Mindfulness for Leaders: Improving Management Practices
Leadership is essential to any successful work environment. Managers are in charge of not only running a productive team, but ensuring that there is a positive environment in which their team can work. Recently, the concept of using mindfulness to create this sort of workplace has gained popularity.
While it is easy to write the myriad of articles off simply as a passing trend, there is an increasing amount of data suggesting taking time out of your day to breathe and meditate can have concrete, positive results.
A small sample of the studies that are currently available on the subject:
- Journal of Applied Psychology: Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Based on a test group of 219 employees, it was discovered the participants who received self-led mindfulness training experienced “significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction” than those who did not.
- Canadian Information Processing Society: The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment After completing a 8-week training on mindfulness meditation, researchers noted a significant increase in time spent on-task, decreased negative emotions after task completion, and—the unexpected result—improved memory.
- Singapore Management University: Leading Mindfully: Two Studies of the Influence of Supervisor Trait Mindfulness on Employee WellBeing and Performance By tracking specific aspects of employee “wellbeing” in relation to their manager’s approach to leadership, results showed a notable increase in employee performance and fulfilment when the managerial style was seen as mindful.
So, why is this relevant? In a recent study composed by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index, the number of Americans who reported “significant daily worry” has only increased over the past few years. If happy employees are more productive, then it is in a manager’s best interest to focus on creating a workplace the employees enjoy. According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.—one of the field’s foremost experts and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program—the surest way to decrease these concerns is to increase attention to people’s mindful wellbeing.
Creating a mindful environment in an office goes beyond posting a picture under the #MindfulnessMonday tag on social media; it is a daily—arguably constant—thought process change that needs to occur. (Let the warranted aversion to the word change ensue!) While mindfulness can take time to integrate into your daily routine, the eventual practice can be effortless. To assist in the adoption process of mindfulness practices, managers can use the seven pillars of mindfulness outlined in Professor Kabat-Zinn’s best-selling novel, Full Catastrophe Living.
First and foremost, being a mindful manager requires a person to allow themselves to go about their day free from judgement. This, of course, refers to negative judgements—such as, “My employee is slacking,” or “This is a bad idea”—but, less obviously, refers to positive judgements as well. The belief that one idea is better than another implies that there is a universal goodness or badness established.
However, the perception of an idea as good or bad is completely subjective. As a mindful manager, it is your task to react to all situations with objectivity in order to allow new ideas a chance to surface. By becoming aware of your judgements, both negative and positive, a manager can more effectively evaluate situations as they actually are. A common complaint a manager might receive is, “This isn’t working.” By acknowledging this as a judgement, and proceeding to take an impartial look at the problem the employee is actually raising (e.g. a step in the workflow needs attention), an effective manager can reframe challenges into opportunities.
An initial way to help integrate a non-judging practice into one’s management style is to pay more attention to what is happening now, versus what the end goal is; to be non-striving. Looking at a project by its individual steps instead of racing to meet the larger end goal can help break down a seemingly daunting task.
By also being accepting of realistic timelines and expected workloads, you relieve some of the employees’ anxiety around delivering beyond their bandwidth. (A project management tool like LiquidPlanner can help with this!) In meditation, acceptance is the practice of viewing the present as it actually is, free from judgement. In management, upholding this idea can foster a sense of confidence.
Throughout the mindfulness process, having patience with yourself and others is key. Amongst employee frustrations, missed deadlines, and other daily workplace mishaps, a patient manager can be a guiding force to bring the rest of the office to a similarly calm and focused mindset.
Doing so requires a certain amount of trust. It is essential you demonstrate you have faith in not only your employees, but your own ability to make decisions. Trust goes both ways: when an employee feels they must follow a manager without question, progress will suffer. Having the ability to communicate openly is essential—you hired each member of your team for their unique perspectives and talents. Let them do their thing!
On a similar note, it is essential to remember you don’t have to have all the answers! In fact, a key part of being a successful manager is having the ability to recognize great ideas from even your newest employees. As Shunryu Suzuki, who’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind popularized Zen Buddhism in the U.S., posits: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” By striving to keep a beginners mind you allow the autonomy of the people around you to grow, and innovative new approaches to tasks are able to come forward.
Overall, being a mindful manager comes down to one main idea: let go. Let go of the idea that things need to be a certain way. Issues, of course, will arise. Letting go of the illusion of control eases the complexities of the workplace, relieves stress for both you and your employees, and creates a culture of understanding, productivity, and collaboration. . . the ideal work environment.
Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation
One of the more business-specific titles on the list, Gelles’ best seller outlines the specific benefits of mindfulness, and backs his statements with real-world examples.
Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life By Jon Kabat-Zinn
A perennial favorite among fans of meditation, Professor Kabat-Zinn’s follow up to Full Catastrophe Living has sold over 750,000 copies.
Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World By Mark Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn
In just 10-20 minutes each day, Mindfulness can teach readers straightforward Mindfulness-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that can be applied to everyday life.
Nightline anchor Dan Harris takes readers on a well-researched and personal account of how meditation changed his life in this #1 New York Times best-selling debut. (There is also an app and how-to book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.)
25 Lessons in Mindfulness: Now Time for Healthy Living by Rezvan Ameli
With 25 experiential exercises compiled by the American Psychological Association, this book is a great tool for people at all experience levels within the study of mindfulness.
From advice shared by the top 10 mindfulness teachers in the US to short mindfulness exercises, Salgad’s curation is ideal for people starting a mindfulness practice from square one.
Written by one of Google’s earliest engineers, this title has been praised by seemingly everyone (from President Jimmy Carter to the Dalai Lama). Check out the Search Inside Yourself Institute site for even more resources!
For live meditation sessions, try Telesangha.
For mood-based meditations, look at Stop, Breathe, Think.
For the skeptical meditator, consider 10% Happier.
For help timing your meditation, download Insight Timer.