thing most senior leaders don’t have in plenitude and are not willing to give it up.
So we should put the time commitment in perspective. We know that senior executives spend an average of 1,060 minutes awake per day. However, giving up on just 10 minutes that is less than 1% of their waking hours, to practicing mindfulness proves demanding for some and mission impossible for others.
Our research points to some of the challenges that get in the way. First, leaders seek out mindfulness as a solution to their crushing work pressures, their busy schedules, their multiple task lists — and yet it is precisely these things that then get in the way of their practice. In our research, “busyness” and a focus on what needed to be done in the short term was one of the most commonly cited reasons for lack of practice. The leaders who made genuine improvements determinedly broke through that self-defeating cycle of pressure.
But we additionally found that the leaders frequently berated themselves for their lack of practice. They felt guilty and even anxious. One memorable quote from an exasperated leader was, “I’m stressed about this mindfulness!” As they piled weight on themselves, some began to dislike practice and a few finally resisted altogether.
Leaders can develop a new habit once in a while, including practicing mindfulness, without help and support from others. Some of the leaders received a huge encouragement from their partners and work colleagues. In moments when they were about to give up, this support sustained them. Some of them were met with cynicism and in a few cases were even teased.
Fortunately, the discovery helped us more clearly to understand the things that can help leaders practice. It isn’t surprising that they are related to the difficulties above.
Our research recommends that if you want to develop a formal mindfulness practice, you should:
1.Take time to think about when you are most productive and able to practice, and then fit 10 minutes into your routine so that over time it becomes a habit. First thing in the morning works best for many people. Listening to an audio exercise on your commute is popular and seems to set up the day well. Others find that time just before going to bed. This also can work. However, it can often initiate sleep before the exercise ends.
2.Set realistic expectations for your practice. Expect your experience with developing a new habit to be turbulent. Mindfulness is not about getting rid of all thoughts, it is about noticing what thoughts are there. Don’t be surprised if some days your mind is occupied, irritable, or even wildly unruly. When this is the case, practice curiosity and the art of allowing.
3.Notice the times when you begin to be more mindful and acknowledge the impact this brings to you and others. Seeing the benefits in your practice is fundamental to continuing.
4.If you feel great doing so, tell those closest to you at work and home that you are trying to build a mindfulness practice. Tell them how they can help you and support you.
5.Associate with others who are keen on becoming more mindful. You can empower and challenge each other to keep to the practice.
Just like becoming fitter, becoming more mindful involves training. That means you have to practice. Giving up 1% of your time is a small price to pay for the improvements that are on offer.