What’s all the buzz about Mindful Leadership?

March 17th, 2016 by Katerina Barampouti

Katerina Barampouti

What’s all the buzz about Mindful Leadership? Is it just a new trend or something to take seriously?

These questions were juggling in my mind when, on 12 February this year, I attended the Working with Mindfulness: Mindfulness in Organisations and Leadership Teams Masterclass, at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. As a Mindfulness practitioner, I value the impact of this practice on personal transformation. I understood it has achieved solid recognition from the scientific community as universities such as Oxford and Harvard have conducted research, however, although pioneer Steve Jobs went public decades ago, about practising this ‘Discipline’ (as he called it), I was struggling to see how Mindfulness can be applied in an organisational context and how successfully it can address the issues specific to workplace.

I admit this Masterclass was eye-opening; I was part of a cohort of professional coaches, HR directors, academics and business people who discussed the tremendous potential of mindfulness in organisational settings. The trainers, who have been part of the Mindfulness Initiative , a team supporting the All-party Parliamentary Group for Mindfulness at Westminster, shared significant research outcomes and case studies for workplace Mindfulness and how it can help in transforming workplace cultures, enhancing productivity and supporting authentic leadership.

Maybe, from a sceptic’s point of view, the above might sound like just another buzz and a fun-game that won’t last long. However the truth is that Mindfulness is a concept that has been around for a few thousand years now. It is our western world that was late to discover this practice and its benefits, as Mindfulness’ origin is Zen Buddhism and Meditation. Towards the end of the last century, practitioners and scientists worked together to explore the therapeutic aspects of meditation and attempted to put together a simpler way of practice, tailored to the modern, western needs. Practices such as Mindful eating, jogging, swimming, or the famous 3-Minute Breathing Space exercise of Prof. Mark Williams, are brilliant ways of applying Mindfulness in our frantic everyday life, through supporting neuroplasticity, brain function and a healthy parasympathetic system. It is a ‘mind technology’ that works!

The evidence is now there: in the last few years, global leaders started embracing Mindfulness training; in fact, it is now considered a catalyst for change management.  Numerous case studies demonstrate that having mindful skills can help with tackling and shifting unconscious bias, enhancing creativity and strategic thinking and shifting behavioural patterns (amongst other things). There is a growing movement amongst corporations; companies as diverse as Google, the Harvard Business School, and Ford have begun to offer their employees mindfulness training – with Google itself creating the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

Google’s Jolly Good Fellow Chade-Meng Tan (Google Head on Meditation, Acceptance and the Power of Positive Business) believes that Mindfulness is the new fitness and that his role will become commonplace in the future. The truth is, Mindfulness helps us befriend our chattering ‘monkey mind’, and therefore calm it down. As a result we can be more focused and purposeful. At the same time, we allow for more flexibility in our responses because, as our awareness of who we are and what is the milieu around us is enhanced, we start feeling more confident in dealing with any situation. It is like mastering the riding of a bike or car.

Another key mindful skill is the ability to create ‘breathing space’ whilst in a challenging situation. In other words, people become stronger in dissociating from a situation, and able to instantly take a step back and reflect so they can see how their biases are playing out at a given moment. The most important thing is that this reflection is free from judgment and therefore allows for clarity to emerge.

The mindful qualities create greater performance, creativity and discernment and support strategic decision making. The three pillars of Mindful Leadership are: Self-awareness, Authenticity and Compassion, and Mindful Leaders understand how to respond wisely to stress and have developed a skill set that allows more intelligent and creative choices in challenging situations. They bring their whole self to work and ‘walk the talk’ – therefore people experience them as honest and real. Mindful Leaders also value high quality relationships; they are able to create a culture of creativity and kindness instead of the culture of stress. The former boosts performance and help individuals and organisations flourish.

I’ll conclude by referring to Prof. Jon Kabat Zinn’s foreword in Mindful Nation UK report launched in October 2015: “It is hard to imagine that the Mindful Nation UK report will not serve as an inspiration and model for other nations and governments to look toward and to take up its recommendations in their own distinctive ways.”


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