Mindfulness is finding its place in business, as it is in medicine, sport, the arts, and life in general. Emeritus Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has devoted much of his life’s work to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Daniel Goleman, who introduced emotional intelligence to the corporate world, are now common contributors to a range of business courses, whether at the undergraduate or post-graduate levels. Interest in the field of mindfulness has been growing exponentially, with research studies going from 10 in 2000 to 667 in 2016, totaling more than 4000 studies in the 16-year period (American Mindfulness Research Association, 2017, see: https://goamra.org/).
In a hyper-connected world, with complex interdependencies, we are only just starting to understand what helps a business leader notice more, contemplate options, and successfully execute decisions. Today, probably more than ever, business leaders need to both broaden their thinking, while at the same time train their brains to focus intensely on the matter before them. Companies such as SAP, Google, and Medtronics are stepping up and helping their key staff achieve these dual objectives, through a range of programs to enhance their mindfulness capability.
Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment, being fully aware of what is happening around you. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But, research shows that we spend a significant percentage of our waking hours, in a state of insufficient focus, up to 50% of our day (Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010). We are off thinking about potential futures or ruminating about issues from the past. Basically, we are robbing ourselves of thinking-space that could be better applied to what is happening right in front of us.
A disciplined mindfulness practice works at multiple levels. First, it enables the business leader to connect with others. Relationships are the cornerstone of the business world – how we connect with staff, stakeholders, and clients will determine our ability to succeed and grow. Being fully present in conversations is the “secret sauce” of solid relationships, and is akin to being perceived as authentic (George, 2003). While the other person in the conversation is talking, we are more likely to be busy thinking about what we are going to say in response. We are pre-occupied with winning the argument or putting our case forward, we are not listening to what the other person is trying to tell us, and as a result, we are losing our ability to connect. Relationships are about connection, and if we find it hard to suspend our thinking and be fully present for others, we will struggle to influence others – it is as simple as that!
Second, mindfulness enables the business leader to notice patterns of thinking. As Richard Branson says, try to be the spectator of your thoughts. Our brains are thought generators. It’s what it does for a living, just as the heart pumps blood, the brain pushes out thoughts – roughly around 50,000 per day! Grasping, or replaying our thoughts, robs us of flexibility – it keeps us on our traditional paths of thinking, not noticing subtle changes that call for us to head in different directions. Simply saying to yourself, “interesting, I’m having that thought again, the one that says that my status is being threatened,” enables you to separate your thoughts from what is really happening in the room. In simple terms, it stops you from getting in your own way! It allows you to take the helicopter view – and see all the moving parts!
Finally, a mindfulness practice helps you get into the zone! From the world of sport we’ve become increasingly aware of the concept of flow – a state of “intense, time-altering focus” where things seem to move in slow motion, we lose track of time, and we find ourselves at one with our environment. It’s exhilarating, even euphoric (De Lacy, 2016). Moreover, once you’ve experienced it, you want to find it again. Mindfulness practice puts you (your brain) in a position to find flow, to let it happen, to put yourself in a position where you can feel that state of euphoric focus and productivity.
At QUT Graduate School of Business, we take mindfulness seriously. Our highly-rated Executive Masters of Business Administration focuses on Mindfulness as part of a capstone subject on business leadership, and we infuse mindfulness into many of our corporate offerings, designed for the specific demands placed on our corporate partners. We even offer basic training in mindfulness in our open professional development courses. To find out more, go to: https://www.qut.edu.au/study/professional-and-executive-education
I will be writing more about mindfulness over the next couple of weeks, and I encourage you to get involved, and comment on our blog pages. Topics I plan to cover include: the neuroscience behind mindfulness; the role of reflection in mindfulness practice; and how technology can be used to enhance your mindfulness practice. Looking forward to hearing from you.