What is Mindful Leadership?
Companies like Google and Apple have long been using mindfulness training as a way to drive increased collaboration and creativity. Yet many business leaders are still skeptical about it. The prejudice might stem form a frequent confusion between therapeutic or spiritual practices of meditation and mindfulness on one side, and learning the Skills of Mindfulness and Mindful Leadership on the other side.
Mindfulness and Meditation have become such reoccurring buzzwords, that different definitions proliferate and may create confusion. In this article we try to put some order in the confusion, or at least we try to be very clear about what our Clients can expect from us, the Grooa Team, when we offer our Mindfulness programs: what we do and what we do not do.
Sometime people ask us: do you offer yoga training? tree-hugging? mantra-meditation? The answer to all these questions is “no”. None of these practices are part of our training programs.
At Grooa, we train and practice in Mindful Leadership; we specifically use Mindful Leadership as a scientifically grounded and proven approach that helps us clear our mind and manage our emotions, so that we can sustainably grow our leadership based on full awareness.
At this point, it is useful to introduce some definitions, to understand the difference between Meditation and Mindfulness, and to explain what is Mindful Leadership. This will obviously be a somewhat oversimplified explanation, but I believe it will serve our purpose, which is to understand why and how Mindful Leadership can practically help us being better leaders. I suggest the following pragmatic definitions:
Meditation can be defined as Awareness of our Inner Life.
- At the risk of oversimplifying things, we can say that Meditation is a practice that brings us the skill to reach inner peace, by learning to detach our mind and senses from the physical world.
- There are many ways to Meditate; some use meditation simply to relax, others engage in very complex practices to reach ultimate consciousness and concentration.
- Some of these practices include compassion, patience, love and … mindfulness. Thus Mindful Meditation is one of the practices (this is where there is a conceptual overlapping!).
- We tend to associate Meditation with religious or spiritual practices for historical reasons.
When humans evolved to the stage when they were able to focus and to concentrate, it was certainly the highly educated, the priests, who engaged in and started to perfect the practice. In some ancient cultures these activities developed into contemplation and prayer; in some other cultures the focus was more on technique, like in the case of Buddhism and Hinduism
- In Europe, the rational approach of the Enlightenment included a certain despise for meditation (labeled as useless) and contemplation (labeled as insane).
This might be the origin of some still existing prejudice against meditation practices, derived from our “Cartesian anxiety” (desperate need to have everything rationally explained into a fixed truth)
Mindfulness can be defined as Awareness of our Outer Life.
- The term Mindfulness typically refers to the informal practice of “present moment awareness”; with this practice, we focus our undivided attention to the “five-sense experience” of the external and internal world, in the “right now” moment.
- The difficulty is due to the fact that we are very used to mental multitasking. Not only do we consciously choose to do several things at the same time (e.g. checking our messages while listening to a colleague speaking at a meeting); we also unconsciously divert our attention away from the present during most simple activities (e.g. while driving, eating, walking, exercising, cleaning). It is very hard to focus on the now, it takes practice.
- While Meditation has been strongly associated with its religious origins, Mindfulness came to the Western World within a more pragmatic scientific context; it was the American MIT scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn who started to study and apply this practice for stress-reduction purposes. This initiated a string of studies about various applications of Mindfulness to a number or areas, also outside the medical and therapeutic field.
- The Benefits of Mindfulness involve both body and mind. Specifically its positive effects regarding clearing the mind and managing the emotions encouraged the spreading of mindfulness practices to the fields of workplace collaboration, conflict management, innovation and co-creation; hence the birth of specific Mindful Practices aimed at supporting Leadership Development.
- Mindful Leadership is a secular (i.e. not religious) application of mindfulness practice aimed at developing leadership presence and leadership excellence
- Leadership presence is a tangible quality. It requires full and complete nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. Trained in Mindful Leadership, we can apply clarity, awareness and emotional balance to the most complex decisions and the most challenging conversations, and be the best that we can be (rather than frantic, biased, stressed, confused or impulsive)
- With regular practice on leadership presence, we can learn to ”lead with excellence, by cultivating our innate capabilities to focus on what is important, to see more clearly what is in front of us, to foster creativity, and to embody compassion” (J. Marturano)
- Mindful Leadership is a structured practice that produces proven results.
The interesting story of Mindful Leadership begins in the year 2001, when Janice Marturano, a super-busy VP of General Mills, completely overwhelmed after an especially tough period both at work and at home (difficult merger and deaths of parents), decided to take a short break and to attend a Mindfulness retreat with the above mentioned MIT professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. It turned out to be a revelation and she spent the following years further developing the application of mindfulness to leadership, finally developing University Curricula and publishing the book that is a key reference on the subject (“Finding the Space to Lead”).
- Mindful Leadership, as a structured practice, is especially cultivated in North America, but it is also gradually gaining attention in Europe.
The earlier mentioned “Cartesian Anxiety” and the “rationality bias” derived from the European Enlightenment are partly hindering a broader adoption at some traditional organizations.
- Training in Mindful Leadership takes time, but the initial benefits are so quick and evident that they make it almost natural to continue; after the initial steps, it is almost as if there was no way back; the way we are with respect to our reality changes for good and this makes it easier to continue to practice.
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