Leadership

The serious business of Mindfulness

We all have had that feeling of “not being there.”  Have you ever driven home, and then turned off the car and tried to recall the trip – it generally evokes pangs of anxiety as you worry about all of the near accidents you could have had on the trip and not realised how close you got to not making it home at all!

Or, you’ve just been in a meeting where your colleague made the presentation of her life, and she asks you on walking out, “Well, how did I go?”  As you catch her expectant gaze, you realise straight away that you were off on some daydream, worrying about some ill-defined event in the future, or still ruminating about your argument with your teenage son that you had hours ago before work even started.  You um and argh through some sort of pathetic response – you know that you’ve let her down – her expectant gaze turns to disappointment.

You’re occupying the world of mindlessness.

We spend so much of our lives on autopilot, not noticing, not focusing, not really being there.  As Stanford researcher Ellen Langer remarked,

We are so frightened of the age of the robot, but for much of the time we are robots already.”

“Well, what’s the alternative?” I hear you ask.  Good question.

Welcome to the world of mindfulness.  No, it’s not about trekking off to Nepal to sit on some mountain top while you chant ancient mantras to yourself (though, there’s no harm in doing that, if that’s what floats your boat!).  It’s about being present.  Training that piece of grey matter between your ears to be there, not off somewhere else, gallivanting around like some untethered thoroughbred horse.

“But, what does this mindfulness mumbo jumbo have to do with business; isn’t just what hippies go on about?” Another good question.

What if I told you that one of the world’s largest software companies embraces mindfulness as a way to drive business performance?  What if I told you that it was the key workplace intervention that adds around $60m USD to a company’s bottom line for each percentage point lift in employee engagement.  Have I got your attention yet?

Wait there’s more! Ever heard of Bill George?  You might have read his work on Authentic Leadership. He’s now a Harvard Professor, but before that, he took a humble medical implant business from a relatively unheard of a small turn-over firm to a $60bn monolith.  Do you know his key secret – yep, you’ve got it, mindfulness.

I’m on a bit of mission to bring mindfulness to the business world.
No, I’m not some zealot that grew up on some alternative lifestyle commune.  I, like many others, came up through the school of hard knocks and rose to lead a number of successful organisations.  I discovered the power of being present.  Yes, it’s something that requires constant practice, but it’s a well that never runs dry – it can sustain you through the toughest of times.

QUT has given me the opportunity to design a course on mindfulness that suits the business world.  I’m keen to talk to you about what you would like to see in such a course, and how you think it could be applied in your workplace.  Please get in contact. My details are: brett.heyward@qut.edu.au or call me on 07 3138 6701.

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Brett comes to QUT with a wealth of experience in the public and private sectors. He has led large agencies in Health, Natural Resources and Mining, as well as holding senior roles in the consulting industry. Early in his career he managed manufacturing businesses and held roles in environmental science management. Brett received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Queensland, majoring in Accounting. He added to this with a Masters in Administration (focused on Change Management), and a PhD focused on competition policy frameworks in national and provincial governments. As a Professor of Practice with QUT, Brett coordinates and contributes to many of the leadership subjects in the Graduate School of Business, including the Business Leadership Practicum and Personal Leadership and Change in the EMBA and MBA programs. He also facilitates leadership development and coaching activities with corporate clients including several large businesses in the retail and manufacturing industries, as well as large public sector agencies, particularly those with commercial or “self-funded” operations. Brett is also a Chief Investigator for QUT’s Centre of METS Business Innovation (CMBI) and contributes to research there. In addition, Brett is often sought after to review research in the fields of mining and resources generally, as well as engage with corporate leaders in this area, particularly on the topics of government regulation and leadership development. He is also very interested in progressing institutional strengthening activities in developing countries, and is currently supporting research into aged care and disability support services in Vietnam. Brett loves sport and devotes much of his “free time” to coaching (largely Rugby League and Cricket), as well as supporting the development of sporting expertise, particularly in back office functions and high performance systems (a major focus of his early consulting career).

2 Comments

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    Hi Brett,
    I am quite interested in your work. I have dabbled a bit in mindfulness, but not really given it the effort and focus that it deserves (yes, the irony..). I actually find it easier to implement when I am out doing my training for triathlon than in my professional life as a lawyer. There is something about the physical activity that helps me be more aware, and focus on things like technique, breathing, even heart rate, which I find more challenging to do when sat at my desk.

    Years ago I saw a presentation by Matt Hall, the Redbull Air Race pilot and former RAAF fighter pilot. He spoke about their military training and how air crashes can be caused by pilots being distracted by the hundreds of buttons, gauges. flashing lights etc in the cockpit to the point where they stop flying the plane. I have on occasion since used the mantra “keep flying the plane” to try to stay calm and focused on the critical tasks when everything seems to be going crazy. It’s not much, but it helps.

    Having said that, our professional indemnity insurer representative on one of his regular “information” visits once extolled us to keep asking “how can we get this wrong?” before finalising any piece of work. Whilst I can understand why he said that, it seemed to me to be a pretty miserable way to conduct your professional life.

    Law can often be a very negative profession. It is an essential part of our job (at least mine, as a property and commercial lawyer) that we look for the risks and the consequences of things going wrong or people doing the wrong thing, and try to protect our clients from those contingencies. It can lead to a fairly cynical and negative mindset which, when combined with the pressures of practice and modern life in general, is probably a reason why we have such a poor mental health record as a profession.

    I am interested in finding out how mindfulness might be used to improve both work performance and long term mental health outcomes in our workplace.

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    Rolf Bierman Reply

    Greetings Brett

    Sometimes I have trouble concentrating – as a public servant for 34 years and now as a taxi driver (missing turns and recently driving slowly through a red light simply because I was deep in thought). Blocks for me throughout my public service career unfortunately prevented me from gaining promotions or even intrinsic satisfaction in the work itself. A course in mindfulness, or even consciousness of its vital importance would for me have greatly helped in my career. Alas, it’s too late now, but if I could do it all over again I would hone in on engaging my whole being on this essential part of me.

    In business generally, process and content can be confused in some people’s minds. Process and procedure can be clearly put in procedure manuals or checklists. Mindfulness is something else. Focusing, concentration, being totally present in a world of distractions are becoming increasingly challenging with technology and other life matters being disruptors.

    Every person is different.

    Individual differences and the essential elements that makes each person different need to be identified and analysed or grouped. Then barriers to concentration into characteristic types can be studied. More one on one work needed in business process styles – approaches to outcomes or process in line with personality style of the individual. Basic groupings could reveal inner thoughts or motivations. Also external distractions as affecting differing personality type will distinguish what will affect one person and not the other, or how the same thing affects each person differently.

    Integrating conscious elements into the course identifying differing meanings of mindfulness in one person as to what it means to another can better identify what impact it could have on performance. Also, analysis of what “performance” means or manifested in the first place needs to be intertwined with personal interpretations of what “being there” actually means for the person.

    The course would be modified for each company or business, but in the main would be consistent throughout. For example, in consultation with the CEO a basic slice of operations for that organisation would be identified, characteristic to that company or business. Content would be presented in such a way as to gain initial understanding of participants. Step two would be group or sectionalise elements of the operation/s. Further steps would be to have participants to further process within their minds the path to optimal outcomes in that operation and how they would achieve that, given the blocks in concentration were removed; identifying the blocks will be a pathway. The course would of course veer towards what makes each individual tick and focus on mindfulness. Operational outcome would only be an aside and in the light of the individual’s integral involvement in it.

    To cut a long story short Brett, your proposal to further this is brilliant. Moreover, your achievement in having QUT on side in designing the course is exciting to say the least.

    I will be happy in the future to discuss it with you or render any basic assistance.

    Yours sincerely

    Rolf Bierman
    23 September 2018
    0409 509 289

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